Vanessa Rushing, 22, is going to add letters to her name when she graduates from USF’s nursing program this spring.
Ever since she was a little girl, Rushing knew that she was going to become a nurse. Growing up with two older sisters who were also nurses, she never envisioned herself as anything else.
When Rushing was 8-years-old, doctors diagnosed her with familial hypophosphatemic rickets. Her health caused her to be in and out of Shriners Hospital until she was 18-years-old. Being surrounded by nurses made Rushing’s career path even clearer.
Originally from St. Petersburg, Florida, she didn’t want to stray too far from home when choosing which college to attend. She put USF high on her list since it is home to one of the best nursing programs in the state.
Rushing joined a sorority on campus during her second semester at USF. Being a member of Gamma Phi Beta helped to create her best memories of college.
“My favorite part about coming to college and coming to USF was definitely joining my sorority, Gamma Phi,” Rushing said. “I met so many amazing women through it. I live with two of my sisters now and great memories are made every day.”
Rushing’s best advice for new students is to get involved as soon as possible.
“You meet a ton of people through getting involved, whether it be from a sorority, a fraternity or any other organization,” Rushing said. “You make connections and form really awesome bonds that way. Your whole college experience from that point on is just 10 times better.”
The friends she had made in her sorority and classes helped Rushing through the hardest time of her life.
“My worst experience at USF was my sophomore year, after my dad passed away,” Rushing said. “It was a really tough semester. I was just applying to the nursing program, so I had all that stress on me at that end. Losing a parent is really hard and really difficult to go through, especially when you’re at such a young age.”
A college student’s nightmare became a reality for Rushing.
“It became harder to keep up my grades,” Rushing said. “He was my biggest support system.”
She didn’t let her dark days keep her from reaching her goals. She became more motivated to make her dad proud of her.
“I feel like I would subconsciously make myself work harder,” Rushing said. “Just to make sure I was doing him justice and make him feel proud.”
Rushing is going to make her dad proud as she walks across the stage in May. She will be taking her exam to become an official registered nurse soon after. Her goal is to work on either the pediatric floor, the emergency room or the pediatric ER.
Her friends who have known her all throughout college are cheering her on. They know Rushing is following the correct career path. Nicole Keesee has been friends with Rushing since their freshman year at USF.
“Vanessa will make an absolutely amazing nurse because of how much she truly cares for other people and how selfless she is,” Keesee said. “She is always putting others before herself and I think that is such an important quality to have when entering the medical field.”
In 2012, the University of South Florida chapter of the Theta Chi fraternity had a wonderful idea for a philanthropy event that would provide fundraising for a worthwhile cause. The event would also intend to provide incredible entertainment for all involved. Theta Chi focused on the local community and realized that they could help bring funding and awareness to the Shriners Hospitals for Children-Tampa located on USF’s campus.
Groups, primarily from the Greek community, collaborate in order to select two songs to be performed on the day of the event. This year, the concert had the most registered groups ever, with 10 female performances and 5 male performances competing for the title of champions.
So where does the fundraising come in? That process begins months before the actual day of the event. Each group contributes a registration fee and is expected to make an effort to raise funds from the USF community by encouraging t-shirt and ticket sales. The higher the funds raised, more points are added to the overall performance scores at Singing for Shriners.
When performance day came along, the Theta Chi brothers experienced an unexpected dilemma, as the audience reached maximum capacity in the theatre. Of all the problems that they could have faced this was a welcome one.
Jessica Hill, the Public Relations Specialist at Shriners-Tampa, was front and center for the show, even speaking on behalf of the hospital to the crowd.
“It means so much to have the support”, she said. “Theta Chi, in doing this, is helping to send love to the rescue for so many kids in our area.”
USF student Ally Lindsay has been attending the event for several years and she said that although it’s always nice to have a night full of entertainment, having representatives from the Hospital in attendance, “It'[s] a very important part of the event because you can see these people and see where all the money that everyone’s raising is going to.”
