Her life has been a page-turner; her gift will launch a new chapter

Honey Rand, PhD '00, (right) speaks at a USF Humanities Conference alongside the Humanities Institute's Liz Kicak.

May 8, 2024

By Dave Scheiber

Her name is as distinctive as the whirlwind life she has led and the many tales she relates with her trademark humor, candor and relentless energy. 

Recently, while taking a vigorous hike through the woods near her Lutz home, she simultaneously related the long and winding road she has traveled since childhood while breezing through an hourlong phone interview. 

It’s classic Rand, PhD Communication ’00, a woman who has never hesitated to speak her mind and whose journey has taken her from a little girl penning stories on scraps of paper to a philanthropist whose passion for creative writing and communications has led to a major gift to USF’s College of Arts and Sciences. 

“I’ve always been a compulsive writer. Cleaning out files I find stories I wrote years ago that I didn’t remember. Note cards with story ideas, too,” she says. Her need to write was fed primarily at work, including a breadth of materials from brochures and ads to TV and radio scripts, guest columns and newspaper inserts, articles for trade publications and more. 

Dr. Honey Rand holds her first story
Rand holds her first story

“Where there was an opportunity to write with a byline, I took it,” she says. “I hope this funding gives a boost to a program that can elevate students and their talents.”

Her gift comes in the form of a deferred $3 million contribution, 90 percent of which will go toward creating an annual creative writing retreat.

“We are extremely grateful to Dr. Honey Rand for her generous gift in a subject area that will benefit students studying at the University of South Florida in a wide range of academic disciplines,” says USF President Rhea Law. “Creative writing fosters critical thinking and future innovation, and the works produced by these writers are crucial for cultivating understanding, connection and progress in our global community.” 

Rand’s gift will also support the Saw Palm student literary magazine, USF’s Florida-themed literary magazine crafted by students in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, as well as establish the Honey Rand Endowed Fellowship in Communication, which will support doctoral students in the Department of Communication where Rand earned her doctorate.

“Honey Rand is making a lasting difference to the university that played a pivotal role in her successful career,” says USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman. “She has the heart of a writer, and this gift will foster that same passion in others for many years to come. We can’t thank her enough for her generosity and vision.”

The fact is, the narrative of Rand’s life contains all the elements of an engaging creative-writing effort itself — except she has actually lived it. “My mom may have been an unreliable narrator,” Rand says, “but she always told me my first words were, ‘self will do it.’” And indeed she did, in the process becoming:

• A middle-schooler who could out-debate high school students in competitions; 
• An impulsive 17-year-old who left home in Sarasota and moved to Athens, Greece, for a year;
• A loquacious young woman who made a snap decision to join the Army and wound up on radio and TV in South Korea; 
• A straight-talking 30-something who landed the top public relations job with Mote Marine Laboratory; 
• A go-to media relations expert at the center of the Tampa Bay water wars working for the Southwest Florida Water Management District;
• An author who turned her USF doctoral dissertation into the authoritative 2003 book Water Wars, and a 25-years-later update published in December 2023; 
• A business owner winding down her Environmental PR Group to spend time on her own writing
• And now a philanthropist whose gift will have a significant, long-term positive impact at USF.

Consider the perspective of Elizabeth Kicak, director of USF’s Humanities Institute, which was founded 20 years ago and has grown into a hub of interdisciplinary research in support of creative efforts and scholarship for students and faculty:

“I was sitting in the audience at an alumni event Honey spoke at and thought, ‘She’s magnificent.’ Her energy and enthusiasm and passion shine through.” 

The two chatted, and the connection led to Rand speaking at a humanities conference. 

“Honey never allowed herself to be pigeon-holed into a particular career or life path,” Kicak says. “She wasn’t afraid to pivot in her career multiple times — that’s a message I really want our students to hear. And the gift itself will create a focused, intensive creative writing retreat that will allow us to compete with some of the elite programs in the country. It’s the kind of support that can really transform our institute and ensure our longevity.”

Eric Eisenberg, former College of Arts and Sciences dean and now senior vice president for University-Community Partnerships, served as Rand’s doctoral dissertation advisor in the late 1990s. 

“Honey came to us when she was already a legend in the world of public relations, particularly having to do with water and the environment,” he says. “The thing I noticed about her immediately is she’s extremely colorful and outrageous. She was a lot of fun to work with, and once we completed the coursework, it only made sense to focus on what she knew most about: the historic debate over water usage in the Tampa Bay area. Now fast-forward to today — her gift will help so many students through innovative writing and communications initiatives.”

Magali Michael, the college’s interim dean, says Rand’s gift creates exciting opportunities in an area prime for growth. “Gifts like this make it possible to do so much more for our students. We’ve really been working to grow our Humanities Institute, because many universities our size have large programs. So finding someone who’s willing to help us expand our institute is huge. And we’re so grateful to Honey for that.”

Of course, it would not have been possible if not for Rand’s beloved late husband, Jim Randel, a retired Air Force pilot who passed away last year after a 12-year fight with blood cancer. A savvy investor, one of his stock moves paid huge dividends. Rand only discovered the investment after his passing — and decided to support Moffitt Cancer Center for helping him so much, and her alma mater in the field she loves.



Total First Time Donors in FY23


Endowment Assets Through FY23


Total Donors in FY23