Renowned journalist condemns ‘alt-right’ speech at University of Florida

Ralph Lowenstein speaks to USF students and staff. Photo by Justin Garcia.

TAMPA-  USF students were visited by a widely respected journalism professor on Tuesday, Nov. 21st, who spoke on the issue of white nationalism and a recent controversial speech in Gainesville.

Retired University of Florida (UF) Dean Emeritus Dr. Ralph Lowenstein spoke to a room full of students and teachers at USF.  He spoke in-depth about white nationalists, in particular Richard Spencer, leader of the ‘alt-right’ movement.

“He [Spencer] believes in ethnic cleansing,” Lowenstein said.  “He doesn’t go much further than that.”

Lowenstein explained that Spencer won the right to speak at UF on October 19th because of free speech under the First Amendment.

“Those of you who are journalism students know that there are lots of exceptions to the First Amendment,” Lowenstein said.  “ You can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre.  You can’t engage in hate speech that will set people off to do damage to people.”

In August of this year, Spencer co-organized the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Va. which became violent.  Many were injured and Heather Heyer, who was there to protest the alt-right, was killed when a man drove his vehicle into the crowd of protestors.

Spencer and his legal team feel that their speech is defended under the First Amendment.  Gary Edinger is Spencer’s attorney who defended his right to speak at UF.

“This was no doubt a sensitive and difficult issue for the University of Florida,” Edinger said.  “But all citizens should be pleased that the First Amendment was ultimately respected.”

Spencer says that his ideas are controversial because they are powerful.  He claims that it is not the alt-right who are violent, but the groups who oppose them.  He says this frees him from the possibility of his speech being censored due to the threat of violence from the alt-right.

“This is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to free speech,” Spencer said.  “If you can’t protect the free speech of a controversial speaker then you don’t really believe in free speech.”

Protesters demonstrate outside of Spencer speech. Photo by Justin Garcia.

UF students and others who oppose Spencer interrupted his speech inside the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts with chants such as, “Say it loud, say it clear: Nazis are not welcome here.” Outside of the speech, over 2,500 protesters against Spencer demonstrated around the Phillips Center.  The protests were mainly peaceful, except for a shooting which occurred near the event.

Lowenstein described the shooting, “Students who were demonstrating went to an intersection  near the Phillips auditorium,” Lowenstein said. “Three of these alt-right people… approached them at a bus stop.  One of them pulled a gun and fired the gun, thank heaven it missed and it [the bullet] went into a nearby building.”

One of the victims who was fired upon remembered the license plate of the vehicle the men were in and gave it to the police, who stopped them on the interstate. The three men, Tyler Tenbrink, Colton Fears and William Fears were accused of attempted homicide and are being held at Alachua County Jail.

Richard Spencer and the alt-right have yet to release a statement on the shooting.

Lowenstein made it clear during his discussion with students at USF that speakers such as Spencer should be resisted at colleges not only for the sake of the integrity of the university, but also to protect the well-being of those exposed to members of the alt-right.

“I feel that the University of Florida acted improperly,” Lowenstein said. “They actually turned down this man because of the threat of violence.   Then when their attorney threatened to file suit against them, they caved in completely, instead of taking it up to a federal court, at least for the benefit of the students and faculty.”

Here’s what you need to know about Betsy DeVos’ changes to Title IX

Over the summer, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos kicked off her plans to replace Obama-era Title IX.

Before enacting any changes, DeVos met with victims, victim advocates and accused assaulters in an attempt to see all sides of the argument.

Title IX has been a crucial component in protecting students against discrimination. According to an article by Jeannie Suk Gersen in the New Yorker, sexual assault is not explicitly stated as protected, but is interpreted by the courts today as a form of sexual discrimination.

DeVos has spoken out about the need to protect the accused, although, victim advocates say this narrative gives way to rape culture and the silencing of victims.

In an article for CNNAnnie Clark, the executive director for End Rape on Campus, stated, “We will not accept this blatant favoritism for the rights of rapists under the guise of fairness.”

In the 2011 Dear Colleague letter put out by the Office of Civil Rights under President Obama, schools were required to use a different levels of the Burden of Proof while investigating sexual assault cases.

There are 3 levels for Burden of Proof: Beyond a reasonable doubt, clear and convincing, and preponderance of evidence. The letter stated that the schools were now required to use the lowest burden, preponderance of evidence.

Prior to this, schools were using the standard of clear and convincing evidence. According to, preponderance of evidence is not based on the amount of evidence present, but the more convincing evidence that is present.

Gersen stated that some felt that this more lenient burden of proof allowed for unfair trials against the accused; victims rights advocates believe that this rhetoric of protecting abusers silences victims.

One of the downfalls of the Obama Era Title IX is it was implemented through the Dear Colleague letter. Many schools felt pressured into changing their policies and procedures after the release of the letter. Schools are required to stay in line with implemented standards in order to continue receiving federal funds.

Not only did the letter and its requirements come as a surprise to university officials, it is also easily overturned with the release of a new letter. On Sept. 25, 2017, the Office of Civil Rights released a new letter rescinding that of the Obama Administration.

