Photo gallery: USF student government hosts Pastries with the President

On March 12, USF Student Government Association held “Pastries with the President,” where students  not only enjoyed baked desserts but got to meet with  USF President Judy Genshaft and talk with future and current SGA leaders.



Photo Gallery: Anclote Key Preserve State Park offers family their first seaside camping experience

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is a group of four islands near Tarpon Springs that has a campsite for visitors.

The Tavo family, just beginning their 2015 spring break, camped on the beach of one of the islands, Anclote Key. Some of the family had been camping before, but never on an island right near the water.

The family rented a boat to get to the island and planned to stay for one night.

Camping is allowed only on the north end of the island. Other visitors  can anchor their boats and spend time in the water near the island.

The Tavo family was excited for the adventure of the day– and they hoped to steer clear of the raccoons that are known to pester campers.

If any USF students are looking for a weekend getaway, Anclote Key Preserve State Park is an option.

Students can rent tents and other camping gear from campus recreation for low prices.

Photo gallery: Young pastor becomes new children’s leader at Bethel Assembly of God

Andrew Tedder has been the children’s pastor at Bethel Assembly of God since the beginning of March. His second Sunday as pastor, he put new plans in place for the children’s program and took over the announcements for the adult service. His passion is teaching youth to love church and God.

Tampa clothing designer, USF grad plans launch of bikini and yoga pants line in summer

The Tampa Bay area has a new clothing company opening this summer. Business woman and clothing designer Christian Mikel plans to launch her bikini and yoga pants line.

The Tampa native developed her line, Christian Mikel Inc., from the ground up on her own.

“My first step was to get a business license, so that way I looked credible and manufacturers would want to talk to me and give me their time,” said CEO Mikel. “Then, after that, I learned that I had to not only make my designs, but also make computer-formatted designs. So, I learned how to use Photoshop and Illustrator.”

Mikel aspires to open a store in Tampa, but in the meantime will launch her website this summer.

“Currently, I’m working on getting my samples back and hopefully release this summer my bathing suit and yoga pant line,” Mikel said. “I’ve been learning how to set up my website so my website is ready to go. And once I get all the products in, we’re going to do our photo shoots with our models. Then, we’ll pick the photos we want and post them on our website and basically, we’re in business and we’re ready to go.”

Mikel graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in biomedical sciences. However, her passion has always been in the arts.

“My daughter has always been interested in painting, and the arts and making things with her hands,” said Terri Corson, Mikel’s mother. “She’s extremely creative and, although she had a degree in the sciences, her real passion was on how things should be put together.”

After launching her yoga pants and swimwear line, Mikel wants to create and design her own jewelry line to add to her fashion empire.

USF dance major pushes past back injury, other obstacles

At 3 years old, Tatiana Quintero couldn’t resist the temptation to move to the beat. According to her mother, Janet Cano, her little girl would wiggle and dance to music anywhere she went. Cano enrolled her in a traditional Colombian dance class where Quintero would begin the study of her life’s calling: dance.

At the University of South Florida, 21-year-old Quintero is pursuing her dream of being a dancer. As an adult, she is learning how difficult it can be to reach her full potential.

Dance is not about just dancing anymore. Every movement is perfectly orchestrated. The world of dancing is all about technicality, an obstacle that Quintero feels holds her back. She didn’t start to learn technical dancing until she was 12 or 13.

“Even that was only hip-hop, not ballet,” Quintero said. “Being here, I see everyone with their legs high and stuff; obviously it takes time to get there.”

Since high school, her biggest dream has been to go out to California and join the Diavolo dance company. She says that at Diavolo they move with big props and aren’t afraid to push the limit. The company is about risk-taking, which is what attracted her to it. Only the most technical dancers belong to Diavolo, and Quintero still has a lot of work to accomplish.

At the university, she puts in an average of six to eight hours of rehearsal a day. It can be a strain on her body, but it is more important to Quintero to be prepared for anything.

