Meet Phoebe, the giant pink flamingo turning heads at Tampa International Airport

By Jessica Grobstick

TAMPA – Throughout the years, Tampa International Airport has been home to a variety of artwork crafted by local, national and international artists. The newest piece by Matthew Mazzotta is just as eye-catching: a giant pink flamingo sculpture named Phoebe.

The sculpture, originally titled “HOME,” towers 21 feet and is located at the entrance of the airport.

Mazzotta named the sculpture “HOME” because, “An airport is a special place, are you leaving your home or coming back home? Home also extends to all the wildlife that considers Florida their home like the popular bird of Florida, the flamingo.”

Mazzotta’s artwork transports travelers underwater as the creation depicts a flamingo gently dipping its head below the surface of the water. This is created by attaching metal panels and lighting to the ceiling as part of the artwork. This eye-catching art piece was built after being chosen from more than 700 art proposals submitted from around the world.

“The airport wanted to have new public artworks, so they ran a call for interest online. I was selected with two other artists, this is known as being short-listed,” Mazzotta said.

Mazzotta and the two other artists were given some money to develop a proposal. He said he proposed the Flamingo installation called “HOME” and the jury selected it.

The flamingo was commissioned for $520,000 as a part of Tampa International Airport’s Public Art Program.

Mazzotta was selected in 2020 to create the piece but unfortunately, COVID-19 stopped the production. He was able to pick it back up in 2021 and had it installed in 2022.

“This is going to be a very joyous sculpture, just from the people who have come out and taken photos I can see this is actually going to bring light and brightness to the people traveling,” Mazzotta said.

Courtesy of Jessica Grobstick

Having been completed and receiving so much attention, the sculpture was missing one thing: a name. Tampa International Airport and the artist agreed that the flamingo needed a name. They created a contest called Name the Flamingo, and they wanted the public to help.

C.J. Johnson is TPA’s Communications Specialist and the man behind the social media and content.

“Given how much people have loved the flamingo from the time it was installed last year, we wanted to give people the chance to get even more involved with this iconic bird. While the art piece is still formally known as ‘HOME’ we thought having a naming contest would be an engaging and fun community effort,” Johnson said.

The winner of the contest would receive four round-trip tickets from Silver Airways and a VIP experience package to Busch Gardens, including four single-day admission tickets, four all-day dining passes, four quick queue unlimited passes and preferred parking.

Voting was done online. One entry was allowed per person and participants were asked to briefly explain on the form why they chose the name they submitted. The contest was open to the public for one week. The submission period ended on December 6, 2022. 

The Name the Flamingo contest received over 65,000 entries from all over the world.

In the following stages, the airport selected the top three names and let the public vote one last time. Originally, the flamingo’s name was to be announced on Dec. 16, 2022, but the judges asked for some additional time to review all the submissions.

“We assembled a panel of Hillsborough County Aviation Authority (HCAA) employees to review each of the entries. The panel was tasked with thoroughly reviewing tens of thousands of names and choosing the three most deserving,” Johnson said.

On Dec. 30, 2022, it was finally time for the public to name the bird. The three final names came down to Finn, Cora and Phoebe. Voting was left open to the public until Jan. 2, 2023. Johnson led the panel and said they had a lot of fun reviewing the entries and narrowing it down to three favorites agreed upon by the judges.

The community was very passionate about the flamingo. The three finalist names ended up receiving a total of 37,000 votes. Tampa International Airport felt this was an incredible response given that there was no prize for voting.

“We knew from the start of the contest that we wouldn’t be able to please everyone with the selections, but we were pleased to see an outpouring of support,” Johnson said. “People wanted to pick a favorite at that point.”

The winning name was Phoebe with 16,122 votes, Cora followed closely second with 14,341 votes and Finn with 6,779.

The winner of the contest is 63-year-old J. Bryan M., who is a retired educator.

“I went to elementary school in Tampa, just a mile down the road from Busch Gardens,” Bryan said. “When I heard about this contest I wanted to enter. After working in higher education for forty years, I thought I would submit a name that tied back to the scientific name for a flamingo.”