In this letter, it is stated schools should no longer rely on the regulations of the 2011 Dear Colleague letter, and that the department would further be relying on standards from Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance from 2001 and the Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Harassment issued Jan. 25, 2006.

It is unclear how rolling back on these protections of victims will explicitly affect college campuses. 

At USF, the Office of Diversity, Inclusion & Equal Opportunity houses the Title IX Coordinators for our campus. Unfortunately, they would not comment on changes made by DeVos,or what changes USF students should expect on campus.

In a speech to students, DeVos stated, “One rape is one too many, one assault is one too many, one aggressive act of harassment is one too many, one person denied due process is one too many.

After months of attacks on minority and previously protected groups by the administration there is hesitation and backlash against DeVo’s decision.

Walt Disney World Resort’s NBA Experience’s latest update

Preview poster for The NBA Experience. Photo by: Tea Piro

As of Oct. 19, the Walt Disney World Resort has given guests an updated first look into a sports themed experience coming to their main shopping and dining destination, Disney Springs.

In June of 2015, the editorial content director for Disney Parks, Thomas Smith published an article on the Disney Parks Blog, announcing The Walt Disney Co.’s collaboration with the National Basketball Association to create The NBA Experience. The announcement came just before the 2015 NBA Finals, which brought in an American audience average of roughly 20 million.

“We’re excited to join The NBA in offering this unique form of family entertainment,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “It will be a terrific addition to the world-class lineup of shops and restaurants coming to Disney Springs.”

The Oct. 19 announcement featured concept art for what will be the facade of The NBA Experience. The statement referenced the architectural design of modern basketball arenas across the U.S. as contributing factors to the design choice.

While detailed design ideas have yet to be released for the interior of the space, the venue is set to include shopping experiences, games with competitive features, a connected dining location and other interactive aspects.

“This one-of-a-kind experience is sure to be enjoyed by basketball and Disney fans of all ages who visit Disney Springs from around the world, ” said Sal LaRocca, NBA President of Global Partnerships.

On March 14, 2013, Tom Staggs, Chief Operation Officer for The Walt Disney Company, announced the transition of the resort’s shopping center, Downtown Disney, into what is now Disney Springs. The three year expansion resulted in the shopping center almost doubling in size.

The NBA Experience will be replacing DisneyQuest, an indoor interactive theme park that opened at The Walt Disney World Resort in 1998. DisneyQuest featured an array of video games that highlighted attractions found in the Disney parks as a way for guests to enjoy key elements without directly visiting one of the four Walt Disney World Resort theme parks.

In June of 2015, it was announced that DisneyQuest would close its doors the following year to make way for The NBA Experience. However, DisneyQuest did not officially close until July of 2017.

DisneyQuest demolition site as of November 3, 2017. Photo by: Tea Piro
DisneyQuest demolition space as of November 3, 2017. Photo by: Tea Piro

DisneyQuest was known for its old-school atmosphere, featuring pinball machines and other arcade-style games. While this aspect brought feelings of nostalgia to some guests, others viewed the indoor theme park as outdated. However, Walt Disney World Resort cast members noticed an influx of guests returning to DisneyQuest prior to its closure.

“People know that it’s coming to a close,” said Steve Ruffman, the General Manager of Disney Springs’ West Side and The Landing, to the Orlando Sentinel in June of 2017. “There are Disney gamers, there are Disneyphiles and there are people who are just excited that this has been part of their annual visit to Disney World. It’s now ‘a must-do’ when it was ‘a may-have-been’ a year ago.”

The NBA Experience is coming to The Walt Disney World Resort following the closure of NBA City at Orlando’s Universal CityWalk. NBA City, the themed restaurant that included NBA memorabilia, closed in August of 2015.

“Earlier this year, we decided not to renew the lease for NBA City so we could create an exciting, new concept for that space,” said Universal spokesman Tom Schroder to the Orlando Sentinel.

The NBA Experience’s new location to Disney Springs will add a significant space increase to the basketball themed restaurant. The location of CityWalk’s former NBA City restaurant, now The Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium, offered 17,500 square feet; however, the new location at the DisneyQuest space offers 100,000 square feet.

Although the opening date for summer 2019 has officially been announced, Walt Disney World Resort guests have been voicing differing opinions in the comment sections of the Disney Parks Blog regarding a NBA themed experience at Disney Springs.

Business major hits the ground running


David Zhou, Photo by Emily Munger

Arriving to his photoshoot with camera in hand, playing a catchy pop song on his phone and slicking back his hair, David Zhou is ready to make a new portfolio for his website.

Zhou, 20, helped co-found a premium fitness apparel company named Alpha Pack Fitness and does photography and videography for paying clients. He is also senior majoring in business at the University of South Florida.

Zhou’s eyes beamed when he remembered the reason why he wanted to help start Alpha Pack Fitness.

“We wanted to create a brand that had real meaning behind it,” Zhou said. “Something a community could come together for but also create clothing that was technologically superior but affordable.”

The Alpha Pack Fitness community is one Zhou said he has never seen before in other businesses.  Alpha Pack Fitness sells clothing, but they are also a social media tool for motivating people, according to the website.

“The Alpha Pack Fitness community is a group of friends turned family who encourage me to stay healthy and positive,” Annette Rumas, an Alpha Pack Fitness customer said.

