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Claire McNeill, Times Staff Writer

Claire McNeill

Claire McNeill covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times. She joined the paper in 2014 and covered general assignment news in Pasco and Pinellas counties.

She grew up in a one-square-mile town in South Jersey and graduated from the University of North Carolina, where she studied journalism and political science. She has worked for The Boston Globe and The Charlotte Observer. She lives in St. Petersburg.

Phone: (727) 893-8321


Twitter: @clairemcneill

  1. Hillsborough college notebook: Teen camps coming to HCC, sports conference to USF


    Sign up now for teen summer camps at HCC

    Registration is open for a broad lineup of kids' college and teen summer camps at Hillsborough Community College. The college's Institute for Corporate and Continuing Education presents a range of affordable camps for all ages beginning May 30. STEM-inclined students have options such as "Make your first 3D video game" and "Minecraft Modders." Middle and high school students who want to try out different career paths can dabble in "Broadcasting Boot Camp," "Young Architects," "Junior Veterinarian" and more. Other options include "Super Sleuth CSI" and "Extreme Home Makeover: Kids' Edition." The Explorers' Travel Camp offers a more traditional experience, with hiking and kayaking excursions. Most camps are held at HCC locations. Full-day camps run from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and range from $160 to $275 per week, while half-day camps are $159 per week. Register before March 1 for a 15 percent discount. To find out more, visit or call (813) 259-6010....

  2. USF President Genshaft honored for advancement of women in higher education


    For her long-term efforts to advance women in higher education, President Judy Genshaft of the University of South Florida System has won a prestigious recognition from the American Council on Education.

    The annual Donna Shavlik Award, named for a long-serving ACE director, honors those who make helping women in higher education a priority, through leadership, career development, mentoring and campus climate....

    USF System President Judy Genshaft
  3. St. Petersburg College seeks public input in its search for a new president


    TARPON SPRINGS — The choosing of a president is a serious undertaking, and each college has its own personality and priorities.

    Should the leader be defined by a respect for teaching? Or are business ties more important? Will he or she be approachable and charismatic? A good listener? A visionary?

    Officials at St. Petersburg College are asking the public to help answer those and other questions as they put the finishing touches on the job description for the school's next president. They'll be seeking input tonight at SPC's Midtown campus in St. Petersburg, the second of two such forums....

    William D. Law Jr., who recently announced his retirement as president of St. Petersburg College, said the job is more demanding than ever. "You have to be able to craft a vision," he said. "Here's where we are, here's where we're headed, and here's how were going to get there." Law will remain in the job until his successor takes over this summer.
  4. Public invited to weigh in on SPC presidential search at forums


    St. Petersburg College is inviting the public to weigh in on what they want to see in the college’s next leader.

    Community members are welcome to attend two evening forums this month, one in Tarpon Springs and another in St. Petersburg, to discuss the qualifications and attributes they want candidates to possess.

    The first will be held Thursday, Feb. 16, at SPC’s Tarpon Springs campus (Room FA 132, 600 Klosterman Rd.) The second will be Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr. Midtown Center (1300 22nd St. S). Both begin at 6 p.m....

    St. Petersburg College
  5. Auction nets USF $18.8M, but spells end to WUSF-TV


    The University of South Florida has sold WUSF-TV's public broadcast license for $18.8 million, bringing an end to the station's run of more than 50 years.

    The station will go off the air late this year, once USF receives its proceeds at the close of what is known as the Federal Communication Commission's "broadcast incentive auction."

    Meanwhile, the future remains unclear for the station's programming and its 22 employees....

    The headquarters of WUSF-TV on the campus of the University of South Florida. The university announced Feb. 8, 2017 that it has sold the station's public broadcast license for $18.8 million. As part of the deal, the station will go dark later this year, ending a 50-year run. [WUSF-TV]
  6. Hillsborough college notebook: Lectures, concerts, awards — and a study of Valentine's Day


    USF talk explores Valentine's Day origins

    This Valentine's Day, as couples across the country swap chocolates and flowers, a visiting instructor at the University of South Florida will explore the religious origins of the holiday and the American concept of love. Michael E. Heyes of the department of Religious Studies will touch on classic figures, such as Cupid and St. Valentine, to show how a few Christian saints became so deeply tied to popular culture. His talk begins at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14 in Marshall Student Center, Room 2709....

  7. For a Syrian student at Saint Leo University, home is 'wherever offers you safety and freedom'


    ST. LEO — There are too many rules in football, but Ammar Mohrat watches the Super Bowl anyway. This is his collegiate American life, with orange stacks of Little Caesar's pizzas and cartons of Hooters wings. He laughs with his fraternity brothers, tossing a beanbag while TVs follow Tom Brady's warmups.

    "How long is the game?" he asks a friend.

    "Eight hours." Mohrat's eyes widen....