In August 2011, Quintero was involved in a car accident in Miami-Dade County that hurt her back. The injury still prevents her from dancing to her full ability. Quintero refuses to let this injury hold her back, though some days the pain often keeps her from even reaching her toes.

“It’s still hard, because I come back to dance and you know you can’t do stuff,” she said. “So, you have to hold yourself back, but I didn’t care. I just danced.”

There are times when Quintero feels like giving up. The pressures of time management and dealing with her injuries sometimes make her doubt whether she can continue a career in dance. She worries whether this career will give her the ability to provide for herself and possibly a family in the future. It is important to Quintero to have a backup plan.

She is pursuing a minor in nutrition as part of her plan to open and own a dance studio. By day, she wants to teach the technical art of dance. By night, she hopes to teach her students about the importance of what you eat, and also teach aerobic dance classes like Zumba.

Her inspirations come from feeling she has God by her side and from the support of her parents. Quintero’s father has kept her grounded, and her mother has always pushed her to keep doing what she loves.

“I know that she is accomplishing everything she set her mind to,” Cano said. “She knows that she can do anything.”

USF senior with passion for China wins Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship

Hiram Rios is a senior at the University of South Florida majoring in economics and international studies with a minor in Chinese. In his time at USF, Rios has received some of the most prestigious national scholarships, including his most recent, the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship.

Rios was the first finalist for this scholarship in USF history, and he will begin the fellowship this summer.

“I’ll start work in the China office at the State Department this summer,” Rios said. “I’ll be working to coordinate a strategic and economic dialogue between China and the U.S.”

His interest in the Chinese culture began in 2008 when he traveled to the Beijing Olympics to play violin in an orchestra.

“As a 14-year-old at the time who had never left the country, to try and process all of this, it was a lot, and what it turned into was this obsession,” Rios said.

Rios has been able to merge his love of the Chinese culture with all of his scholarships. These scholarships gave him the opportunity to study abroad in China, fluently learn Mandarin, and teach English to Chinese students.

His passion and great work ethic are also seen while working in the Office of National Scholarships as a student assistant and peer leader.

“He takes initiative; he’s extremely hard working,” said Lauren Chambers, Interim Director of the office.

With the Pickering Fellowship, Rios will receive $80,000 to study international affairs in a graduate degree program of his choice. He will also receive one domestic internship and one internship abroad before starting his five-year post as a diplomat in the Chinese Embassy.

“It’s been an amazing feat for me,” Rios said. “I’m just so proud to be able to have this space to represent Puerto Rico, the Hispanic population, the Latino-American population in the State Department.”


Tarpon Spring’s Greek community enjoys annual dive for crosses to celebrate Epiphany

The Greek community in Tarpon Springs celebrates the Epiphany annually Jan. 5.

“Epiphany is a holiday that Orthodox (Greeks) celebrate to honor the baptism of Jesus Christ,” said Viola Kalouris, mother of one of the divers.

“We have the archbishop come and he tosses a cross into the water, and we all jump in after it,” Gregory Kalouris said.

While the community and other spectators come out to watch the ceremonious diving to recover the cross, that is not all that goes into the tradition of Epiphany.

The young men who will be diving  gather at the church to prepare about a month before the event. The teens learn about the tradition of Epiphany from the church and work together to build the boats used to get them out into the water.

“When we’re all working together, organizing the Epiphany, getting the boats together, all jumping in together — it’s really a bonding experience for all the young men,” Gregory Kalouris said.

Next year is Gregory Kalouris’ last year to dive. While he wants to be the one to recover the cross, he also believes, along with the others, that the person who gets the cross is divinely predetermined.

All are welcomed and encouraged to come out to Tarpon Springs to witness the traditional cross diving for the annual Epiphany.

Tampa Bay Jazz Association reaches out to community

Dwayne White is the education and scholarship director for the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association. He has held the position for the last several years, but jazz has been an integral part of his life since he was a child.