He submitted Phoebe for the following reason:

“A play on Phoenicopterus- the flamingo’s scientific name ‘Phoebe’ is also a playful alliterative to flamingo and means brilliantly inquisitive. The overall ‘HOME’ sculpture is literally brilliant and reveals the flamingo’s inquisitiveness as it hunts for food in the shallows,” he said.

Bryan lives in Daytona Beach Shores. His childhood was spent in Tampa. He visited the airport on Jan. 25 to pick up his prize and take a photo with Phoebe.

“We are excited to see many on social media already referring to the flamingo as Phoebe. This contest did everything we wanted it to do: Bring more awareness to Tampa International Airport and the Tampa Bay region from all over the world and give our traveling community a fun way to play along with us,” Johnson said.

Alicia Keys returns to Tampa for electric concert

Alicia Keys returns to Tampa for electric concert

By Juron Traill

TAMPA – Global songstress Alicia Keys returned to Tampa on Sept. 18 for an intimate concert from her Alicia + Keys World Tour to support her new albums.

The 15-time GRAMMY winner opened the show in a bedazzled jumpsuit hugged by a trench coat, strutting into “Nat King Cole” accompanied by crooning strings and heavy bass, as if she’s some type of spy sneaking in for her audience. She belted notes that were sure to shake up the walls of the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.

Occasional listeners might have expected Keys to be dropping ballads throughout the night with her fingers on the ivories but she surpassed expectations. She dropped reggae-tinged tunes like “Wasted Energy”, played gospel collaborations like “Nobody” and danced afrobeat to “In Common.” Her album “ALICIA” was released in September 2020 after many setbacks due to COVID-19 and her latest “KEYS” dropped in December 2021.

“I bought the tickets around three months ago and I want more songs from the ‘KEYS’ album,” said 34-year-old fan Tony Johnson.

Photos by Juron Traill

Keys sang every new song from her album with lyrical emotions and heavy sonics of the instrumentals which never gave a dull feeling to anyone in the crowd because she eventually transitioned to the big hits that we’ve known her for. She occasionally engaged the audience to keep them curious and even choose which records they liked better.

“I’ve been following her since the Paris tour in Europe and I’ve been to more than 10 shows,” said 24-year-old French nurse Kandia Wague. “I’ve been booking Airbnbs and she’s seen me several times in the crowd.”

It was a special moment for many fans who even left their hometowns just to see Keys perform. Her tour started in June with the European leg kicking off with bigger arenas. She dimmed the audience size for her North American leg that began mid-August.

Tampa was no exception to the smaller size and that evidently created missing tour props. Compared to her arena tours in Europe, her stage was smaller in Tampa which didn’t give her much room to walk, especially around her grey piano. She still embraced the venue’s limitations as much as she could with her 4-piece band in the back.

Keys had a busy weekend in Florida where she played two days consecutively in Hollywood and Orlando before her Tampa show. Most likely tired, it caused her to skip several songs on the setlist including “Time Machine”, “So Done”, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” and more. She didn’t give an encore at the end even after the crowd was yelling for her.

Despite the venue’s limited scale for an artist as renowned as Keys, she still showcased why she’s one of the world’s greatest virtuosos in the music industry and Tampa proudly welcomed her back.

How Tampa Bay college students can help protect monarch butterflies

How Tampa Bay college students can help protect monarch butterflies

By Mason Moore

ST. PETERSBURG—Have you ever wondered why you may be seeing fewer monarch butterflies?

Well, the monarch butterfly, also known as its scientific name Danaus Plexippus, is struggling to successfully make its annual migration to the west. But there are ways Tampa Bay locals, including college students, can help the species along with other important insects.

The International Union of Conservation for Nature reported that “monarch butterflies’ population have been declining rapidly over the last 40 years due to issues such as climate change, disease, and harmful pesticides.”

Butterflies are one of the most important and helpful pollinators alongside other insects. And just simply planting a native pollinating plant and reducing your use of chemical pesticides in the yard or garden can help save them from endangerment.

