USF senior passionate about performing arts shoots for the stars

Many have fantasized, at one point or another, about being a famous entertainer. Most, however, do not pursue those dreams.  Naomy Ambroise, a young Tampa performer,  is determined to turn those dreams into reality.

Ambroise is a senior enrolled in the School of Theatre and Dance at the University of South Florida.   She has only been involved in theater since high school, but if you ask the students at the college, Ambroise’s name stands out.

“Naomy is very multi-talented, very dedicated and truly inspiring,” said Danielle James, fellow dance and theater arts student.

Being a performing arts career is not easy.  Besides theater performance, students take ballet classes on body disciplines and memorize pieces for performance in class regularly. The two weeks while a show is being put on require 14-hour days.

“I chose to be a performing arts major because there was just like a satisfaction you get from being able to reach people,” said Ambroise.

Ambroise has been involved in four productions while at USF.  She recently auditioned in New York for acceptance into theater graduate schools; 11 more are interested.  She plans to attend after graduation or become an apprentice for a theater company.

Revealing a Veiled Perspective: A Hijab’s Effect on One Student’s Life

Catalina Garzon subconsciously touched the pink hijab on her head as she walked to her class at the University of South Florida. She watched as person after person either avoided her gaze or quickly looked away. She smiled, but they ignored her. Were they really acting like this because she covered her hair? Until she tried wearing one for a day, Garzon never understood the effect a hijab had on day-to-day living.

Garzon, a sociology major at USF, realized there seemed to be more hate brewing than love on campus, especially with the infamously hateful speakers outside of Cooper Hall yelling at the passers-by. So on Jan. 28, she held an event to peacefully hold signs saying, “Love thy neighbor.” There, she met Nouf Fetais, a hijab-wearing Muslim woman and engineering major.

“When I saw her, I was kind of scared because I didn’t want her to think I was trying to convert her,” said Fetais. “But when I showed another friend of mine how to wear a hijab, Catalina seemed interested, so I invited her to World Hijab Day’s Facebook page.”

After wearing one on World Hijab Day on Feb. 1, Garzon posted on her own Facebook page that she wanted to continue wearing her pink hijab that Fetais gave to her, but wondered if that would be too disrespectful. While a couple people criticized her, she mostly received encouragement.

During World Hijab Day, and at least a handful of times afterward, Garzon discovered what Fetais and other female Muslim students experience on campus.

“I noticed less eye contact,” said Garzon, looking over to Fetais, who was nodding. “Usually when I’m on campus, I get lots of human interaction — hello, compliments, short conversation, usually from people I don’t know, and they’re the ones who initiate it. But when I was wearing a hijab, I didn’t get that. If people did make eye contact with me, they looked away really quickly, and it was kind of surprising.”

Muslim women are expected to start wearing a hijab when they reach puberty, although it’s the woman’s right to decide when and if they do so. Some common reasons for wearing a hijab are believing it is mandated by Islam, valuing the modesty it encourages, or simply liking that it identifies them as Muslim.

While the Muslim friends that Garzon made were supportive, other people were not. She noticed the people who had a problem with it were atheists, Christians, Catholics and non-Muslims.

“I had some people look at me twice like, ‘Is that a white girl wearing a hijab?’ basically,” she said. This was in addition to social media hate she received, she said.

Garzon learned that veiling oneself — such as wearing a hijab — dates back further than Islamic uses. Christians, Jews and Catholics wore head coverings for different reasons, but mainly for modesty.

“Muslim culture…they adapted the hijab; they did not invent the hijab,” Garzon said. That was when Garzon decided it was OK to wear it and that she would wear it for her own reasons.

Today people may wear a hijab or headscarf for other reasons, like fashion, or as a cancer survivor. Women like Garzon may do it to have control, feel confident, or for other personal reasons.

“When does a hijab or headscarf become religious and symbolic?” asked Garzon.

Garzon views the hijab as representing modesty and giving women the opportunity to be in control of how men view them. More importantly, she finds that it unveils a whole new perspective.