    Seen from outside the St. Leo University classroom where a Tau Kappa Epsilon Super Bowl viewing party is being held, Mohrat jokes with fraternity brother Joe Carney on Sunday, February 5, 2017.  At age 20, pro-democracy social media posts and participation in peaceful protests in Syria put a target on the back of Ammar Mohrat. An online search led him to St. Leo University in Florida, where he was offered free room, board and tuition, and was able to continue his education in computer science.   Now in his final semester, Mohrat is taking seven classes and working three jobs to prepare for life after graduation. Most nights he only gets about four hours of sleep, but he dreams about starting his own artificial intelligence development business one day.
  8. Pinellas college notebook: Stetson celebrates clemency efforts, USF St. Pete panelists talk food


    Stetson students find success with project

    Students at Stetson University College of Law have won a clemency grant for their clients as part of the 2014 Clemency Project. Ten students participated in a class to assist the project, and their work resulted in one of 1,300 successful petitions for clemency. "The very fact that you, as a student, may be one of the last remaining hopes for an individual to have his life sentence reduced is an incredible burden, however, it is an honor to be given that responsibility," recent graduate Victor Meza said in a Stetson news release. The project aims to help federal prisoners saddled with long prison sentences despite non-violent offenses, an initiative driven by former President Barack Obama. Those prisoners, if sentenced today, would be given far shorter sentences. Stetson's class was created in 2015 by professor Ellen Podgor and federal defender Donna Elm. Students say the class shows them the real-life impacts of federal sentencing guidelines and exposes how policies are applied disparately. Several Stetson Law alumni also had clemency grants awarded. "For 25 years, I've saved lives as a doctor, but I never saved a life with a pen," said student Dr. Daniel Diaco, who drafted two grants after taking the class. He got to call one of his clients himself to celebrate the good news. "I never dreamed I would be able to save a life this way and get so much gratification."...

    Photo illustration. [Times files]
  9. Hillsborough college notebook: Book signing, lectures, performances and more


    Bestselling author of 'Homegoing' at USF for lecture, signing

    Novelist Yaa Gyasi, the New York Times bestselling author of Homegoing, comes to the University of South Florida on Thursday, Feb. 9 for a book signing and free lecture about history, race and family. She was born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, and her celebrated book traces the history of the slave trade and its lasting effects on two half-sisters and their descendants. She also will talk about contemporary writing, cultural identity and her personal experience with America's complex racial landscape. Gyasi has studied at Stanford University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her 7:30 p.m. talk is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Provost and the Institute on Black Life, as part of the university's Frontier Forum lecture series. Doors to the Marshall Student Center's Oval Theatre open at 7 p.m. Attendees can park in a lot next to the student center. Gyasi's book will be available for sale. ...

  10. At USF and other college campuses, angst swells over immigration order



    Several hundred students gathered with megaphones at the University of South Florida on Monday to protest President Donald Trump's order blocking visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries. But they also directed their ire at USF president Judy Genshaft, who waited until Monday night to join her colleagues at the state's other large schools in making a statement on the issue.

    "Immigration built this nation," students chanted beneath campus palm trees, holding homemade signs. ...

    Hala Alkattan of Tampa speaks to a crowd of over a hundred at MLK Plaza at University of Southern Florida in Tampa, Fla. on Monday, January 30, 2017. "I think this is beautiful. It brings a lot of hope because the past few days I've been feeling uneasy scared and upset," she said. "My family is Syrian. They're very scared. Even being Muslim, my dad told me you might have to take off your scarf because you might be in danger and that's scary because this is the land of the free."  Concerned students and faculty gathered for a No Ban No Wall Tampa Rapid Response protest against the executive order Donald Trump signed on Friday calling for a ban on Syrian refugees indefinitely, suspending all refugee immigration for 120 days and blocking citizens of seven majority Muslim countries for 90 days.
  11. Take a number: Florida college campuses swamped by students who need counseling


    TAMPA — Somewhere deep in the fog of depression, Breanna Eaton made a call.

    She needed help, she told the University of South Florida's counseling center.

    After class, she would lie in bed and sob until sleep overtook her. She'd stare at the quotes on her mirror — You're worth more than harming yourself, or her favorite Bible verse, She is clothed with strength and dignity — and cry, willing herself to believe them....

    Jacob Herbert represents students on the state's higher education board. He said some of the pressure on students comes from the university system itself, which has set aggressive goals for student performance and graduation rates.
  12. Pinellas college notebook: Almost famous women, STEM festival and more


    Eckerd looks at history's 'almost famous' women

    The Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College invites the public to take a look at "almost famous" women throughout history. Stop by Lewis House on Forrer Sheen Drive between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday to learn more about these women, "from bodice rippers to photographers to goddesses and witches." ASPEC also looks at U.S. military women, presidential hopefuls, archaeologists, artists and more, including female entrepreneurs in St. Petersburg. There will be snacks, lunch and door prizes. To register for the free event, call (727) 864-8834 or email

    Well-known Florida political analyst Susan MacManus in the backyard of her Land O'Lakes home.
  13. Hillsborough college notebook: USF offers state's first grad program in genetic counseling


    USF debuts Florida's first graduate program in genetic counseling

    After a recent accreditation, the University of South Florida College of Public Health boasts the state's first graduate program in genetic counseling.

    The program is recruiting its first wave of master's students for the degree in public health and genetic counseling, expected to be admitted next fall.

    "We're the third most populous state and we have not had a genetic counseling training program," said program director Deborah Cragun. "In the genetic counseling world, this is huge."...

  14. Military Times names USF best school in the U.S. for veterans


    In its 2017 ‘Best for Vets’ college rankings, Military Times gave the University of South Florida top honors among four-year colleges.

    The magazine aimed at U.S. military personnel lauded the way USF tracks the academic performance of its nearly 1,600 student veterans. USF takes a proactive approach, preventing student vets with sagging grades from registering for new classes until they sit down with the Office of Veteran Success....

  15. National Science Foundation awards USF $1.5 million to aid students in tech fields


    TAMPA — There are more jobs open in the technology field than qualified workers to fill them.

    But the pathway to a STEM degree isn’t always seamless. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees often take longer to finish, and some students run out of financial aid before they ever get to toss their cap into the air.

    The National Science Foundation wants to remove those financial barriers and boost the number of STEM students who make it to graduation....