Monarchs are slowly losing their host plant called milkweed, on which they feed and lay their eggs. It is encouraged to plant only native milkweed according to where you live. If not, it places the butterflies in areas they typically wouldn’t be, and they are prone to freezing.

A monarch butterfly perches on milkweed at Willow Tree Nursery in St. Petersburg. Photo by Mason Moore

Dale McClung is the owner of the Florida Monarch Butterfly Farm in St. Petersburg. The farm has been in business supplying local butterflies since 1996, up until this year when McClung decided to shut down the farm to go into his retirement.

He said that the best thing to do is, “Create habitats. Plant milkweed for monarchs. Plant other host plants for other butterflies and moths.”

Some St. Petersburg plant shops that sell Florida native milkweed for butterflies are Dolin’s Garden Center at 801 62nd Ave N. and Terah Gardens at 200 49th St. N.

In Tampa, Citrus Park Landscape Nursery at 8334 Gunn Highway also sells native milkweed.

Planting native milkweed gives monarch butterflies food and energy, but it also gives a safe place for them to lay their eggs after they reproduce.

McClung advocated for protecting other insects that are on the decline as well, such as moths, who don’t get as much love as butterflies.

“Insects, in general, are in decline, not just butterflies. If you want to bring butterflies to your yard, simply plant the right plants. Nobody thinks of moths, but they’re important too. There are many more moth species than butterflies, but they lack the good PR butterflies receive,” McClung said.

The USF St. Petersburg Garden Club has big plans to help the monarch population this year.

“I hope that this is the year we get the RHO garden together because I heard many years ago it used to be a great and wonderful place to get free herbs and fruit, I definitely want to bring that back,” club president Lucinda Duah said.

Lucinda plans to reach out to an organization called, which sends free milkweed plants to schools and nonprofits. They hope to create a butterfly garden flourishing with milkweed along with other native plants in the RHO garden at USFS within the near future.

“I want to help put out some signs in the garden and around the school to educate people. Because when they’re not aware, they just don’t care” Lucinda said.

Traffic Advertising’s fluffiest employee specializes in tail pitches

Traffic Advertising’s fluffiest employee specializes in tail pitches

Social media specialist Brooke Nolan often uses Lily Bella the Shih-Tzu as inspiration for advertising content.

By Mikayla Lewis

PALM HARBOR, FL – While seated at her desk enjoying her boost of morning caffeine, Brooke Nolan is greeted by a small, fluffy thing: Lily Bella. The elderly Shih-Tzu fueled the inspiration for a day’s worth of social media posts at Traffic Advertising.

Nolan, 22, spends most of her day glued to a bright red iPad, producing social media content for over 13 car dealerships in Florida. She’s been with the company for about a year, continually growing in her own craft and expanding her horizons within the companies she works for.

“Traffic Advertising is a full-service marketing and advertising agency in Palm Harbor, providing clients with a range of services including traditional media buying (such as radio and print), social media marketing, digital marketing, and more. We have clients throughout the country ranging from automotive to hospitality,” said Shana Moran, the digital director at Traffic Advertising.

Nolan starts off the day like most by checking her social media accounts; only, she does this pretty much all day. It sounds like a Gen-Z dream to spend all day browsing Instagram and Facebook, but Nolan puts more effort into the posts she makes than the casual food pictures and filter-ridden selfies that saturate social media platforms.

Nolan has gained a reputation in her office for finding opportunities in the mundane, or areas one might not normally explore.

“I look for inspiration all around me. From national days to other brands’ content, to even music. It’s all about trusting the process,” Nolan said.

Nolan used Lily Bella as her inspiration for a stream of Instagram story posts on Traffic Advertising’s account, serving as an example of how Nolan utilizes her surroundings to create interesting content.

Lily Bella is Traffic Advertising’s fluffiest employee. Courtesy of Brooke Nolan

A lot of Nolan’s posts revolve around relevancy to months or seasons, holidays, current events or trends by creating eye-grabbing visuals. She most often uses Canva to create Instagram and Facebook content – the company currently only works through these two social media platforms, and soon, they will expand to Twitter.