“What I find most beautiful of the hijab … when you cover, you see the face clearly and the eyes. I believe everyone is beautiful and unique,” Garzon said as she touched her face and demonstrated with her jacket’s hood. “When you’re able to see the face, you can see movements, the bone structure, the creases when you smile, when you’re excited or contemplating … When you eliminate one part of the picture [the hair], the other part becomes more significant.”

Garzon and Fetais hope other people realize the different ways women are treated when they wear a hijab and the stigma surrounding it. Garzon also hopes to start a support group for non-Muslim women who choose to wear a hijab.

USF Students and Faculty Promote Recycling Movement at RecycleMania

Nearly 100 students listened to local bands, made environmentally friendly crafts and answered trivia questions in the Marshall Student Center Amphitheater Feb. 23.

Loud music and opportunities to win free items such as water bottles and Frisbees greeted students at USF’s RecycleFest. The mission behind the activities encouraged students to save the world through recycling.

“I think a lot of important movements start with students and start with the younger generation, so I think it’s our time to take on this project,” said Melissa Wolfe, communications and marketing coordinator of the Patel College of Global Sustainability.

Wolfe said young people have spurred change in the  past decades, whether the issue was women’s rights, equality or protesting the Vietnam War.  She believes today’s most important issue is the environment.

“The problem is that society is so separated and isolated that it’s hard to get a movement of people together, while at a university, we are used to bringing together students and collaborating on big ideas,” Wolfe said. “So, I think it’s our turn.”

RecycleFest was the kick-off of the month-long event RecycleMania 2015. The Student Environmental Association organized the event to educate students about recycling and to promote awareness. Next month, the SEA will host seminars, provide an electronic-waste drive, teach composting and show a documentary on plastic waste.

College students should be concerned about waste management for many reasons, activists say. Ninety-five percent of the forests in the U.S. have already been cut down, according to Princeton University’s “Top 10 Reasons to Recycle.” Wildlife can be protected by reducing demand for wood and other resources such as petroleum and mineral ores.

Furthermore, reusing materials helps manufacturers avoid using toxic chemicals that are used to treat virgin materials, environmental advocates say. Protecting our water and soil from toxins and reducing the amount of trash in landfills is vital to providing clean water and healthy food for people, they say.

Recycling is responsible for 1.1 million jobs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Even with such benefits, only 32.5 percent of waste in the U.S. is recycled, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council website.

RecycleMania will measure how much USF contributes to these numbers, said Kirsti Martinez, president of the Student Environmental Association and a junior majoring in environmental biology, and environmental science and policy.

The amount of waste produced by USF and the weight of recycled products will be recorded and published on the Patel College of Global Sustainability website.

Some students at RecycleFest shared their tips on how students can avoid contributing to the trash.

“I think the biggest thing is to reduce, because a lot of plastics can only be recycled so many times into new things,” Martinez said. “Glass and aluminum can be recycled a lot easier, but even then it’s just better to reduce the amount of waste that you’re producing.”

Calyn Lee, a junior majoring in environmental science and policy, said students could pick up trash when they see it and put recycling in the appropriate bins.

Lee and her roommates shop with reusable bags at the grocery store, turn off the lights in their apartment and unplug unused appliances.

Lee said recycling has saved her money in addition to protecting the environment. She buys less, and her bills are lower. Lee believes college is a perfect time to learn how to recycle.

“This is when people make changes,” she said.  “Usually, when people go to college, they’re more open-minded.”

Entrepreneur’s healthy Let’s Date Bars fly off shelves of Tampa-area health food stores

More people are becoming health-conscious and concerned about what foods they are putting into their bodies.

Monique Frisco has been busy in the kitchen since her organic, GMO-free and natural date bars are selling in health food stores around Tampa. Let’s Date Bars have been flying off of the shelves.

“When you are consuming products that are genetically modified, our bodies are not necessarily made to adapt to that,” said Frisco. “We are wonderfully made, but our bodies are can only handle so much chemicals and those kinds of things. Today, it’s more straight-cut to the table and there’s a lack of preparation in our food that tears up our intestinal tracts, thus leading to things like fibromyalgia and gout that people come across.”