“I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana,” White said. “The music is just in the air.”

When he moved to Tampa, he wanted to stay involved in the music. Joining the Al Downing association gave White more than just the opportunity to keep playing his horn.

“We support jazz; we educate people about the music. We just broaden people’s knowledge and appreciation for the music,” White said.

Learning from and listening to the pros playing jazz when he was a boy fostered White’s deep-rooted love for music. Today, he still recognizes the importance of introducing young people to professional musicians.

“We have something called the Jazz in Schools program where we go into elementary, middle and high schools and we bring live jazz musicians into the classroom setting,” White said.

White believes the state of jazz is strong in the Tampa area. He hopes the freedom of expression in jazz will keep the genre alive forever.

Florida Focus 03-12-15

In this Florida Focus News Brief: Tampa International Airport expects to see a massive increase in passenger traffic, Pinellas County beach brawl went viral, Tampa teens charged with animal cruelty, and Tampa Police are going from four wheels to two wheels to keep downtown safer.


Florida Focus 03-05-2015

In this Florida Focus Military Brief: Florida lawmakers may be called upon to determine if confederate soldiers are eligible Florida Veterans Hall of Fame, Support the Troops and Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay are partnering to refurbish veterans homes and CareerSource is helping out-of-work veterans find work.



Donations help USF assistant professor raise money to adopt her son

Christa Haring, a research assistant professor at the University of South Florida, is a new mom. Last year, she adopted her son, Carter, who was born with Down syndrome and a cleft palate. To Haring, he’s perfect.

“People with Down syndrome are guileless,” she said.

Carter’s adoption story is full of twists, turns, and a few miracles too. In just over 60 hours, friends and family donated the $12,000 needed for the cost of his adoption. From all over the country, 587 people rallied to make it happen and, ironically, Haring was the last to know.

“It just happened in a way we didn’t expect,” Haring said. “The second night we were in the hospital, we had $12,000 and we needed $18,000. On the last night—the night the money was due — people were texting me things like, ‘congratulations, congratulations!’ And I just sat there sobbing.”

Perhaps it does take a village, as the old saying goes. Haring has people around her giving unyielding support every day, including those she works with at USF.

“I think that Carter was never, ever, ever supposed to belong to one person, and I believe that with all my heart.” she said. “He has multiple moms and siblings. Carter’s story is just about people who saw something bigger than themselves and saw something better than all of us.”

Carter will have four surgeries over the next five years to help repair his cleft palate. Haring will have a whole army supporting his recovery after each operation. Just like a USF Bull, Carter is strong, brave, and, above all else, adored by his many fans.


Florida Focus 02-26-2015

In this Florida Focus episode: John Johnchuck’s defense agrees with the state; Hillsborough County’s fastest electric-vehicle charging station unveiled; Building partially collapses due to water main break; Three women are found squatting in a soldier’s home; Florida Strawberry Festival celebrates 80 years.



Video: C.R. Willey brings championship pedigree to USF disc golf team

C.R. Willey is not your average USF coach. He is a four-time disc golf champion.

And with Willey’s help, the USF disc golf team has a chance at the top 10 this year and — possibly — a national title.

Willey, a veteran of the Professional Disc Golf Association, has trained some of the top professionals in the league, including 12-time champion, Ken Climo.

“It’s nice that you are actually learning from somebody that has actually won (championships),” said Chris Crist, USF’s team founder and captain.  “He’s been playing for so long. He’s taught a lot of people how to play and a lot of pros how to play.”

While Willey was on the PDGA tour, he was approached by some of USF’s players, who asked him if he would be interested in coaching the team.

Willey didn’t hesitate in saying yes.

“Heck, yeah,” Willey said. “I would like to see USF win a national championship in disc golf. I’d like to see them win it in football, too — baseball or anything for the university. Let’s take it to the next level.”