Co-founding a business at 18 years old was not the only task Zhou was completing. He said he also had an interest in YouTube, and would watch video bloggers share their lives with communities they had never met. So, Zhou began to bring his camera on every car ride, family gathering and even his prom.

“I will never forget shooting my first video for a client,” Zhou said. “Seeing how their lips just curled all the way up into a huge smile from my video was priceless.”

Zhou learned his craft by watching tutorials on YouTube. He began to make his own photography business after realizing it was a service people needed. He decided it would be a way to gain experience while bringing people quality products.

“I ended up compensating myself,” Zhou said. “I invested most of the profits back into better equipment, so I can keep producing higher quality photos.”

Today, Zhou is a contact for many USF organizations. He said that he records events such as sorority bid day, formal and recruitment videos. With a large student body looking for his services, Zhou said he is kept busy.

At the end of the academic year, Zhou said he was shooting graduation photos for more than 10 clients a day.

Zhou said that he is helping the world become slightly better, one business deal at a time.  He is also thankful to his parents, who have put faith in him.

“I believe that I have made any sacrifice my parents had to make worth it,” said Zhou. “Everything I have done is in thanks to them.”

Women’s March organizers speak to students about activism

Women’s March discussion at USF speakers and organizers. Photo by Faisal Latif.

Jan. 20, 2017, marked Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States. And thus, a movement was ignited.

On Jan. 21, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, marched on Washington in protest of Trump’s election and the issues he ran on. Spinoff marches took place in many cities around the country and the globe, making the Women’s March the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.

On Wednesday evening, three of the Women’s March organizers spoke with students at the University of South Florida on activism and other issues in an event hosted by USF Divest.

In attendance at the event were Women’s March Co-President Tamika Mallory, Treasurer Carmen Perez and Assistant Treasurer Linda Sarsour.

Mallory is a social justice activist, as well as a leader in a community-based effort to end gun violence in New York City. Her past work includes collaborating with the Obama administration as an advocate for civil rights issues.

Perez is a Latina woman who has spent the past two decades advocating for civil rights issues, highlighting the violence and mass incarceration crisis in America in an effort to solve them. She also served as executive director of the Gathering for Justice, travelling the world to find alternatives to incarceration.

Sarsour is an activist for racial justice and civil rights. She is an outspoken individual who seeks to educate people on intersectional activism. Sarsour prides herself as an unapologetic Palestinian-American Muslim.

The panel also consisted of local activist and USF alumnus Ahmad Saadaldin as well as journalist Ali Al-Arian, who served as the mediator of the discussion.

Saadaldin is a filmmaker, organizer and small-business owner. Saadaldin founded Peace House University and regularly speaks to high school students about the importance of activism. He is currently running in the Florida District 58 Special Election for State House.

Al-Arian is an award-winning journalist with Al Jazeera English. He was part of the team that launched Palestine Remix, which used interactive tools to tell the story of Palestine. His latest project is a documentary about the boycott, divest and sanctions movement against Israel.

The panelists spoke about the importance of intersectional activism, getting involved and how they organized the Women’s March.

Mallory acknowledged that the Women’s March wasn’t always an intersectional movement. In the beginning stages of its organization, Mallory said, it was very problematic. The original name of the protest, “The Million Women March,” was the name of a protest march organized by black women in 1997. The organizers called Mallory and Perez, looking to include women of color in their planning process in order to rectify such knowledge gaps. The ladies weren’t going to take that offer at face value.

“We immediately said from the beginning that we’re not going to plan a march, we’re not event planners,” said Mallory. “If we’re going to come and meet with you, it was about us being in leadership and helping shape the agenda of the march.”

She decided that she would help them make it intersectional and bring her voice to the table.

“There was no table [for us]. We actually built the table, we stood on the top of the table and made sure that the agenda represented all of women’s issues.”

In an effort to make sure all women and their issues were included in the march, they reached out to multiple individuals who were all experts in their separate fields and asked them to come together to form a list of what they were working on. These points of unity helped to generate a policy platform for the Women’s March.

“It was the most radical policy platform in the history of any march,” she said. “For us, it was making sure that people felt included in the process,” said Perez, adding that although there was a lot of criticism “at the end of the day, a lot of people felt that they saw themselves in this march and that was what we were trying to accomplish.”

Perez also insisted that the march wasn’t targeting Trump alone.

“Trump is only one of the symptoms of what’s happening at a larger scale in this country,” said Perez. “We were fighting systemic racism and oppression.”

Sarsour expressed her surprise at the amount of people who showed up. Having planned for a quarter of a million people, they were not expecting hundreds of thousands of people to show up in Washington. She also was taken aback by the magnitude of the march, in terms of how many spin-off marches resulted around the country and even around the world.

“We are so grateful to look back at that day and know that people stood up in every corner of the country, for women’s rights, for equality and for justice,” said Sarsour.

The women proceeded to explain to the students the importance of activism and the importance of supporting the identities of other people.

Saadaldin, who was instrumental in the divestment movement on campus, discussed how the movement was an intersectional movement.

USF Divest is a diverse coalition made up of students, faculty, and staff on campus with the purpose of raising awareness of USF’s investment policy. They have collected over 10,000 signatures of support in one year.

