LARGO – The city of Largo and University of South Florida are teaming up on a program that school officials say will benefit the community, students and, most importantly, the environment.
For the past two years, USF has chosen one city to participate in the school’s Community Sustainability Partnership Program. This year, it has selected Largo for the yearlong partnership that allows students and faculty to work with city officials on projects of importance to the community.
“This program is going to give us an opportunity to enhance the livability and sustainability in our community and really help us focus on our strategic focus on sustainability as an organization as we move forward,” said Laura Thomas, sustainability coordinator for the city, during a City Commission work session May 8 at City Hall.
Mazi Ferguson, program manager for the program, said the campuswide effort benefits both USF and cities because it gives faculty and students the opportunity to work on a diversity of disciplines that city staff might not have the time to invest in.
“The University of South Florida is the only university in the state of Florida that has a program such as this,” he said. “What it does is it allows the cities to (increase) their efforts in sustainability while also training the next generation of workers.”
Palmetto and Dunedin were the first two cities to utilize the program on projects that included historic preservation, transportation studies, perceptions of police, sustainable tourism, and foreclosure and housing.
Corinn Beem, a graduate assistant who participates in the program, said the CSPP program has allowed USF to leverage its community partnership on a larger scale and incorporate it into the educational standards at the university.
“You get the thousands of hours of student work and full access to the expertise and experience of USF faculty, all of whom are dedicated to your community’s projects,” Beem said.
All of that work isn’t free, though.
The city must pay $10,000 for each project that is chosen by USF. Thomas said faculty and students will then work with an assigned city liaison to define the scope of work and determine the final results, which will be presented to the City Commission at the end of each semester.
Thomas presented a list of nine potential projects, which included topics such as affordable housing design, housing conditions, reclaimed water research and employee safety training.
Eric Adams, who has participated in the program in Dunedin and Palmetto, said cities benefit by receiving a fresh perspective, while students get real-world experience and extra motivation.
“It also provides us collateral benefit too in terms of being to work hands on, feel the dirt, smell the communities and understand exactly what it’s like to work outside of a laboratory environment,” he said. “A lot of the information that we dig up we feel that it may have an actual benefit in people’s lives more so than, for instance, trying to fill up a 10-page paper with ideas you’re finding online.”
Commissioner John Carroll said he thinks new ideas and fresh faces could benefit the city for years to come.
“We are always looking to engage new ideas and bring people to the table with fresh perspectives, and behind that, we’re always looking for opportunities to cultivate future employees, so these kinds of partnerships are a good thing for a number of reasons,” he said.
Mayor Woody Brown asked why USF chose to work with Largo, and Ferguson said the city’s focus on sustainability, much like Dunedin, was evident.
“I looked at the Largo website and it just said we’re that kind of sustainable city, and that’s the kind of city we want to work with,” he said. “It’s a sustainability program and we want to work with people who are forward thinking and are looking out for their constituents as well as the planet."