There was a clear shift in content when Nolan started at Traffic Advertising – she goes the extra mile to create interactive content.

“A lot of content creators in the scene have stuck to the old ways, from advertisement strategies, to not putting effort into social media,” Nolan said. “And I came from a background in film and music. Plus, I’m a lot younger for my role, and that allows me to put my own twist on it.”

She brings a creative outlook to the company through her background working in the arts. The current idea she is working on is an adoption event at Volkswagen Wesley Chapel, which only opened a year ago. May is national pet month, making a pet-related event relevant, especially because it’s for a good cause. She plans on using organic posts to boost the event, as well as creating an Instagram filter and reaching out to local animal shelters to collaborate.

Nolan has put time and effort into curating posts for their clients and has had success in promoting and covering events before.

Brooke Nolan, the social media specialist at Traffic Advertising, uses her iPad to do most of her daily tasks. Courtesy of Brooke Nolan

“My most successful post would have to be a family Halloween event I photographed at Hyundai New Port Richey,” Nolan said. “It got a few thousand impressions organically. I also got to see how impactful events are on the community.”

While Nolan is the creative mind behind Traffic Advertising’s content, Dan Consoli acts as a curator of sorts. Consoli is the social media manager and oversees the content before it is put out. He is a first-time social media manager but has worked with social media at other jobs in the past. He works with the budget and manages all social media content before they are posted to clients’ pages.

“My favorite part of my job is creating a well-performing ad with the ever-changing landscape of Facebook Ads Manager,” Consoli. “With Facebook’s updates that seem to come out of nowhere constantly messing with your ads, it feels nice to be up to speed and use those changes to optimize my ads rather than fall prey to them.”

Consoli has also found success in advertising events with Nolan. Together, they created a buy-back event in March for a client.

“It maintained one of the lowest cost-per-result and highest messaging rates that this company has seen in the last few months,” Consoli said.

The social media team at Traffic Advertising composed of Nolan and Consoli reflects the significance of successful advertising and event planning and execution through social media. Creating interactive, eye-grabbing and relevant content is a key component in sales success within an ever-changing, technologically evolved society. As trends ebb and flow, advertisers have to stay on their toes.

Swim trunks and miraculous circumstances

Swim trunks and miraculous circumstances

How borrowing a pair of swim trunks and trying to win back your girlfriend can land you on the front page of The New York Times.

By Sierra Laico

SARASOTA—As he flips through pages of notes, types away on his computer, and scrolls through his phone searching for the right contacts, freelance journalist Isaac Eger forages for his next story.

Being a freelance journalist does not offer a typical day-to-day routine, so shadowing one on any given day may not give you the riveting reporter story you would hope for. But Eger enjoys the creative freedom that working freelance provides. As someone who makes a living from writing articles—he has quite an abnormal view of writing.

“My day consists of lots of phone calls, lots of emails. Like, reaching out to potential subjects. I’d say that there’s a lot less writing than there is anything. I find writing to be incredibly painful—it’s probably my least favorite part of the job, actually,” he said.

Eger did not plan on becoming a journalist. Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history from Reed College, Eger says he stumbled upon journalism under extraordinary circumstances. While on his first trip to New York, Eger met Joe Sexton, who was the editor of the sports page of The New York Times, by borrowing his swim trunks. About a year after graduating college and going through a breakup with his girlfriend who told him he was not ambitious enough, Eger set his sights on sports writing.

“To prove to her I was ambitious I was like, ‘I’m going to become a sportswriter,’ because I enjoyed writing and talking about sports. So that’s when I reached out to Joe Sexton, I said ‘Hey, remember me? I borrowed your swim trunks, I’m going to move to New York to become a writer.’ I asked him if he had any advice or anything I could do for him, and he said ‘Come to New York, settle down for a little while, and then we can talk,'” he said.