The peak of their efforts was this past spring, when 89 percent of those  who participated in the student body election voted in favor of USF creating a group to oversee the investments of the university. The group is currently in the process of establishing a large student membership on campus.

Although divest originally was founded on Palestinian rights, the leaders realized that their issues were systemic and took shape in different forms in other communities.

“We decided to expand our movement and invite people to join us, calling for private prison divestment and fossil fuel divestment,” said Saadaldin.

Mallory also explained that intersectionality doesn’t mean the tokenization of other identities for the purpose of diversity.

“It’s not transactional,” Mallory said, describing it as being able to look at an issue and caring about it even though it doesn’t directly affect your community.

Panel speaks on activism at the Women’s March event, hosted by USF Divest.

“Intersectionality looks like you being able to step outside of yourself and say, ‘This may not necessarily impact me…but it impacts us as a greater community and if you aren’t free…how can I be free?’ ” Mallory said.

Sarsour elaborated on Mallory’s point about the non-transactional aspect of intersectionality. She doesn’t ask organizations if they support her causes before she decided to work with them and care about their cause, rather she shows up and gives her support.

“This is how solidarity works,” said Sarsour. “You don’t come into a space and impose your issue on other people. You don’t come into a space and be upset because somebody doesn’t want to talk about your issue. The first question people are going to ask is you is, ‘where have you been? What have you done for our community?’”

Sarsour also encouraged people to realize their own privilege when working with an organization.

“Intersectionality also means the intersections of oppression,” she said. “When people who have been at the receiving end of oppression [are talking], you need to listen to their pain and frustration and not take it personally.”

Following the panel’s discussion, there was a Q&A in which attendees lined up to ask questions. The questions were diverse and covered a lot of aspects on activism. One 12-year-old girl, with her mother by her side, asked how young people can be more involved with activism, to which the organizers applauded her for being interested at such a young age and gave her suggestions.

However, there were a few hecklers who came with the intent to disrupt the organizers.

Some attempted to condemn Sarsour and Islam as a whole but were shut down by the panel. Sarsour said that she developed thick skin to people who used Islam to attack her because they didn’t have a proper understanding of what Islam is.

The event ended peacefully with the last words of Sarsour inviting people to be organized and involved.

“Don’t be ambitious, don’t try to change the world,” she said. “Take baby steps and baby steps.”

Wake and Bacon food truck to open



Gettin Klucky photo via Facebook

A local restaurant lifer is finally ready to break off on his own path and try his hand in the food truck game as early as January 2018.

Chris Daneker has spent half of his life working in the restaurent industry and always dreamed of running the show himself. That dream may be coming true after nearly a year of planning and team building. With the help of friends and business partners, Jason Harp and Chelsey Macko, Wake and Bacon is ready to roll.

“We chose to do a food truck because it’s cheaper,” Daneker said. “We’re broke with no capital to use as collateral for a larger loan.”

Daneker needed a plan to make his food truck and future restaurant a reality.

“Food trucks are mobile marketing for our eventual brick-and-mortar restaurant,” Daneker said.

Daneker and his partners have been planning for 10 months. Those plans and the subsequent business model came from his sister, an accounting major, in a project that earned her one of the highest grades in her class.

The planning includes extensive research in Bay Area counties. Wake and Bacon used this information to determine where they would plan on setting up shop on a given day.

“We plan to operate throughout the Tampa Bay area with daily stops in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties,” Daneker said. “Both counties are on the upswing as far as growth in population and economy.”

A lot of that population growth can be attributed to a younger crowd. Daneker said their target demographic is ages 21-45, so this area may be perfect.

Wake and Bacon’s business model is tied to the versatility of its ingredients. Candied bacon, Cuban bread and chicken breast are used in a multitude of ways. This maximizes profit while still allowing each entrée to be completely different.

How does Candied Heaven sound? It is a breakfast sandwich with candied bacon, Havarti cheese and two runny over-easy eggs between butter-toasted Cuban bread.

The Tummy Stix are waffle sticks served infused with candied bacon with fried chicken tenders and homemade syrup.

The menu also features the Gettin’ Klucky sandwich with fried chicken with shredded lettuce and homemade ranch pressed between Cuban bread.

Daneker may be excited to finally get started but he still understands it is an ongoing process even once you are open for business.  He wants to reach higher.

Daneker said that his long-term plan is to convert the food truck into a stationary restaurant and use the truck for catering and deliveries.

USF HerCampus inspires women to be heard

TAMPA- HerCampus is an online magazine focused on the empowerment of college women and journalists.

The organization was founded in 2009 by Winsor Hanger Western, Stephanie Kaplan Lewis and Annie Wang while they were undergrads at Harvard.

HerCampus founders (from left to right) Western, Wang, and Lewis via

All three women worked together on a student published lifestyle magazine for Harvard. They wanted to pursue online publications beyond college, and from this, HerCampus was born.

HerCampus includes sections titled ‘job advice’ and ‘money’ for students to prepare for the future. According to its website, many members of HerCampus have been offered internships with publications such as The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Vogue, Buzzfeed, Teen Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Not only does this publication allow its contributors these opportunities, it gives readers a space where they can grow and understand college life and beyond with their fellow collegiettes.