The performances didn’t disappoint and the crowd was enthralled from beginning to end. Perhaps the best part of the evening was finishing off the event with Theta Chi handing over a check to Shriner’s Hospital for $11,000.
A USF fraternity is in the news, and it’s for all of the right reasons.
USF’s Sigma Nu chapter hosted their 6th annual Sigma Nu White Rose Bowl Flag Football Tournament. The event brings allows USF sororities to compete and help raise money for St. Jude Children Hospital.
“As a community for Greek life we are really big on supporting one another and the charities we support,” said Haley Von Harten, captain of the Zeta Tau Alpha flag football team.
Throughout the event Sigma Nu hosted multiple other fundraisers to further their cause. Over the last two years, the guys have donated over $30,000 to St. Jude from the White Rose Bowl.
“This event is a big part of Sigma Nu’s National Helping Hand Initiative,” Sigma Nu President Dustin Winship said, “It aims at raising funds and awareness of St. Jude and all the awesome research that they do.”
Other than their own event, Sigma Nu will also compete in other philanthropy events in the Greek life community. They will continue to support St. Jude, as well as other charities like the Ronald McDonald house, through these events.
“ I’m really grateful to be able to be here and help raise money for St. Jude,” Von Harten said.
Even though some people view Gasparilla as a holiday to make it an all day party Marilyn Pereira wasn’t convinced. Pereira decided to stay away from the madness at Bayshore Boulevard and work a double shift as a server at World of Beer on Saturday. To her there was not much of an appeal to attend the event. It was more important to her to make some money than see the parade.
“I didn’t request off for Gasparilla because I didn’t really even know what it was,” Pereira said. “I just moved here and I didn’t know Gasparilla was today until pretty much everyone I work with requested off.”
Sometimes called the Mardi Gras of Florida; the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates attracts thousands to Tampa every year. The parade takes over the streets of downtown for a majority of the day. People from all over Florida make the trip to celebrate, and most of them are dressed up like pirates.
Pereira worked all morning and through most of the evening. She said she saw an increase in customers during her second shift Saturday evening after the parade had ended.
She described large groups of people of all ages weighed down with beads and wearing fake black beards and hats with giant feathers. She seemed to find the outfits a little silly. Even though she made more money than she had originally expected, she decided it might be worth it to attend Gasparilla next year.
“Yeah I would go. It would’ve been fun to tag along with someone,” Pereira said. “Maybe next year.”
Sigma Pi participated once again in Delta Gamma’s annual philanthropic Anchor Splash on Sunday, October 26, 2015. Sigma Pi did not place this year, but they seem to be optimistic toward future performances. Sigma Pi brother, Robert Steeg, said, “As long as we get more brothers to participate next year and we keep up the hard work, I believe we will improve and maybe even place.”
When it comes to raising awareness for a great cause, the sisters of Zeta Tau Alpha do not hold back. For the past five years, the sorority has held the Zeta Step Show at the University of South Florida and raised thousands of dollars for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer foundation.
Each year, multiple fraternities and sororities compete to see who is the best stepper at the university. This year, Sigma Delta Tau Sorority took first place for the women’s competition, and Pi Kappa Phi took first place in the men’s competition for the fourth year in a row. The step show continues to grow each year, and many consider it an important philanthropic event for the spring semester.
Mia Topic seems like an average sorority sister. She loves her Alpha Delta Pi sisters, being social and making people smile.
Her ambitious attitude was molded by the struggles her family faced. Topic and her parents immigrated to the United States to escape the Bosnian Civil War.
Topic was born in 1993, just as the conflict in Bosnia intensified. She and her mother were forced to flee to Croatia without her father in the midst of war, because men in Bosnia were viewed as larger threat and had trouble leaving the country.
Topic and her mother took refuge in distant friends home in Croatia. Months passed, and they had no contact with her father. Her mother feared the worst.
Students slouch around the Marshall Student Center in sweatpants and squeaky, soaked sneakers, umbrellas dripping at their sides. Everyone seems to be falling asleep to the dull patter of rain falling against the building’s roof and windows, until one female’s laughter breaks through the dreary ambiance.
