Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sophia Wisniewska named chancellor at USF St. Petersburg

At her interview, Sophia Wisniewska, 61, described herself as a careful decisionmaker. “I joke in my job, I say, ‘I’m not smart enough to do it on my own,’ ” Wisniewska said. “So with big decisions, unless there’s a fire in the building and you have to make a decision now, I like to gather information and kind of balance and weigh all the different factors.”

University of South Florida St. Petersburg

At her interview, Sophia Wisniewska, 61, described herself as a careful decisionmaker. “I joke in my job, I say, ‘I’m not smart enough to do it on my own,’ ” Wisniewska said. “So with big decisions, unless there’s a fire in the building and you have to make a decision now, I like to gather information and kind of balance and weigh all the different factors.”

ST. PETERSBURG — She started her career as a secretary at Pennsylvania State University, only to become chancellor of its most diverse branch campus. On Tuesday, Sophia Wisniewska continued her climb, this time as the new leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

The 61-year-old educator emerged from an applicant pool of 74 after Margaret Sullivan's resignation last summer set off a nationwide search for a new chancellor. Wisniewska is expected to create a five-year plan for USF St. Petersburg and oversee it in the chancellor role for at least five years.

"I believe Dr. Wisniewska has the experience and vision to continue the tremendous progress we have witnessed at USF St. Petersburg," USF president Judy Genshaft said in a message to faculty, staff and students. "Her commitment to scholarship, teaching and community engagement will enrich both USFSP and the broader community. She will inspire all who meet her."

Wisniewska has been the leader of Penn State Brandywine since 2005, when she left her position as the dean of Temple University Ambler. She studied Russian and history at Penn State before earning a master's and doctorate in Russian from Bryn Mawr College, as well as a doctorate in second-language acquisition.

At USF St. Petersburg, Wisniewska will earn a salary of $265,000 and report directly to Genshaft. In a multi­campus system like USF, the president has final say over most things. But as the chancellor, Wisniewska is charged with shaping the mission of USF St. Petersburg, guiding programs and services while building financial and legislative support for the branch.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Wisniewska said she was attracted to USF St. Petersburg because of its relatively independent status for a branch campus. St. Petersburg is the only USF branch campus independently accredited from the flagship, and lobbies for itself and its funding.

"I think the institution has more of an opportunity to establish its own reputation, its own ranking, and to move forward with developing new programs and new services," Wisniewska said.

Wisniewska's proudest accomplishment as the Penn State Brandywine chancellor is forming a durable strategic plan — something weighing heavily on the minds of officials and students at USF St. Petersburg, whose own plan is up this school year.

"Rather than think about the specific items," Wisniewska said, "I would really like to spend a little time dreaming and focusing on the vision, to first try to home in on the big picture, and I think everything else will follow."

Born in a tiny Polish village about 100 miles east of Warsaw, Wisniewska came to Philadelphia in 1962. The first in her family to finish grade school, let alone college, Wisniewska took a job as a secretary at Penn State shortly after graduating from the university. She was quickly promoted to the post of evening school administrator, and upward from there.

Between five different Penn State campuses and Temple Ambler, Wisniewska has gone from a director to an associate dean to a dean to chancellor at multilevel systems that she likened to USF's.

"To be honest, I wasn't looking," Wisniewska told the USF St. Petersburg search committee, explaining that a colleague had shown her the job posting. "I looked at the position description and it felt like it had my DNA on it."

Genshaft chose Wisniewska from among three finalists recommended by an 18-member search committee of faculty, staff, alumni, community members, trustees and a student.

Interim chancellor Bill Ho­garth was a semifinalist when the applicant pool was narrowed to six, but was not chosen to advance to the final three. Ho­garth is director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography adjacent to USF St. Petersburg. He was a favorite among students, who say he eats lunch with them and listens to their problems.

But Mark Lombardi-Nelson, president of the student government and a member of the chancellor search committee, said he expected students to embrace Wisniewska and was pleased to see her picked.

"You could tell that she was a frontrunner from the beginning, from just the way she presented herself and her resume," Lombardi-Nelson said. "She kicked it in the interview. She took that room over, and everyone recognized it."

Wisniewska is admittedly not a familiar face to USF St. Petersburg. Demonstrating how to pronounce her last name (wis-NEW-skuh), she confessed that she'd be happy with anything that started with a "W."

She's lived most of her life in Pennsylvania, although she has spent her past three birthdays flying into Tampa and driving to Sarasota to be with friends. And in January, just before her interview for the chancellor position, Wisniewska "snuck" on campus.

She picked up the student newspaper, talked to a couple students, walked along Tampa Bay and "stuck my nose into a couple of the buildings." She said she got a good feeling.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Lisa Gartner at lgartner@tampabay.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @lisagartner.

USF St. Petersburg

1965 The year it was founded

48 Acres of campus

26 Buildings

4,963 Total undergraduate enrollment

598 Total graduate

enrollment

3.56 Average high school GPA of students

Sophia Wisniewska named chancellor at USF St. Petersburg 03/19/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:02am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Good luck finding solar eclipse glasses across Tampa Bay, U.S.

    Science

    Andi Figart pulled up to the New Port Richey Library on Thursday morning to an unusual sight.

    NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 11: Pairs of free solar eclipse glasses sit on display at a Warby Parker store  on August 11, 2017 in New York City. To view the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21 eye protection is essential. The designer eyeglass store expects to give out thousands of pairs of the glasses before the event.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
  2. Republicans face primary in whirlwind special election for Plant City-area House seat

    Elections

    PLANT CITY — With qualifying completed this week, the field is set in a whirlwind special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City — and the race could come down to two candidates in a Republican primary, Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure.

    Yvonne Fry is one of two Republican candidates with strong Plant City ties to quality for a special election in state House District 58.
  3. Tim Tebow came into their life, and never left

    Minors

    There are a lot of stories about Tim Tebow connecting with people during his life, Tebow inspiring them and Tebow being inspired.

    Boomer Hornbeck of Naples, Fla., has battled cerebral palsy and undergone surgery after surgery in the hopes of allowing him to one day walk. Inspired by Tim Tebow, and encouraged by his relationship with him, Hornbeck has become a motivational speaker.
  4. Wrestler Ric Flair in critical condition with 'multiple organ problems,' family says

    Celebrities

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Ric Flair's fiancee shared more details of his illness in a Facebook post, and his condition is more serious than fans imagined for the hospitalized wrestling icon.

    Ric Flair photographed in 2009. [Getty]
  5. Gracepoint gifts senior residents with new home

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — When Mary Myles became program manager of The Graham Home 25 years ago, 30 adults with special needs occupied 65 square-foot apartments.

    The Graham at Gracepoint, the senior living apartments at 2400 East Henry Ave., was their first facility built from the ground up.