Collegiette definition from the HerCampus website

Here at USF, collegiettes have a chance to explore their journalistic potential with full-time and part-time writing positions. By being a member of HerCampus, USF students have a chance to become published and grab the attention of potential employers.

The first USF HerCampus meeting of the semester was held on Sept. 25, in MSC 3704. The meeting was led by Kaitlin Anderson, the HerCampus USF campus correspondent. The purpose of the meeting was to prepare new members for the semester and establish expectations from writers and social media contributors.

Anderson assigned writers to their senior editors Cierra Craft and Téa Piro. When a new member from the crowd asked about the type of content to write about, Craft stated that the spectrum of subjects is very broad for the magazine. Contributors are encouraged to write about anything that is meaningful to them, with permission from their senior editor. Favorite beauty products, social issues and inspirational people on campus are just a few of the popular topics covered.

HerCampus Infographic by Kylie Buklad

With an array of subjects available, HerCampus has content for a diversity of collegiettes in need of advice and guidance. Students can learn how to handle certain issues, relate with their fellow students and become inspired to share their own stories and the stories of others.

HerCampus is a place where any collegiette can feel included and empowered. Even if you are nervous about publishing your writing for the first time, HerCampus is a great way to get started. With the guidance of the senior editors, you can learn the basics of a good article and your work will become more polished.  If you want your voice to be heard, become a contributor today.

Check out the HerCampus USF website to see what the collegiettes have to say.

Joining HerCampus is as simple as sending an email via the Join Us link on their website.  For inquires about the USF Chapter, Anderson can be contacted via email at






USF student waits 8 days to hear from father in Puerto Rico

Tampa – Hurricane Maria didn’t hit Tampa Bay but the devastation she wreaked on Puerto Rico hits home for many in the community with family who endured the storm.

Carina Galarza Minondo, a 20-year-old junior at the University of South Florida, spent over a week trying to get in touch with her father in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Minondo spoke with her father the Monday before Hurricane Maria hit and didn’t hear from him for days, wondering if not only her father, but her grandparents and cousins, had survived the storm.

“I was under so much stress,” Minondo said. “I couldn’t sleep, eat or focus on anything. I was having panic attacks at work.”

The days grew longer and longer for Minondo as she worried about her grandmother in Puerto Rico with Alzheimer’s disease.

“I didn’t know whether she had been at home or if she was with my uncle,” Minondo said. “My step grandmother’s house is a wooden house, so I was worried about that too. It was the most horrible week of my life.”

A rush of relief overcame Minondo when she finally received a phone call from her father eight days after the storm had passed. Hearing his voice was all it took for her to break down in tears.

“They were all fine,” Minondo said. “Of course, no power, no water, but at least they’re all healthy and there was no damage to their homes. It was suddenly the best day ever.”

Minondo’s family will not be coming back to the United States while Puerto Rico rebuilds from the storm. She said her family members are stubborn and would rather stay to help the island get back on its feet.

When asked what her family is doing to get by while they recover, Minondo said they’re all going to bed early these days.

“The notion of time has pretty much disappeared for them,” Minondo said. “My dad started work again, but without electricity everything is old school paperwork being done.”

“Banks are only giving $100 per person since the only goods available are food and it can only be paid for with cash,” Minondo said. “My family is scared to even have $100 in their pockets because they could easily be robbed.”

The food, water and cash shortage in Puerto Rico continues to be an issue. Those receiving payments from family members in the states are out of luck while they are still out of power. Even though there are supplies being brought in, it’s not reaching every part of it.

“It’s like only the metropolitan area is receiving help while the rest of the island just suffers,” Minondo said. “It truly hurts to see such a beautiful island, and islands in the Antilles in so much pain and destruction.”

Collecting supplies for Puerto Rico has not been an issue, in fact there are 100 tons in one warehouse, but securing a plane to get the supplies there has been the biggest hurdle.

For those interested in making donations to Puerto Rico, Course of Action PR is still accepting donations at Homeland Intelligence Technologies. Located at 4916 S Lois Ave., Tampa, FL 33611. The drop of location is open Monday thru Saturday, from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

The drop off location also has three shifts open to any volunteers who are at least 18 years old. The facility asks that you show up only at any of these specific times: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. or 3 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Visit the Course of Action PR page on Facebook for an updated list of donation items.

Retail- Is It The End Of The Line?

Retail continues its downward spiral, leaving many of us wondering how much longer brick-and-mortar stores will last.

2017 has experienced nine retail bankruptcies resulting in the closing of many of our favorite department stores. J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s, and Sears have each closed more than 100 stores in the past year.  

If these numbers have shown us anything it’s that retail is a very fickle business and no brand is safe. In the span of a few months a company can go from high to low, which is the case with Swedish, mega-retailer H&M.

Just three months ago they were reporting a surge in their sales, surprising everyone with a 10 percent boost in profits. But it seems that that was the calm before the storm. The fast-fashion retailer reported its third-quarter earnings on Thursday and they left more to be desired. The company’s last period saw a 20 percent dip in their net profit. They attributed the decrease to  “reduced footfall in stores in their established markets”.

