July 11, 2020
USF's new president Steve Currall

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Higher Education

USF's new president Steve Currall

Amy Martinez | 5/27/2020

In 1997, Steven Currall read a Fortune magazine article about the role that Stanford University played in creating Silicon Valley. At the time, Currall was an assistant professor of management and psychology at Rice University in Houston. The article, which highlighted Stanford’s culture of risk-taking and industrial collaboration, ultimately inspired Currall to develop the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, a group focused on growing local startups. With Currall at the helm, the alliance helped launch 160 companies.

“I found the idea that a university could play a catalytic role in creating jobs, companies and economic opportunity to be illuminating and exciting, and that’s what launched a lot of my work in innovation and entrepreneurship,” he says.

Over a 30-year career, Currall also was founding chair of the Department of Management Science and Innovation at University College London, dean of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California-Davis, and co-author of the book “Organized Innovation: A Blueprint for Renewing America’s Prosperity.” In July, he became the seventh president of the University of South Florida, succeeding Judy Genshaft, who led USF from 2000-19.

Currall, 61, grew up in Kansas City, Mo. His father was a social worker in a psychiatric hospital, and his mother was a medical school administrator. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Baylor University and then a master’s in social psychology from the London School of Economics.

In 1990, he received his Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Cornell, where he met his future wife, Cheyenne, who was in the same doctoral program.

Currall came to USF from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he was provost and vice president of academic affairs for three years.

  • First Impression: “One of the exciting things about the university is that it’s innovative, agile, nimble and courageous. A lot of that is a function of it being only a few decades old. It has an entrepreneurial spirit, and I found that very appealing. We’ve seen that recently in the way the university community has responded to the coronavirus. We put 5,300 courses online in a very short time.”
  • Post-Coronavirus: “We are very focused on ensuring continuity of our operations, of our research and teaching. At the same time, we’re mindful that the landscape is shifting, and we’re trying to understand how it’s shifting and how long-lasting these changes will be. Of course, the obvious thing is the emergence of online education. That’s not new, but the scale, the pervasiveness of it, is new. We’re proceeding in a way that leaves options open to us to meet the demands of students and others, but I don’t think it’s going to eliminate the traditional residential college experience.”
  • Key Initiative: “We’re planning on July 1 to be a consolidated university, one university with three campuses. That’s an exciting strategic opportunity for us to make the boundaries among the three campuses more permeable. There’s a great diversity of experience for our students in that the Tampa campus is a large campus — it has about 43,000 students — and yet the St. Petersburg campus is smaller with about 5,500, and Sarasota- Manatee has about 2,200. Some students want to be on a large campus like we have in Tampa, and some like a smaller campus experience, and we’ve got that.”
  • Main Challenge: “How do we fund our aspirations in terms of research and student support? One of the great things about the University of South Florida is the socioeconomic diversity — 40% of our students are Pell Grant eligible. We are a vehicle for pursuit of the American dream, and that takes resources.”
  • Fundraising: “We’re placing an increased focus on philanthropic fundraising. I’ve recently hired a senior vice president for advancement, Jay Stroman. Philanthropic support is going to be a very, very important part of our future.”
  • Fostering Innovation: “Leaders can create the conditions for innovation, but we can’t really force people to be creative or innovative. Professors by their nature are very innovative; universities essentially are communities of innovators. What universities have been less successful at is creating the institutionalized structures and processes that allow these innovators to work across disciplines, connect with each other and bring their ideas to the marketplace, either commercially or through public service. You’re going to see a renewed and refreshed emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship at USF.”

 

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