Adults and children alike enjoy the tasty flavor of Let’s Date Bars over typical processed foods, Frisco says.

“I have one friend that gets a bar every weekend and tears it up in less than a minute, then it’s completely gone,” said Frisco’s son, Everett. “He thinks they are delicious.”

Let’s Date Bars can be found at Abby’s Health & Nutrition, Nutrition Smart, and Jem’s Natural Living.

“Ride the Yak” app tour by popular social network Yik Yak reaches USF

An eager crowd buzzed around the distinctively teal Yik Yak tent outside the Marshall Student Center. Students from all around campus flocked to the tent to claim prizes and take pictures with the Yak mascot.

Yik Yak, a popular social app, lets users post anonymous “yaks” that are meant to be visible only to nearby users. It’s popular on college campuses where there are high volumes of social-media-savvy young adults.

The app’s growing popularity has led to a nationwide tour to promote it on college campuses. There are two tours, one on the East Coast and one in the Midwest. The company plans to visit 59 colleges in 34 states, according to the Yik Yak website.

“Our goal is to spread the word about growing the herd,” said Colin Brennan, a 2012 Colorado State University graduate touring with other Yik Yak employees.

The promotional tour rewards active app users with prizes such as Ping-Pong balls, stickers, hats and socks. Brennan said there has been a sharp increase in the amount of posts on the campuses they’ve visited.

“I used to be active [on Yik Yak]. Not so much anymore. This will definitely make me go on again,” senior psychology student Grace McGirr said.

The prizes were in high demand on the USF campus when the Yik Yak tent made camp. Brennan said by noon on the first day they were out of 75 percent of the prizes. By the following afternoon, they only had a few Ping-Pong balls and pens left.

The most active campus on the East Coast tour so far has been the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

“We saw the average user having 20,000 to 60,000 points. We also saw the two highest scores there – 526,000 and 568,000,” Brennan said.

Yik Yak is popular for both entertainment and information.

“If something happens on campus, everybody goes to Yik Yak,” said Sydney Thinnes, a junior chemistry student at USF.

“Yik Yak is basically our main news source,” Thinnes’ friend Anna Zeljazkow said.

In order to appear on campus, Yik Yak partners with student organizations to raise money for a cause. At USF, they partnered with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. Yik Yak donated $1 to the organization for every post following a certain theme. They hope to reach out to even more organizations in the future.

“The goal is for Yik Yak to be a tight-knit community, avoid negativity, and be a strong herd while creating informative, relevant, and funny yaks,” Brennan said.

Venezuelan student at USF escapes from violent protests to quiet classrooms

At age 13, Clarissa H. Arriaga went to her first political protest in the streets of Venezuela. She and her classmates placed their desks to stop traffic in an attempt to protest against the government. She did not know why she was protesting, but her life would change drastically.

This was the beginning of Arriaga’s mission to bring justice to her home country.

Arriaga is a 21-year-old USF sophomore. She grew up in a middle-income family with two younger sisters in Venezuela. Arriaga was the only one in her family who protested and continued to do so while she was attending Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, Venezuela.

In 1999, Hugo Chávez became president being a crucial point of change for the country. Chávez spent his time as president transitioning Venezuela into a communist country. With Chávez’s death in 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro assumed the powers and responsibilities as president.

Arriaga was involved in her second protest while she was a student in Venezuela. She was 20 years old when she took the streets in a peaceful protest with her friends and classmates. Arriaga explained that people the government paid and gave guns to, named colectivos, arrived at the protest shooting and killing a student. From that day on, Arriaga saw it as her duty to go out and protest every day.

“I felt like I needed to do something for my country,” Arriaga said. “I needed to feel justice because we didn’t deserve this.”

Arriaga and her friends had to wear gas masks during protests to breathe and protect themselves from gas bombs that were being thrown. She would not tell her mother about all the protests she attended because her mom would cry begging her to stay home.