Seeing as more and more consumers are shopping online, the lack of foot traffic comes as no surprise. They certainly aren’t the only store suffering. They may however be one of few stores to clear out all of its end-of-season inventory. Unfortunately that didn’t bring in the expected profits.  CEO, Karl-Johan Persson explained the lack of revenue in a recent press release.

“ Sales in the quarter were affected by a significantly larger summer sale this year than in the corresponding quarter last year- both in terms of the number of items and the average discount per piece – which had a dampening effect on revenue growth. This contributed to the autumn collections getting off to a good start, although sales slowed somewhat towards the end of september.”

In an attempt to stay afloat H&M’s online store is planning on opening two new markets in the Philippines and Cyprus in addition to the six online markets it currently has.

Other companies, like H&M, realize that consumers are focusing on online shopping and rather than give up hope they are doing what they can to push through. Companies like Nordstrom.

Nordstrom, one of the country’s largest department stores is doing all that it can to incorporate online shopping into their employees selling strategies. Allowing their customers to call, email and even text employees the items that they want. Customers can find the items that they want online, make a wishlist and send it to any Nordstrom employee, leaving them to find and ship the items straight to their home.

The company is also expanding their online selection. They have recently green-lighted a collaboration with Everlane. Everlane is known for its high-quality and ethically made basics. Nordstrom will launch an Everlane themed pop-up shop in-store and online. The shop will be in line with the brand’s minimalist style of clean lines and warm tones. The deal is Everlane’s first ever in-store retail partnership.

Hopefully the pop-up shop will help  increase foot-traffic while also expanding online sales.

If things continue on as they are currently, we can expect to see more and more stores enter the red zone.  

But if more companies attempt to embrace the change in consumer trends and use this as an opportunity to grow their online presence, then maybe, just maybe their could be a light at the end of a seemingly bleak tunnel. Perhaps online shopping, the be-all and end-all of retail could also be its saving grace.

How much longer do we have until we have to say goodbye to our favorite stores? Hopefully we won’t have to.


Hyperactive Hurricane Season

NASA (GOES) Satellite Image

The 2017 hurricane season is the most active since 2005. Seven hurricanes, including Harvey, Irma and Maria have ripped through areas such as Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, devastating a countless number of people and leaving behind many questions regarding the relationship between global warming and hurricanes.

“While there is no clear evidence of an increased number of hurricanes in a warmer world, there is evidence that the hurricanes are becoming more intense,” Jennifer Collins, Associate Professor in the School of Geosciences at USF, said, “studies have also noted that in a warmer environment, we should see more storms which undergo rapid intensification. We have seen such rapid intensification with Hurricane Wilma, Rita, Katrina, Patricia, Harvey to name a few.”

Alexis Black, Environmental Specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and recent USF graduate shares a similar thought regarding the relationship between the two.

“[C]limate change, in context of the 2017 hurricane season, has created conditions conducive to increasing storm intensity since atmospheric and oceanic temperatures are warmer than in the past. Hurricanes feed of warm weather to form, and climate change is allowing hurricanes to form and migrate through the Atlantic and our region with increased intensity,” Black said.

Research from NASA’s Earth Observatory also acknowledged the connection between rising temperatures and hurricane strength, stating that a more humid environment creates a possibility for the development of stronger hurricanes while also saying that global temperature increase will decrease the overall number of storms that form. Fewer storms with higher intensities have the potential to cause immeasurable amounts of damage to tropical coastlines.

Regarding the current hurricane season, which comes to an official end on November 30, there have been several storms ranked Category 4 or stronger. Two of these storms classified as Category 5. This uncommon occurrence is not the only record that was updated this season.

“It is certainly uncommon – this is only the 6th time it has ever happened. This is also the first year that has seen two Atlantic storms make landfall in the continental United States as a Category 4 (Harvey, Irma) in the known record dating back to 1851,” Collins said, ” it is the first hyperactive season since 2010.”

Unfortunately, this hurricane season has not yet officially ended.

“We are only just past the peak of the season and still in the peak hurricane season … so there is still plenty of opportunity for another Category 5 to occur this season,” Collins said, “we need the right ingredients to be present in the Atlantic, such as warm sea surface temperatures, low vertical wind shear and high humidity.  These conditions are present quite frequently in some places of the Atlantic.”

It is widely known that the current president and his administration are not in favor of the Paris Agreement to fight climate change and have even threatened to back out of the agreement if the carbon emissions pact is not altered, per CNN White House Producer, Kevin Liptak.

“I think it is a huge deterrent to making progress on fighting climate change. The United States is one of the greatest producers of greenhouse gases in the world, and thus would substantially impact the globe’s progress to fight climate change if it diminishes its emissions. This is an international effort and requires participation from all to make a substantial impact in this fight. The current administration is putting the country in a situation where we will not be able to combat climate change independently or rely on other countries to combat climate change as an unit if it withdraws from this agreement,” Black said.

Due to steady increase in global temperature, looking ahead to future hurricane seasons is important.

“It is reasonable to believe that the 2018 hurricane season could be just the same or worse than the current hurricane season, due to the likelihood of atmospheric and oceanic temperatures remaining at or increasing from what they are now. But, in the end, no one can truly say what will happen when 2018 comes around since weather is unpredictable,” Black said.