Eger spent the first month in New York playing basketball around the city, and by the time he met with Sexton, Sexton wanted to hear his basketball tales. After telling him stories, Sexton told him to write them down, which Eger did. After receiving some edits from Sexton, Eger got a call a week later from Sexton telling him to buy a copy of The New York Times—and Eger’s story was on the front page.

“It was funny, I couldn’t really appreciate what had happened because all I wanted to do was win back my girlfriend,” he said.

Isaac Eger often does fieldwork to speak to potential sources for his Florida-based stories. Courtesy of Isaac Eger

Eger has since narrowed his journalism to a more local lens, and for the past few years has been writing for Sarasota Magazine. His passion for local journalism runs in the family, as his mother worked as editor-in-chief of the magazine from 2018 to 2022. Eger says he enjoys working for the magazine because of the personal relationships he has made there and the trust the magazine has in his writing. This has allowed him to take on stories that would otherwise be a tough sell for other publications, such as a recent story he wrote about the September 11th terrorist attacks and its connection to Sarasota—which is where former President George W. Bush was at the time.

Along with the story connecting 9/11 to local roots, Eger has developed a beat writing about environmental issues affecting Florida as well as beach privatization along Florida’s coasts, one of which won multiple local awards, in addition to the national Folio Eddie award in the category of “Single Article, City & Region, Overall” at the prestigious Eddie & Ozzie Awards.

As for his stories about environmental issues affecting Florida, late last year subsequent to the infamous Gabby Petitio disappearance, Eger wrote a story about how the manhunt for Brian Laundrie devastated Venice’s Carlton Reserve.

“Petito and her family are the victims of this sad story, but so is the Carlton Reserve. The depiction of Florida as a wild and untamable landscape couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Eger wrote. “The last slivers of untouched Florida exist only as archipelagos between sprawling sub-developments. Florida does not need to be tamed. Rather, it is in desperate need of re-wilding. If we continue to think of Florida as a hellhole, it’s easier for developers to convince us to pave over it.”

Eger also has a newsletter called “Apocalypse Florida,” where he writes stories about “Florida and the end of the world.” The newsletter, which you can receive for free or by paying a small optional fee, features stories about politics, culture, the environment, and other topics—most of which find roots in Florida.

What could be next for Eger? Eger says he is “going with the flow,” but has a lot of projects in mind, including two book ideas—one about basketball and Buddhism, and the other about Florida—which he eventually wants to walk the entire coast of to continue his research on beach privatization within the state.

The track goes hot despite the rain at Showtime Speedway in Clearwater

The track goes hot despite the rain at Showtime Speedway in Clearwater

By Autumn Reinhardt

With weather predictions of rain and wind, many still showed up to Showtime Speedway to watch the races.

The rain didn’t stop racers and spectators from participating on Saturday night, Feb. 5, 2022, for drag racing and drifting at Showtime Speedway in Clearwater. The event, Street Wars, allows for everyday speed cars such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Charger and even a Jeep Trackhawk to show off their skills and race to the finish.

Even with the weather predictions, around 600 people showed and around 300 people stayed and watched the races in the rain.

Drag racing and drifting began around 8 p.m. and ran side by side until the rain began. For safety reasons with the weather, drag racing was shut down around 9 p.m., but drifting continued throughout the night.

“I’ve been here for nine years and I enjoy racing. There are a lot of good people out here. We don’t see many serious wrecks,” said Rick Wendling, a paramedic at Showtime.

Racers and spectators braved the rain for the “Street Wars” event at Showtime Speedway in Clearwater.

Many safety measures are taken for drivers including seatbelts, helmets, fire suits and roll cages

“We’re motorsports rescue certified, which covers the NHRA,” Wendling said.

The track enforces the equipment to be up to code, or the drivers will not earn points or payout and will be disqualified, according to Showtime.

The NHRA was founded in 1951 by Wally Parks. Parks’ goal was to “provide competitors a place to race,” according to the NHRA. Drag racing has evolved over the years; top performers ran at 140 mph in 9.0 seconds in the 1950s and now run over 330 mph in less than 3.7 seconds.