While Arriaga was protesting, many students were being arrested or killed. However, Arriaga did not realize how severe it was until the day she took a phone call from her mother. She never used to answer her phone during protests because it would be stolen from her, but something made her answer her mother’s call this time. She ran behind a building to hide and told her mother she was fine. When she hid her phone and returned to the protest, her friends were gone. They had been arrested, and they had to spend the night in jail.

“If I did not take that call I could have went to jail as well,” Arriaga said. “This is when the danger of the protests really hit me.”

Even though Arriaga was scared, she still went out every day to fight for peace and hope for her country. This took a toll on her parents. Her mother cried all the time out of fear of losing her child. Both her parents begged her to apply to a school abroad to escape the terror that Venezuela had become. Arriaga decided to leave to end her mother’s misery.

Before Arriaga left to attend school at USF, she was driving home when four motorcycles pulled up around her car. The young boys driving ordered her to give up her phone. Arriaga refused to give it to them. She was lucky that they did not kill her, she explained. When she arrived home, her father was so happy that she would be leaving the country because he was sure that Arriaga’s bravery would get her killed.

“She is so brave and amazing,” said Alejandra Gotera, Arriaga’s Venezuelan friend. “I don’t know if I could have done what she did.”

Arriaga has been in USF for two semesters. She says that even though she is happy to be out of danger, she is constantly worried about her parents and sisters. Arriaga keeps herself busy while she is away from her family with a full load of six engineering courses. She is also involved in sports at USF by participating and playing club soccer.

“If Venezuela does not change by the time I graduate, I will have to look for a job here in America,” Arriaga said. “I can’t go back to that.”

USF Communication and Marketing Department stays in touch with students using Snapchat



Millions of people log in to social media every day. At the university level, this can be a complex task to oversee.

University Communications and Marketing, located in the Patel Center, must stay involved in campus activities despite its distance from the central hub of events.

The department employs about 20 people, including student interns, who help run social media applications such as Snapchat.

“It’s a balance between academic initiatives as well as scavenger hunts and promoting fun campus events that are equally as important,” said Ashley Rodrigues, a graduate assistant in the department.

During holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day, the department encourages followers to snap pictures of their “bull pride.” The marketing team hid around campus and snapped pictures of their locations. Whoever found them won a Rocky the Bull hat.

The USF Snapchat was launched in August and has nearly 2,000 followers. The marketing students must save all posted snaps  for record-keeping. On certain days, different departments such as Athletics or Student Government will take over the Snapchat for the day to promote an event or share news. This requires communication so that the content is consistent, appropriate and pre-approved. The marketing team also follows organizations with successful social media campaigns — like Taco Bell — to learn better ways to produce unique content.

“At this point, we’re focused on reducing the redundancies, since there are hundreds of USF-related social media accounts that have gone inactive or dormant,” said Steve Dapcic, director of digital media.

The goal is to interact with current students and alumni while welcoming and inviting  future students.


USF track record holder plans to run for Bahamian national team after graduation

With graduation quickly approaching for many college students, anxiety and excitement is palpable at the University of South Florida.

The answer to the million-dollar question, “So what are you doing after graduation?” is different for every student.

Alfred Higgs, a USF criminology senior, plans to run track for his home country, the Bahamas.

Higgs came to the United States in 2010. He was able to attend USF on an athletic scholarship. A school record holder for the 4×100 relay, he played every sport in high school but stuck with track because he liked an activity that did not require a team.

“I was always athletic,” Higgs said. “And I think I just have the natural talent of running. So, I always liked running.”

On May 1, instead of wearing a green cap and gown to his graduation ceremony, Higgs will wear the Bahamian national colors, aquamarine and gold.

According to Higgs, the biggest cultural difference between the U.S. and the Bahamas is the food.

“When I came here, I wanted to go home because I couldn’t find a decent meal anywhere,” Higgs said.

Higgs has decided to run for the Bahamian national track and field team after graduation.

Florida Focus 03-25-2015

In this Florida Focus Environment Brief: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is helping to save Florida’s most famous crop; A group of modern day explorers are bringing attention to Florida’s ecosystems; Black bear hunting may be legal for the first time in 20 years.