Advanced technology takes education research into the future

USF professor Sanghoon Park partnered with the USF Advanced Visualization Center to 3-D print cubes to interact with an educational app for his research. Photo by Abby Rinaldi

At first glance, USF assistant professor of instructional technology Sanghoon Park’s five 3-D printed cubes with their angular designs on each side and vivid, contrasting colors may seem simple. But pair them with a tablet app, and these cubes take a new form.

Each cube is dedicated to a different renewable energy resource: solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal and biomass. Each side corresponds to a different type of content: text, images, videos and 3-D models. Open the app, take a cube and point one side of it at the tablet and the app opens different types of content for the user to explore. Guiding users through the content is an animated bee.

The app and cubes are the work of Park and the USF Advanced Visualization Center (AVC). The full project, called ARPA, is a combination of augmented reality (AR) and a pedagogical agent (PA). The bee is the pedagogical agent.

As advanced technologies emerge, academics and researchers attempt to integrate them into the field of education, Park said. One such tool is AR, which he feels surpasses multimedia teaching tools such as informational websites. AR, he said, offers new ways of exploring educational content that couldn’t be done before, such as exploring a blood cell, or in his case, exploring renewable energy resources.

“They can actually make impossible things possible,” he said.

However, Park felt the tools on the market for AR were missing something.

“The limitation was that none of them actually considered using the pedagogical agent in augmented reality environments, which was to me problematic because AR, augmented reality, by definition is an enhanced digital component on top of the real physical object,” he said.

Park’s research focused on putting the learner into the educational environment through AR, but with the addition of the pedagogical agent to guide users through the layers of content, the responsibility of deciphering the 3-D models and other aspects of the content does not fall solely on the learner.

“We help them,” Park said. “We provide more information and guidance or supporting information to learners so when they look at the 3-D model and augmented reality 3-D models and the pedagogical agent, they can actually understand what the 3-D model is about, which will help them to make a connection with the 3-D model and the learned knowledge and skills that they acquired from the classroom already.”

The cubes respond to an app where a pedagogical agent, in this case an animated bee, guides the user through the content. Photo courtesy of Sanghoon Park

To bring his idea of an educational AR experience to life, Park sought help from the AVC. Park said they went through many trials trying to get the cubes to work with the app and to select which AR tools to use. The cubes needed simpler designs with more angles printed in higher contrasting colors so the app could read them better. The AVC also guided Park through the development of the app, which was done in the Unity engine.

Howard Kaplan, senior technologist and visualization specialist for the AVC, said that while there were challenges, the resulting investigation is what research is all about.

“You get to answer technology questions for development of future applications like this, as well as, again, your direct question of does it improve student learning,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan said the integration of technology into academic research in any and all subject areas can enhance it, especially in fields where the technology isn’t normally present. On the other hand, he warns researchers that using advanced technology just for the sake of using it won’t get them far.

“It’s not only just I want to develop an app, it’s how do I develop an app that will allow me to change the app, to make it grow according to how my research grows and my research findings,” Kaplan said. “So there’s a whole back-end development process that has to be accounted for in terms of how I do that.”

Park plans to take ARPA into the classroom to research its effects on student learning at Turner/Bartels K-8 School in Hillsborough County, where his son attends. He plans to continue improving the cubes and expanding the content that they can deliver by adding downloadable content for the cubes. He said ARPA doesn’t have to be used only to teach science concepts but can be adapted to mathematics and language learning as well. This, however, is far in the future.

“We have to achieve those things one by one, step-by-step,” he said.

As Park sees it, there is a promising future for advanced and emerging technologies in education and education research, but it will be important to keep the students and teachers in mind during this process.

Advanced technologies in education research aren’t just for enhancing the student experience, as Park discovered last summer when he served as a visiting scholar at Chonnam National University in South Korea. While there, he was involved with research on creating a virtual environment for teachers to train in. Pre-service teachers interacted with virtual students, each with distinct personalities, in a variety of situations as practice for classroom management.

“(Advanced technologies) are changing the landscape of the education in the classroom and online as well,” Park said. “However, we have to always think about the learners at the center and how we are going to support teachers as well. So those are the two important factors that will ensure the successful integration of emerging technology in education.”

The USF Advanced Visualization Center offers technical expertise to students, faculty and staff at USF so they can use advanced technologies in their research and projects. The center also features a lecture hall, pictured above. Photo by Abby Rinaldi

Food, Music, Living


The inaugural seafood and music festival took place on March 25 and March 26, mimicking those held in the surrounding areas of Sarasota as well as Siesta Beach.

The committee that dedicated months to plan this event while using those events in Sarasota and Siesta Beach as inspiration, is called St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. The executive director of the Arts Alliance in St. Petersburg is John Collins.

“We are the umbrella organization for all of the arts in St Petersburg,” Collins said. “So that covers fine arts, performing arts, like music, and of course today fusion arts, if you will, the culinary arts.”

Collins helped bring the event to St. Petersburg and has hope that it will become an annual tradition.

The food at the festival ranged from different types of cooked fish, crab cakes, shrimp, lobster, Paella, crawfish, french fries and seafood jambalaya. The festival also included vendors that sold natural juices and even different types of art.