Willey also played baseball at USF for a time. But one day, when he saw students playing ultimate frisbee, Willey knew his love and passion was for disc golf.

With more than 40 PDGA victories, he is considered the best thing that has happened to USF by its young group of players.

“We’ve qualified for the National Collegiate Championship, and we almost beat the reigning champs in a qualifying tournament that the USF team ran in Largo,” Willey said.

The National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship starts on April 15 in North Augusta, South Carolina.

President of USF’s Society of Automotive Engineers relishes showing what a girl can do

Amid the sawdust and graphite pieces, USF’s Society of Automotive Engineers is building an engineering masterpiece with an unsuspecting success leading the pack.

Jackie LeBrun is a 22-year-old Canadian native, a USF senior and an engineering major. LeBrun is the current president of the society and has been a member for four years. She was the first female to join USF Racing.

“She was definitely the most qualified for the position. She has all the passion to do the job,” says Christopher Smith, former president of SAE.

LeBrun will be graduating this May with an engineering degree in record time. To accomplish this feat, she aimed for 15 credits per semester, and some semesters she even took 19 credits with the help of waivers.

Smith was worried about how the current members would receive the freshman. Her membership was kept secret until the second half of the semester in which LeBrun was gradually introduced into the program. Other females have since joined SAE and currently, one of the lead engineers is a student named Nicole Santana.

The guys in the shop, however, have grown accustomed to the president’s presence and reminders to keep the shop in order. LeBrun has a meticulous touch with bookkeeping and organizing as well.

“I’m trying to leave a very detailed paper trail so that next year and years in the future, they can run it on their own,” LeBrun said.

LeBrun works at a bike shop and finds that customers are taken aback when she can do repairs on the spot in a few minutes.

“’Oh, you can do that?’ I hear that a lot. I love the challenge when people underestimate me,” LeBrun said.


Video: Christopher Hethcox turns lifelong passion for cheerleading into remarkable career

TRINITY — As an aspiring male cheerleading coach, Christopher Hethcox seemingly had the odds stacked against him early in life.

“The stigma of being a male cheerleader was something that was rough in the rural parts of Alabama,” Hethcox said.

But Hethcox didn’t let it bring him down. At age 13, Hethcox knew he had a passion for tumbling and gymnastics.

Twenty-two years later, Hethcox has turned that passion into a career as an instructor with All-Star Cheerleading at the Suncoast Gymnastics Academy in Odessa.

Though the profession does not necessarily have a large salary, Hethcox said he isn’t in it for the money — he just wants to help his athletes grow.

“I think I love the process of the training, performing, watching the development over the year of an athlete that’s had this place where they started,” Hethcox said.  “And then, where they end up.”

Hethcox coaches multiple levels of cheerleading with All-Star Cheerleading and has won multiple championships.

Competing at that level, Hethcox said,  is something that can give competitors butterflies. But for him, it’s all about keeping his team calm.

Mark Sczcepanik, whose daughter is coached by Hethcox, described him as passionate and driven.

“Coach Chris has done an incredible job with our daughter,” Sczcepanik said. “She went from never cheering ever six months ago to just doing an incredible job, thanks to his fine coaching.”

Hethcox doesn’t need praise, though. He just wants it to be about the kids.

“I want them to become sisters that they would do anything for each other,” Hethcox said.

Florida Focus 02-24-2015

In this Florida Focus Episode: A Tarpon Springs home catches fire; Tampa Police battle a new crime trend targeting food delivery drivers; Moffitt receives grant for cancer research; gas prices begin to rise; 19 manatees are rescued from a drain pipe.


Florida Focus 02-19-2015

In this Florida Focus episode: USF wants to bring its medical school campus to downtown Tampa; prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in a Bradenton triple murder; a 16-year-old boy faces charges for manipulating a girl into texting nude photos; a Bradenton man is facing charges for a crime committed 20 years ago; Florida is number one for Obamacare enrollments; a freeze warning will be in effect for most of the Bay Area.