Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

In a first, HCC student named to elite national academic team

For 13 years, Hillsborough Community College president Gwendolyn Stephenson wanted to see one of her students named to USA Today's All-USA Community College Academic Team.

No one from HCC had ever made it.

"Community colleges around the country really want their very, very good students to receive this award," she said.

Finally, with about a month to spare before Stephenson's June retirement, it has happened.

For bringing home the honor, HCC thanks Ralph Jacobi, who was determined to answer just one question:

What killed my marsh grass?

• • •

Today Jacobi, 20, is an HCC sophomore with a part-time job cooking in his family's restaurant, the Schnitzelhaus on W Waters Avenue, and a plan to pursue a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Florida.

But three years ago, he was a homeschooled student trying to become an Eagle Scout.

For his community service project, Jacobi led a team from Troop 339 in Lutz that planted 5,000 plugs of salt marsh grass at MacDill Air Force Base in mid-2007.

A few months later, Jacobi returned to the base to find that 95 percent of the grass plugs had died. He had become an Eagle Scout, but he was not pleased with the way the project turned out.

"My goal was to leave a lasting effect on the area, and my project had no effect at the time," said Jacobi, the son of Mike and Susila Jacobi of Carrollwood Village.

With the help of his father, Jacobi found Brian Silliman, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Florida.

By the time they made contact, Jacobi had already read up on Silliman's research and could ask penetrating questions about the science of salt marsh ecology. Silliman said it's virtually unheard of to get that kind of informed inquiry from someone who's not a professor or a graduate student.

"It shows a lot of initiative and a lot of creativity," he said.

With Silliman's guidance, Jacobi set up a series of three research projects, two at MacDill and one at Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County. The experiments assessed how a variety of factors — the presence of the periwinkle snail, algae, barnacles, sea weed, as well as the timing and spacing of the plantings — affected the survival of the grass.

In the end, Jacobi said the research showed that the snails were not a significant threat to the grass, but the timing of the plantings made a difference. It also helped to plant the plugs close together. And along the way, some of the grass planted in one of the MacDill experiments ended up thriving, so Jacobi achieved his lasting impact.

The research was impressive, Silliman said. After a few hours of conversation, Jacobi put together a series of experiments with an analytical sophistication that some graduate students cannot muster after months of work. If one thing didn't work, he tried something else.


USA Today's All-USA Community College Academic Team was named last month and includes 20 students from around the country.

They ranged in age from 19 to 53, and had done projects in disaster relief, Third World education, greenhouse gas research and veterans assistance, among other things. In addition to Jacobi, three came from Florida schools: Miami Dade College, Chipola College in Marianna and Pensacola Junior College.

"That is very significant," Stephenson said. "I think this is a real testament to the quality of our Florida community colleges."

Jacobi said he was thrilled at the honor and relieved that there's finally some new salt marsh grass growing at MacDill.

Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 226-3403.

In a first, HCC student named to elite national academic team 05/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 4:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Manahattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman


    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  2. Bucs talk social issues, protests at team meeting


    TAMPA — Each time Dirk Koetter walks through the door of his office at One Buc Place, he passes by the only jersey framed on his wall.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) wears custom cleats to represent Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) as part of the NFL???‚??„?s "My Cause, My Cleats Campaign" before the start of a football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.
  3. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA


    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]

  4. St. Petersburg man shot in arm during home invasion robbery


    ST. PETERSBURG — One man was arrested on charges he shot another man in the arm while attempting to rob a home in what St. Petersburg police are calling a drug-related incident.

    John Alam, 25, faces charges of home invasion robbery, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon after deputies said he tried to rob a home Wednesday morning and ended up shooting someone. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Bob Buckhorn, a mayor who knows what he wants, surveys constituents on what they want


    TAMPA — Focus has not been a problem — or really, even a question — during the six-plus years that Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been in office.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn keeps a digital countdown clock in his office showing the days, hours. minutes and seconds until he is term-limited out of office on April 1, 2019. As of Wednesday, he had 584 days to go. [City of Tampa]