One individual that is working very closely with a vendor was very excited about the festival’s first time appearance. Bruno Baldrati, a Brazilian native, believes the food his tent is selling is very closely aligned with food from his home due to seasoning and the way the food is cooked.

“It’s good because we meet a lot of new people, a lot of families come here with their kids,to eat [at] the seafood festival and its good because I acquire some experiences from that,” Baldrati said.

The festival will be returning the following year in 2018. The next seafood and music festival will be held in Siesta Beach Dec. 2 and Dec. 3.


Feeding Tampa Bay, Home to Those Who Want to Help

Volunteers from all throughout Tampa Bay come out to give back to their community at Feeding America Tampa Bay every week Monday through Saturday.

Volunteers from throughout Tampa Bay come out to give back to their community at Feeding Tampa Bay every week Monday through Saturday.

Feeding Tampa Bay works with smaller organizations such as Metropolitan Ministries and Trinity Café to help distribute food to those in need.

The organization makes it easy for anyone who is willing to help out in the bay area to join.

University of Tampa freshmen, Peter Peirce and Kaelin Willette both volunteer at Feeding Tampa Bay. They learned about the organization through their school and have been coming voluntarily ever since.

“Every time that I’ve come since has been voluntarily just because the first time I did it I enjoyed it so much that I figured I’d keep coming back and it’s always been good to me,” Peirce said.

Feeding Tampa Bay is an enjoyable volunteering environment for all who come.

“I love the energy here, I think everyone that comes here has such a positive energy and vibe and they make it a lot of fun,” Willette remarked.

Megan Carlson the organization’s community engagement manager  has been working for Feeding Tampa Bay for two years now and enjoys her working environment immensely.

“There’s something for everybody and we kind of satisfy every desire that people might have to give back to the community which is really cool,” Carlson said.

To learn more about this organization, visit



Local basketball team takes season by storm

BRANDON, FL–Red Storm Elite is an AAU basketball team whose focus is on developing its players.

Assistant Coach Inniss Goden Jr. knows the importance of his team maturing in basketball fundamentals.

“We want to see growth, maturity and an increase in basketball IQ,” Goden said. “We don’t want them to be robots, we want to see them be instinctive when they are running the plays and we just want them to grow every time.”

The team is entering its second season as a program and has 10th-grade players from various high schools in Hillsborough County. Big man Maurice Pickett believes playing for the Red Storm is preparing him for varsity basketball at Lennard high school.

“My coaches prepare me on that next level when the season comes up for varsity,” Pickett said. “I know that every day we practice, every day we play just gets me better.”

Red Storm Elite hopes to continue the success gained in its first season. The team placed in the top three in five out of eight tournaments.

“We can see that with each tournament that they’re getting better, trusting each other and we see ball movement,” Goden said. “We actually see them running the plays now instead of us yelling the plays out to them, gradually with each tournament they are getting better from tournament to tournament.”

The team is confident that their hard work and focus on development will benefit them against opponents in the upcoming season.

“Oh, this team, I don’t know what other teams are because this the only team I know that’s coming out with that trophy,” Pickett said.

To find a schedule of the AAU tournaments that Red Storm Elite will be participating in, visit their Facebook page.


Ice Bulls Make it To Nationals


The USF Ice Bulls make nationals for the first time in program history.

The University of South Florida Ice Bulls had a rough season, ending 10-18 before entering regionals. USF capitalized on two major games during the regular season, beating two top seeded teams.

Thanks to freshman goalie, Sam Coleman, who 60 minutes into the game blocked all incoming shots, the Bulls knocked out the University of South Carolina Gamecocks 1-0 in overtime in the first round of regionals at Florida Center Ice in Wesley Chapel.

The following night, the Bulls earned a nationals spot defeating the Liberty University Flames 6-3. Weston Moon scored the first goal early in the first period, followed by goals from Logan Sheehan in the middle of the second, Kenny Weightman late in the second, Huw Baveystock early in the third, Lukas Medo late in the third, and Michael Budd in the last minute of regulation.

Earning their place at nationals the Bulls had one more hurdle to overcome. In an attempt to cover the costs of the trip they started a GoFundMe page and asked fans for support.  They did not disappoint, the Ice Bulls fans raised over $11,000.

The following night, the Bulls earned a nationals spot defeating the Liberty University Flames 6-3. Weston Moon scored the first goal early in the first period, followed by goals from Logan Sheehan in the middle of the second, Kenny Weightman late in the second, Huw Baveystock early in the third, Lukas Medo late in the third, and Michael Budd in the last minute of regulation.

Nationals will be held at Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team will travel to Columbus, Ohio to fight for the title of  the American Collegiate Hockey Association division 3 national champions.

The Bulls will take on the number one seeded Calvin College Knights on March 14 to start their postseason.

To find out more on how you can support your USF hockey team on their road to nationals, visit

Florida Focus News Brief April 5, 2017

In this news brief: new bell schedules are in the works for Hillsborough County schools to help the district save money; a Bradenton police officer speaks out after a vicious attack by a burglar attempting to rob a jewelry store; Panera Bread is being bought by more then seven billion dollars.