Showtime, a member of the NHRA and formerly known as Sunshine Speedway, opened its doors in 1960, just nine years after the NHRA was established. Generations of families have been racing here for years.

“My parents met at Showtime and have been together ever since. I grew up coming here a lot and it caused me to start racing too. I started in junior dragsters when I was 10, then I moved to big cars when I turned 16. My car is a full chassis roll cage car with a 302 small block,” Jamie Brannen a local drag racer, said.

Showtime has continued to entertain the community for years with races and events almost every weekend of each month. For more information and a schedule of events visit

A rainy race night at Showtime Speedway in Clearwater | Photos by Autumn Reinhardt

New ‘2D restaurant’ arrives in Orlando; another planned for St. Petersburg

New ‘2D restaurant’ arrives in Orlando; another planned for St. Petersburg

By Kassandra Vargas

Florida’s first 2D restaurant has opened in Orlando, and more are opening across the state.

A 2D restaurant is a restaurant that is decorated with black and white decor to give the illusion and experience that customers are entering a book, cartoon or doodle.

A 2D restaurant was featured in Netflix’s “To All the Boys: Always And Forever In Real Life” at a cafe in South Korea known as Greem Cafe. 2D restaurants are common in Asian countries and those designs have inspired the trend to come to America.

Twenty Pho Hour in Orlando is America’s first 2D noodle bar and the menu offers a variety of items from egg rolls, dumplings, boba, noodles and much more. The cafe has gone viral on TikTok and has sparked an interest to many across the state.

“I saw the video and I was like oh I might need to go check that out,” Miles Franklin said.

The noodle bar is on International Drive near many tourist attractions in town. Since the viral success, the restaurant usually has a wait, but takeout options are also available.

The restaurant has tablets inside to place your order and the food comes out as soon as it’s ready. Indoor and outdoor seating options are available, and the restaurant is open every day of the week.

St. Petersburg is dipping into the 2D experience in a couple of weeks with the opening of the 2D Cafe. The cafe is going to be in the former Swah-Rey location on Central Avenue and provides a similar experience.

The @the2Dcafe on Instagram has provided a sneak peek to their followers on the design process of the establishment. Menu items that you can expect are coffee, pastries, croissants and more. The cafe expects to open in late February or early March.

As more 2D restaurants open across the state, they will provide a unique and Instagram-worthy experience to customers who visit.

Courtesy of Twenty Pho Hour/Instagram

Planting a dream in Riverhills Park in Temple Terrace

Planting a dream in Riverhills Park in Temple Terrace

By Julia Lorelli

TAMPA – Many people in the Tampa Bay area use Riverhills Park as a peaceful escape. The 10-acre park offers an array of different amenities. Then in 2012, a few eager community members put their minds together for a solution in sustainability by founding the Temple Terrace Community Garden.

The main founders and leaders are Elizabeth Leib, Travis Mallory, Grant Rimbey and Steve McBride. Quickly joined by others who were anxious to start gardening, their dreams began to bloom.

The members put their own money into the project and wrote a few small grants for tools and supplies. Tapping into local resources, they were able to get soil and compost for free, “well if you don’t count the sweat equity they put into getting it,” said Cheri Donohue, a loyal member since the start.

The City of Temple Terrace gave them the rights to garden the plot at Riverhills Park. The community garden had to invest in the plumbing and pays for all the water used.

Tools, compost and advice for gardening are also readily available for all. From green thumbs to green heads of cabbage, this community garden is equipped with all the necessities for success.

“This is a wonderful place for new gardeners to begin,” said MaryRose, one garden member who swears she beat cancer from the power of plants.

Tools, compost and advice for gardening are also readily available for all. From green thumbs to green heads of cabbage, the Temple Terrace Community Garden is equipped with all the necessities for success. | Photo by Julia Lorelli

The garden is accessible through a yearly membership of $10 with garden beds available for $35.

