In the Era of COVID-19, the Bulls Unite

Face shields are manufactured in the USF College of Engineering

Dec. 21, 2020

While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the 2019-20 academic year, with classes, work and even commencement moved online, the University of South Florida has risen to the occasion, powered by determination, community and philanthropy. Throughout the pandemic, the university community has found innovative ways to support students, researchers, the surrounding community and our frontline health care workers.

One of the earliest causes donors rallied around was addressing the shortage of personal protective equipment, including the production of face shields by the College of Engineering. In March, the college repurposed its Mini-Circuits Design for X Laboratory to produce the shields, at one point providing about 5,000 face shields per week. The bulk of these have gone to frontline health care workers at USF Health and Tampa General Hospital. The college also used 3D printers to create ear reliefs, which keep comfortable those who must wear face masks all day.

Between the USF United Support Fund and #BullsUnited in Action fundraising efforts, which you can learn more about in the pages that follow, more than $1.1 million was raised over the spring and summer of 2020 to support various USF initiatives and needs related to COVID-19.

At the time of this writing, COVID-19 persists, yet the Bulls remain united.

Students support food security

USF United Support Fund

Disruption of campuses, stores, restaurants and other businesses at the start of the pandemic resulted in many students and their families losing jobs and financial support, causing significant stress and unease.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, President Steven Currall led the effort to establish the USF United Support Fund to help students meet critical needs, like food, toiletries, rent and other essentials. This unprecedented effort raised more than $75,000 in the first 48 hours, and by press time the total had exceeded $404,000 contributed by more than 1,700 compassionate donors.

While USF would later receive its portion of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding to assist with emergency student aid, the initial USF United Support Fund effort helped meet the immediate needs of hundreds of students. This was especially crucial to international and undocumented students, who were ineligible to receive CARES Act funding.

Feed-A-Bull Food Pantry

Supporting Food Security

The Feed-A-Bull Pantry on USF’s Tampa campus, the Support-A-Bull Market on USF’s St Petersburg campus and the Support-A-Bull Pantry on USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus regularly provide groceries and other personal necessities to students in need. During the pandemic each site ramped up operations to help meet the increased need, which more than doubled.

Financial gifts poured in from hundreds of donors. Between the three campuses, more than $34,000 was raised to help purchase additional food and other necessities, as well as equipment to improve service to students.

In addition, shelves were stocked by an outpouring of support from the community. In April, for instance, through USF Dining, Aramark donated 650 pounds of fresh produce, baked goods, fruit juice, dairy products and protein. Donations also poured in from other local businesses, the USF Bookstore, Feeding Tampa Bay and a staff food drive.

Health Care Workers at a Mobile Testing Site

Helios-Florida Consortium COVID-19 Summer Completion Grant Initiative

To help keep students on course through the pandemic, Helios Education Foundation and the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities partnered for a $650,000 grant to assist students at the University of South Florida, as well as the University of Central Florida and Florida International University, with immediate financial need due to the pandemic.

Eligible students received $1,250 individual awards. The aim was to increase the likelihood of on-time graduation for students who did not receive CARES Act funds.

“At a time of numerous challenges, we are pleased to offer students in Florida’s largest metropolitan regions grant support to ensure they remain enrolled during the summer and committed to degree completion,” said Vince Roig, founding chair of Helios Education Foundation in a release. “This initiative will provide support for limited-income students who are in danger of reducing their course hours or not enrolling at all.”

COVID-19 Testing

USF Health Research and Response Fund

Tampa philanthropist and USF alumna Mary T. Pipino made a $25,000 gift to kick off the USF Health Pandemic Research and Response Fund, which supports the immediate and long-term needs of USF Health to prevent, treat and train for a pandemic response. Pipino later donated another $25,000 to the fund, designated specifically for COVID-19 research efforts at USF Health.

Among the first initiatives supported by the fund was the creation of a 3D printed nasal swab prototype in USF Health’s 3D Clinical Applications Division and production of 80,000 COVID-19 test kits to address a nationwide shortage. Impressed by the ingenuity and speed of this project, U.S. Senator Rick Scott wasted no time donating $35,000 to the fund.

In addition, the fund has supported research into effective treatments for COVID-19 and expanded telehealth appointments, which provide continued care for patients who see specialists.

At press time, the Research and Response Fund has raised $200,000.

Rocky D. Bull examples wearing a face covering

Faculty and Staff Support

Faculty and staff giving played a large part in supporting COVID-19 relief at USF, with more than a quarter of the funds raised for the USF United Support Fund being gifts made by employees.

The USF United Support Fund and the #BullsUnited In Action efforts had a significant impact on faculty and staff giving. Chaired by Karen Holbrook, PhD, regional chancellor of USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus, and Michael Kelly, vice president of USF Athletics, the Faculty and Staff Campaign participation rate increased 11 percent after the launch of the USF United Support Fund.

“Thank you to the faculty and staff who demonstrated how much they care about our students and university through their generosity,” said Holbrook. “This success shows that our university means more than just a workplace, but an important part of our lives.”

Even in the midst of a pandemic, USF faculty and staff confirmed their devotion to the success of our students, the university and the greater Tampa Bay community.

Bulls United in Action

#BullsUnited in Action

In light of the pandemic, USF Giving Day 2020 transformed into #BullsUnited in Action, a month-long philanthropic mobilization of the USF community. In combination with the fundraising efforts described earlier, more than $1.1 million was raised over the spring and summer of 2020 to support various USF initiatives and needs related to COVID-19.

Food security was one area donors rallied around, with donations to food pantries and markets on each campus as well as the Center for the Advancement of Food Security and Healthy Communities, housed in the College of Arts and Sciences. With the help of funds raised, the center plans to launch studies into food insecurity amongst the elderly and university student populations during the pandemic.

Several colleges also raised funds for student scholarships and emergency support, including the Muma College of Business, the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences and the Patel College of Global Sustainability as well as USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy, helping students continue their education in the midst of financial hardships.

The overall success of the #BullsUnited in Action campaign is a shining example of how even during the most challenging times, the USF community works together to make an impact on the university and the world.


Endowment Assets Through FY21


Scholarship $ Raised FY21


Total First Time Individual Donors in FY21