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Trendsetters: Universities

[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Arthur F. Kirk Jr.

Saint Leo University
President, Saint Leo

Reading: Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11”

Recently finished: Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”

Recently purchased: Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III.” “I buy books long before I read them.”

Famous St. Leo alumni: Academy Award-winning actor Lee Marvin and singer/songwriter Stephen Stills

Exercise: Took up lacrosse at 55. Once bicycled across America. Occasional triathlon, a 15k last year, some golf, would like to play tennis more.

Proud of: Diverse Issues in Higher Education magazine ranks Saint Leo first nationally in the number of bachelor’s in social sciences awarded to African-Americans and fourth in bachelor’s in business, management, marketing.

Go back a decade. Saint Leo College had plenty of pride in its past. Yesteryear included being the first Catholic college in Florida in 1889. In 1898, the Pasco County college broke the law to enroll a black student. In 1973, it went counterculture, offering classes on military bases to make it easier for service people to earn degrees at a time when higher ed shunned the military.

Saint Leo’s problem was its present. Roofs leaked. Air conditioners didn’t work. The $25-million budget was so tight that teachers provided their own computers. Campus enrollment was about 700 with another 300 on weekends.

That’s what greeted new president Arthur F. Kirk Jr. An experienced small
college president who did his dissertation on small college survival strategies, Kirk knew turnarounds. A tactic: Ask faculty, students and staff what one thing he should change if he could only change one. The answer usually meant removing someone in a key post. It fit his idea of academia triage — seeking fast, critical changes that build credibility and convey “it’s clearly going to get better.”

Saint Leo became one of the first schools to offer complete online degree programs nationwide. He expanded Saint Leo’s continuing education for the military, which brought in tuition — the key revenue stream at small, private liberal arts institutions. (Saint Leo is now the sixth-largest provider of education to the military.)

Catholic himself, Kirk, 61, says he’s more motivated in a Catholic environment. It’s uplifting to be around people who dedicate their lives to faith and service, he says.

Today, 11 years after Kirk arrived, Saint Leo is now a university with a $105-million budget. On campus, it has 2,500 undergraduate, graduate and weekend students. Four new dorms opened since 2003. Two nearby apartment buildings were purchased and opened as dorms last year. Another dorm likely will come within three years and a business school building is on the way. A new student center opened in October. Some 13,000 students are online and at 15 satellite centers in towns and military bases in six states.

“It’s a complicated place. I’ve made it more complicated,” Kirk says.

Bitten by the Science Bug

[Photo:Marc Bondarenko]

Thomas Unnasch

University of South Florida /
Department of Global Health

Professor, Tampa

Fear: Exposure to nasty diseases and virus-carrying bugs doesn’t worry him in his travels, he says. “The thing that concerns me more than anything else is a traffic accident.”

Interests: Fly fishing, woodworking (he made about a dozen of his family’s furniture pieces) and classical music

Tom Unnasch’s career has taken him throughout Africa and Latin America. He’s been up close with cholera and spent one birthday driving 10 hours to escape Ivory Coast during a coup.

This month, his career takes him to Tampa. Under the auspices of Florida’s 21st Century World Class Scholars program, in which the Legislature in 2006 set aside $20 million to recruit nationally known talent in the sciences, technology, engineering and math, the University of South Florida is bringing Unnasch, his research team and his equipment from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he has been for 18 years. He was looking for a place focused on public health and the eradication and prevention of disease. USF’s researchers, facilities and direction impressed him.

The New Jersey native says his father, who has a chemical engineering degree, influenced him and his brother to become scientists. After studying at Rutgers University and MIT, he moved into molecular and biochemical studies of parasites as a Harvard postdoc. He became an expert in the ways of the parasite that causes river blindness, still the second-largest cause of infectious blindness in the world and still prevalent in Africa and a few spots in South America.

As drug therapy has succeeded in cutting the spread of infection, the river blindness parasite is “mostly a hobby at this point,” says Unnasch, 53. He’s hard at work on a parasite that is one of the causes of elephantiasis and also studies mosquito-borne arboviruses such as West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Part of USF’s attraction was that West Nile and Eastern Equine are more common in Florida than Alabama and that Tampa has the state’s laboratory for arboviruses. “My career has sort of been serendipitous all the way,” Unnasch says.

Nursing a Niche

[Photo: Eileen Escarda]

Diane Whitehead

Nova Southeastern University
Associate dean / chair, Fort Lauderdale

Reviewing ‘Grey’s Anatomy’:
“I don’t see all the romantic things in my workplace. Nurses like ‘CSI.’ ”

Personal: Mother of two, grandmother of three

In the five years since Nova Southeastern University launched its nursing program amid a shortage of nurses and an even more critical shortage of faculty, it has taken some non-traditional approaches, grown to 538 students on campus, online and at satellites, begun offering master’s and doctorate’s and achieved the second-highest pass rate on the R.N. exam among Florida schools.

For most of those five years, the program has been led by Diane Whitehead, who began teaching in 1980 at Broward Community College. In 2002, she and a BCC colleague, Sally Weiss, consulted for Nova on starting a program for R.N.s to earn a bachelor’s in 18 months rather than the traditional two or more years. It launched in 2003 with 45 R.N.s who wanted a bachelor’s. A 27-month fast-track “entry-level” bachelor’s program for people with no nursing experience was added in 2004, a master’s in 2005 and a doctorate in nursing education in 2007. Whitehead, 62, and Nova have focused on niches. It has five nursing master’s tracks such as business administration and health system leadership but not one for nurse practitioners, figuring other local schools already fill that need. To get faculty, Whitehead and Nova grow their own, “take strong practitioners and make them strong educators.” Five faculty members are getting doctorates. This month, Nova will open a lab to house its five human patient simulators.