Florida Focus 03-24-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: A Bradenton man was murdered in his home this morning; A plane crashed into the back porch of a Citrus County home; Clearwater Police make an arrest for the 2006 murder of a security guard; SeaWorld is taking on their critics with an aggressive new ad campaign; More headaches for commuters in Tampa.


Florida Focus 03-19-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: A murder case that opened almost 30 years ago closed today; A fire ripped through an apartment complex in Tampa; A Bay Area city wants to ban e-cigarettes in Citrus County buildings; A new bill is proposed that would allow liquor to be sold in Florida grocery stores; USF is ranked number two in overall performance for the second straight year; A rescued manatee is returned to its home.


Florida Focus 03-10-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: Florida is the latest victim of a cyber security attack, the USF School of Mass Communications is receiving a 10 million dollar gift, police are searching for a suspect who attempted to kidnap a boy, deputies are conducting a murder investigation in Pasco county, and the Florida Aquarium is celebrating their 20th anniversary.


Video: For Thelma Thompson, family is top priority

Thelma Thompson has demonstrated during the past three decades that family is the most important thing in her life.

Without hesitation, the Temple Terrace resident has seemingly always put her needs aside to help the ones she loves.

It started, Thompson said, after realizing her two grandchildren were not being cared for properly. Thompson — along with her late husband — decided to take on the challenging task of raising them.

But it wasn’t easy.

In 1985, when her husband became paralyzed from the neck down, Thompson faced the difficult reality that she would have to be the sole provider for the family in addition to raising the two children and caring for her husband.

“A lot of worry went through my mind,” Thompson recalled. “How was I going to take care of him? How was I going to meet my bills, since his pay was no longer there? How was I going to take of these two babies? But it all seemed to work out.”

Despite the struggles she faced, Thompson continued to help those in need. Her loving demeanor also drew in several troubled children outside her family.

Thompson received financial and physical aid from her daughter and son-in-law.

“I’ve always taken in kids who seemed to have problems. … ” Thompson said. “I guess it turned out to be between five and 10 kids that I have taken care of that were not mine in any shape or form.”

Nikki James, Thompson’s granddaughter, said she and her younger brother could have potentially lived drastically different lives if it weren’t for Thompson’s generosity.

“They (Thompson and her husband) were always there, and they took me in when the younger parents couldn’t handle the responsibility, and they have made a huge difference in my life,” James said.

Though there were plenty of hardships along the way, Thompson, now 80, said she always remained upbeat.

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said.

From Immokalee to USF: One Student’s Story of Academic Success

TAMPA – From the fields of Immokalee to the State Capitol building in Tallahassee, Marcos Gonzalez has had quite the journey. Gonzalez had the chance to share his life story in front of the Florida House Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Gonzalez grew up in a poor migrant worker family but excelled in school and earned a scholarship to the University of South Florida.

Gonzalez, a third-year student double majoring in accounting and economics, is set to graduate a year early with two bachelor’s degrees as part of USF’s Provost’s Scholars Program.

“You really kind of step back and evaluate your whole  situation and say, ‘Maybe I’m doing something right,’” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez has a keen interest in global affairs. He studied abroad three times, traveled the world in 80 days and founded the International Student Association at USF.

“The concept behind it was to create an umbrella organization to kind of bring together all of the cultures represented at USF and to give international students a voice,” Gonzalez said.

USF jump roper doesn’t let injury hinder competitive spirit

TAMPA — From playgrounds to gyms, people of all ages jump rope for fun and fitness. Graduate student Kaylee Couvillion, however, combines both aspects as a competitive jump roper.

Couvillion, a graduate assistant in the University of South Florida’s Exercise Science Program, has been jumping rope for over 15 years. Having competed all over the U.S. and abroad, Couvillion’s jump roping career was halted when she was injured during a complex trick in November.

“I was on the very bottom level of this big multilayered trick that was happening,” she said. “The ropes missed, and then the next thing I know, the back foot got landed on by the guy on the top of the trick.”