Ayla Horan hugs and greets several acquaintances on her way inside the student center. She flashes a huge smile, pushing her long brown hair to one side as she adjusts a bulging burgundy Greek emblazoned tote bag.
Leaving her friends, she answers several new text messages on her phone. Horan’s online presence only underlines her outgoing and social personality. Online there are photos of herself with sorority sisters and friends abound—one can’t help but notice her many involvements and accomplishments at USF. Horan seems to do, and have it all.
However, a second look shows her to be much more than just a polished social butterfly of a sorority girl.
“I grew up always being told, ‘You’re going to be just like your parents. You’re going to amount to nothing,’” Horan said.
This Thanksgiving, Cristina Vasquez, president of USF’s Phi Sigma Pi, is thankful for school.
“There are times when I realize how lucky I am to go to college,” said Vasquez, reminiscing about her worry over attending a university. “I don’t want other students to have to miss out on an education because something is holding them back.”
Growing up in a military home, Vasquez was constantly moving between foreign bases like Italy, Japan and Germany, filled with interesting cities and people. Her diverse insight has provided her with a worldly perspective on life and the importance of education.
“There are different education systems around the world, but most are more accessible than schools in the [United] States,” said Vasquez. She has seen firsthand the issues that plague students in the Tampa Bay community who cannot afford to get an education because of socioeconomic problems.
Vasquez believes that part of the reason why students drop out of high school or do not continue on to college, is because they don’t receive proper counseling and instruction on how to apply to school and receive funding. She also believes that some of them do not realize the importance of school, early on.
“My mother worked a full-time job, raised three kids and sacrificed her free time to go to college. Without her, I never would have realized the importance of education. I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I have now.” Vasquez said.
Annie Hudgins, Vasquez’s mother, agrees that she was always trying to instill the importance of education into her children.
“I always told my children, I can’t leave you much but the one thing I want for you all is to get an education, because once you have that many doors that will open up for you. You [will] start to understand the world and others better,” she said.
Currently, Vasquez is a senior psychology student at USF. She hopes to become a high school counselor in the future, so that she may aid students into choosing to pursue higher education, despite the obstacles they may face. In the meantime, she uses her fraternity influence to run school supply and book drives for local elementary and middle schools.
“We have a philanthropic goal to overcome in the fraternity, and mine is education inequality. Every child deserves a good education,” said Vasquez. While the fraternity also participates in other charitable goals, like cleaning up the USF campus, Vasquez enjoys being able to pursue her passions with her fraternity.
Kiana Coffey, Vasquez’s best friend and roommate is also a member of Phi Sigma Pi and supports Vasquez’s passions in the fraternity.
“I think this is a really important goal. More accessible education would offer students facing adversity more opportunities for success,” Coffey said. She also believes that Vasquez’s loving nature and strong leadership skills would make her successful in pursuing this passion.
Vasquez may be an education advocate in the Tampa community, but at USF she makes strides elsewhere. Vazquez runs the first all gender-inclusive, honor fraternity at USF. Phi Sigma Pi consists of 40 to 60 people each semester, all of which have at least a 3.2 GPA and three or more semesters left at the university. According to Vasquez, Phi Sigma Pi has a hand in everything including scholarship, social and charity events.
Despite having the final say in fraternity decisions, Vasquez always takes into consideration the opinions of all her fraternity members.
“As a leader, it’s important to take the backseat and do what’s best for the group,” said Vasquez.
Patrick Bagge, a Phi Sigma Pi initiary advisor believes that Vasquez is a great mentor.
“[She] always puts the needs of others before her own,” Bagge said. “and always does her utmost to fulfill her goals.”
Cellular and Molecular Biology student, Kaylie Male, also agrees that Vasquez is an influential leader.
“I don’t think that [Vasquez] realizes how much positivity she radiates. I feel that her future will greet her with many more opportunities than she may even think possible. Her positivity and determination will be at the root of her success,” said Male, who has been a member of Phi Sigma Pi for two years.
