The honors program at the University of South Florida will soon move from the oldest building on campus to a five-story, $56 million, 85,000-square-foot building named after Judy Genshaft, the former USF president.
Genshaft and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, donated $20 million to kick-start the project, which has been years in the making and will open to students on July 31.
While $8.1 million came from the state, the rest came from more than 50 donors, including former Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, former Senate President Wilton Simpson, Board of Governors chairperson Brian Lamb, former USF Provost Ralph Wilcox and Charles Adams, who serves as the Judy Genshaft Honors College endowed dean.
At the building’s grand opening in May, Genshaft said she and Adams toured the country to learn about best practices for the campus. They learned to keep the building separate from the residence halls, creating more opportunities for honors students to mingle with others. They sought input from students, who wanted more light, and from faculty, who wished for more space to meet with students.
To that end, the building features 39 uniquely crafted “learning lofts” with a white oak exterior that hang over a spacious atrium. No two lofts have the same design.
“It’s more than just custom construction. The interweaving of the beams connect, each locked in a manner that symbolizes how our students connect with creative ideas and pursuits,” said Genshaft, who was USF’s president from 2000 to 2019. “And they come out in different directions, rather than following a straight line.”
Adams, the dean, said many honors students have wide-ranging creative interests. And while it’s often a challenge to build a career around those interests, he said, he hopes the new building gives them an opportunity to explore them all.
The building features soundproof recording studios for podcasts, music practice rooms and a professional kitchen named in honor of Genshaft’s mother, Leona Genshaft. The college hopes to use the kitchen for classes and bring regional and celebrity chefs in for demonstrations.
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Lindy Davidson, associate dean for curriculum, said she hopes the space will help bring a sense of community for the students, who until now had been scattered across buildings on campus.
Their new academic home will also feature classrooms referred to as “sandboxes,” with movable desks and walls that can be written on. They will host courses on virtual reality.
A shaded outdoor atrium offers space for speakers and events. And while other spaces are just for the honors program, a Buddy Brew on the first floor will be open to everyone on campus.
The program currently has more than 2,500 students across the university’s three campuses.
Over 127 types of panels make up the building’s facade. Rooted more than 130 feet into the ground, the structure was the creation of Thom Mayne, winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2005. His design company Morphosis partnered with the local firm FleischmanGarciaMaslowski Architecture.
Among the building’s other features is a large portrait of Genshaft, and her collection of bull figurines from around the world will be featured outside the dean’s office.
Genshaft is a “trailblazer,” a “dynamo,” said USF board of trustees chairperson Will Weatherford, speaking at the May grand opening. “She transformed this place in every way imaginable and gave more money to this university than she made in 20 years.”
Weatherford, a former speaker of the Florida House, spoke from a stage in the new atrium, at one point addressing Genshaft directly.
“Your spirit will live in this building forever,” he told her. “You are in the heart of this facility.”