Couvillion tore her plantar fascia and injured her big toe, leaving her unable to jump rope for two months. In addition to not being able to jump, she feared what her injury would mean for her as a graduate assistant teaching Boot Camp Fitness.

One of Couvillion’s students, Norma Cacho, was nervous when she saw her instructor in a boot on the first day of class.

“I was a bit skeptical of her at first,” Cacho said. “I mean, how much could she really teach us with a boot on her foot? Kaylee definitely proved me wrong. She would do pushups, lunges, and a bunch of workouts better than any of us — and we weren’t injured.”

Almost three months after her injury, Couvillion is slowly jumping back into the game. She even has her eyes on a jump rope competition in Orlando this July.

“I want to compete at least one more time,” Couvillion said. “Maybe more after that. It just depends on how my body holds up.”

Florida Focus 03-18-2015

In this Florida Focus Education Brief: Tampa Bay classrooms are switching to a “flipped” structure; A local after-school program is giving students a push in the right direction; Hillsborough County high school students are taking accountability for low graduation rates.


Florida Focus 03-17-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: A shooting at a Tampa Red Roof Hotel is still being investigated; Credit card skimming devices have been spotted at Bay Area gas stations; Robbers tried to pull off a smash and grab at a Tampa Heights storefront; Bogus bingo halls are busted in Manatee County; The USF Women’s Basketball Team made the NCAA cut.


Clearwater swimmer Sidney Pickrem commits to making Canadian Olympic team

Sidney Pickrem has taken her sport of swimming to an elite level most people could only dream about.

She is an eight-time Florida state champion and is training to make the Canadian National Team. In about 10 months, she hopes to fulfill her ultimate dream, making the Canadian Olympic team. If she makes the team, she will compete with the best in the world in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Swimming has been the biggest part of my life,” Pickrem said. “I started when I was 6 years old. I always enjoyed pushing myself. I like the fact that it is a sport in which you don’t have to depend on anyone but yourself.”

There is no off-season in swimming. It is a year-round, intense training schedule with nine practices a week, two of them beginning at 4:45 a.m. Sticking to this schedule is physically and mentally challenging. However, the payoff is part of making your dreams come true. In Pickrem’s case, this includes getting a full scholarship at Texas A&M.

“Coaching an athlete like Sidney makes coaching fun. You can give her any workout, and you know she will give it her all. A lot of kids in the sport these days are not willing to do that. “

Pickrem is expected to qualify as the No. 1 seed in both the 200IM and the 400IM. She is also hoping to make the team in one of her off events, which is the 200 Freestyle.

Bloomingdale High softball athlete finds her true swing in golf

Elizabeth Jackson is a two-sport athlete whose future career could have swung one of two ways.

A senior shortstop in her fourth season at Bloomingdale High School, Jackson helped guide her team to the Class 8A State Softball Championship last year, leading the team with 38 hits and 24 home runs scored to a 27-2 record. Jackson  was named to the First Team of All-Hillsborough County Softball Team.

“It’s pretty amazing to have an opportunity to coach a player of her caliber,” said Mark Braddy, head coach of the Bloomingdale Bulls softball team.  “There are very few that come along, so I’m happy to have her.”

Jackson’s talent doesn’t stop at the softball field.  She is also an avid golfer.  She turned down an opportunity to play softball at the University of Arkansas to accept a golf scholarship to Daytona State.

“It was a really tough choice. Softball is different.  There’s only so far you can go with college,” Jackson said. “There’s really no pro league after that.  But for golf, you can make it so much farther, play in the LPGA, and ultimately, I’ve always wanted to be the No. 1 player in the world.”

Jackson wants to finish her softball career competing for the state championship once more. In six games this season, the Bulls are 5-1.  Jackson is hitting an astounding .615 with 8 hits and 9 runs scored.

“I really hope that we can repeat the state title again.  It’s probably a long shot, but we have a really strong team with a bunch of new incoming freshmen that replaced the seniors last year, and I think our shots are pretty good to go to states again,” Jackson said.