Vasquez will be graduating USF in the spring of 2015. She hopes to inspire others to pursue higher schooling and become leaders within their community.
“Cristina will do a lot of good in the world, in small ways and big ways. She is definitely someone to keep an eye on,” Coffey said.
Phyllis Grae-Nielson has just finished celebrating the 27th anniversary of Greek Unique, her fraternity and sorority based store. Located near the University of South Florida in Tampa, Greek Unique also serves the University of Tampa, St. Leo University and Florida Southern University.
Greek Unique offers hundreds of gift items for almost every fraternity or sorority. However, they are best known for their classic jerseys and made-to-order items.
“We have a lot of different options, we have about 208 different fabrics so people can come in and choose the fabric that we have and they can also bring in their own fabric,” said Cali Sanford, the store manager.
What makes Greek Unique so special is that everything that is made to order, besides the garments, is made by hand. The fraternity and sorority letters that are sewn onto the jerseys are hand cut and put together.
“The main things that we do are double stitch and embroidery, so double stitch is the twill letters that you see that go across most of the people’s shirts and the embroidery is just standard embroidery,” said Sanford.
Greek Unique is also a family-based business. The store was first opened by Grae-Neilson and her two daughters, both USF Alumni. Now it is run by Grae-Neilson and her husband Alistar Nielson, who does the embroidery.
“This is what I’ve been doing for 27 years, and I love it,” said Grae-Nielson.
Greek Unique is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is located at 5025 East Fowler Avenue.
Story and photographs by: Emma Sims and Alyssa Perry
The men from USF’s Sigma Nu fraternity had a powdery layer of sawdust on their glasses. It was nearing midnight Wednesday. The clouds of fine dust battled for space in the already anxious air that filled the fraternity house backyard.
There were two days until the USF Homecoming parade, and the team of two Greek chapters, Sigma Nu and Delta Delta Delta, had just started building their float. They were behind schedule and running out of time. And to add more spice to the Crock-Pot of confusion, they did not have a theme for their float.
The team planed on decorating their trailer with a “Peter Pan” theme – at first.
“We have a problem. Gamma Phi Beta is already doing “Peter Pan” as their theme,” Delta’s activities director Nicole Harris said. “We can’t do it now, it’ll look like we copied them.”
“Maybe they copied us,” Sigma’s activity director John Lemmer said.
“We need a new theme, like now. Does anyone have an idea?” Harris asked the crew of six.
“What about “The Little Mermaid?’” Jill Bowen said.
The three Sigma Nu brothers were not impressed. Their childhood movie repertoire likely did not include the singing redheaded mermaid. The men wanted to stick with “Peter Pan,” but the women had already started singing Ariel’s ballad, “A Part of Your World.” The battle was lost as soon as it began.
“I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore. You want thingamabobs? I’ve got 20. But who cares? No big deal. I want more,” the group of Deltas belted to their confused audience.
“OK stop. This isn’t “High School Musical,’” Jordan Moore said.
“We don’t have any more time to talk about it,” Lemmer said.
And so, “The Little Mermaid” it was.
USF’s 2014 homecoming theme was “Once Upon a Homecoming.” The campus celebrations culminated with the Running with the Bulls Night Parade Friday night, comprised of floats and participants from various organizations, including Greek teams. Floats were judged for first, second and third place. There were four categories in the judging criteria: originality and creativity, theme, design and construction and, of course, green and gold spirit. The deadline for float construction was 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10.
The Running with the Bulls Night Parade took place at 7 p.m. Friday. Professional and homemade floats participated in the contest. The winner would be announced later that night at the Homecoming After-Party.
Fraternities and sororities at USF paired up for the homecoming week events. Each Greek team had a committee of 20 participants, with 10 from each fraternal organization. The participating few were expected to take part in the homecoming responsibilities, which included building the float.
Float construction was not limited to the homecoming committee. Any of the organization’s members could help, but finding available students proved to be a project in itself.
“It’s really hard to find people who will help. It’s a really ridiculous time commitment for the week,” Harris said. “That’s hard when people have class at night and jobs.”
Wednesday night’s float crew included only six workers – three sorority sisters and three fraternity brothers. The Sigma men were working until 1 a.m. Thursday, building a pirate ship on their trailer.
“Girls can’t exactly handle power tools,” Harris said.
Once the float construction was assembled, the women joined the men to help improve the aesthetics. Friday afternoon was spent working collaboratively to meet the float competition’s criteria.
Harris was trying to round up the focus of her workers. She needed to make a trip to the Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store for some last minute supplies.
They had three hours left.
“OK, so we need spray paint, plastic swords, candy, bubbles, fabric and hats. What else?” Harris said.
“Girls, who wants to be the Rose to my Jack?” Moore asked.
Harris rolled her eyes.
“This isn’t “Titanic”, Jordan. It’s “The Little Mermaid,” Harris said.
On the house’s back deck, Jack, Bowen’s four-month-old Golden Retriever, yelped and whined. Perhaps his distress stemmed from the cone of shame around his perky head (a result of his recent neutering procedure), or perhaps he was warning the students that they were running out of time.
Jack was politely ignored. The team was busy bantering about what to buy at the craft store.
“What about confetti poppers?” Lemmer asked.
“No,” Harris said. “We’re not doing that.”
“I’m the king of the world!” Medlin shouted from the pirate ship’s platform as he gripped the ship’s wheel.
It was going to be a long afternoon.
Homecoming week was packed with events.
Every day, except Wednesday, had a game in which the Greek teams were expected to compete. Various other events accompanied the games, including a weeklong blood drive, a soda can tab donation and the construction of a USF Spirit sculpture. These events were ongoing, and teams were given sign-in points for each event in which a member participated.
“It’s just kind of a lot,” Harris said.
Although the homecoming week consists largely of competitions, teams remain friendly with one another.
“It’s nothing dramatic,” elementary education major and Gamma Phi Beta sorority member Amanda Carlton said. “You get to bond with someone you wouldn’t normally work with.”
At the end of homecoming week, points were tallied and winners were announced. The categories included overall placement and individual competition placements.
“Sigma Nu is really good at intramurals,” finance major and Gamma Phi sister, Shelby Fouts-Harley said.
Lemmer said their team, The Fuzzy Wombats, spent around $450 on their “Little Mermaid” float, which was entirely homemade. Essential materials included large particleboards, gallons of green paint and fabric for decorations and costumes.
“We put a lot of work into it, so at this point we want to win,” Harris said. “It’d be awesome if we did, but it’s not the end of the world.”
The staging area on Holly Drive was buzzing with school spirit.
The gold dresses of the Sun Dolls sparkled in the setting sun as the Herd of Thunder band tapped on their snares. Professional floats boasted bright paint jobs, permanent props and loud music. The homemade floats were waiting next to their manufactured competitors. Everyone was gearing up to go.
The parade was in an hour.
The Wombat’s float was hooked up to the trailer-hitch on Bowen’s white Chevrolet truck. A Sigma Nu flag flapped proudly from a pipe on the ship’s bow. There were two fishnets draped on the sides of the 10-foot-tall trailer construction, named “The S.S. Fuzzy Wombats.”
The team’s creation met all the required competition criteria: it was original, it fit USF’s fairy tale theme, the construction was sturdy and it was decked out in all green and gold paint. There was only one component missing from the team’s float – the members of the Fuzzy Wombats. No one accompanied the float.
There was 15 minutes to show time.
The sidewalks on Holly and Maple Drive were peppered with an audience of students, alumni and everyone in-between.
The parade was rolling along the road covered in Laffy Taffy and cheap strings of beads. Children leapt for their lives to catch the flying treats.
The party music and cheers of “Go Bulls” filled the air with school spirit.
It was 8 p.m. and the parade was almost over.
Then, around the corner cruised “The Little Mermaid” crew. The Delta women and Sigma men were cheering and grinning.
“The S.S. Fuzzy Wombats” made it after all. Their float was not the best looking one, but it was there. And for that, they were proud.