Fruit trees surround the perimeter of the garden so most members grow seasonal vegetables. Occasionally a newsletter is sent by the club coordinator to encourage members with tips and tricks for harvesting, what vegetables to plant during each season, natural pest control and volunteer opportunities.

“I am still in love with the idea of neighbors coming together to grow not only healthy food but to pass on their knowledge about best garden practices,” Donohue said.

To learn more information about the community garden visit the Tempe Terrace Community Gardens website or email Shelby Alinsky at

Amid tensions over COVID-19 restrictions, Disney World brings back mask requirements

As COVID-19 continues to surge within the U.S., one health care worker shared her thoughts on visiting theme parks amid the ongoing pandemic.
Courtesy of | Joe Burbank

By Madison Jackson

USFSP Student Reporter

One of the happiest places on Earth also can’t seem to ignore the world is still dealing with a pandemic.

Walt Disney World decided in June to again require face coverings indoors, regardless if they are vaccinated. However, wearing a face covering in an outside setting remains optional but encouraged in crowded areas.

“As we have done since reopening, we’ve been very intentional and gradual in our approach to our COVID-19 health and safety protocols,” Disney mentioned in a previous statement, also adding, “We encourage people to get vaccinated.”

Disney’s policies were updated to reflect ongoing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the new health and safety protocols at Disney include:

● Face coverings are required for all guests (ages 2 and up) in all indoor locations, regardless of vaccination status.
● Easy access to handwashing facilities and hand sanitizer dispensers.
● Limited availability within each of the theme parks, as managed by a park reservation system.

While some still debate the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC and other health leaders around the world continue to advocate for everyone who can get the shot to slow the spread of coronavirus. The first COVID-19 vaccine to get full FDA approval was from Pfizer-BioNTech, which was originally allowed under an emergency use authorization.

Still, only about 53.2% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and about 53.2% of Floridians are fully vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization and data from the Florida Department of Health.

As cases in the United States and in Florida continue to rise, especially that of the highly contagious delta variant, the CDC and other world health leaders say it is more important now than ever to keep social distancing and wearing face coverings even if you are fully vaccinated.

The surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to the delta variant has weighed especially heavy on front-line health care workers.

“It has become incredibly stressful at work. I literally go to work all day, sleep a few hours, and then go back,” said Gina Finch, a frontline worker at Baycare Mease Countryside Hospital in Clearwater. “Especially because we are worried about a new surge of cases due to the summer break and with children going back to school … I strongly urge everyone to get vaccinated.”

While dealing with the overwhelming surge of COVID-19 cases as a health professional, Finch is also a Disney lover and has been a Disney World pass holder for a few years. She expressed uncertainty about the safety of visiting theme parks because of the high potential for large crowds.

“I love Disney World as much as anyone else and I definitely try to go there when I can,” she said. “However, I don’t know if now is that great of a time to be enjoying large gatherings like a theme park. Personally, I haven’t gone since the new spike in cases. This virus is dangerous, and people need to wake up and realize this is all real and shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

Florida, currently, is a huge hot spot for rising COVID-19 cases. Because of this, Florida has also become a political battleground over what kind of restrictions should be in place, especially within private companies and in schools.

Recently, the mayor of Orange County, where Disney World is located, announced an executive order declaring a state of local emergency in response to a surge in cases. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis remains opposed to mandating many restrictions related to the pandemic.

“I think that those who are fully vaccinated are probably okay going to Disney. Do I think it’s completely safe? No. But as long as everyone who is vaccinated continues to protect themselves by washing their hands, social distancing, and wearing a mask are most likely okay. I don’t think unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people should be going there, but I guess it’s their choice. To me, it just seems too risky,” Finch said.

Finch advised people to be more cautious as the number of cases continues to tick up. While many want to get back to a sense of normalcy, Finch said “acting like everything is back to normal is just not helping.”

“Our hospitals are filling up with patients quickly. Just the other day we had a 17-year-old who was doing okay at first, but we had to airlift him to another hospital because he wasn’t able to breathe,” she said.

USF student engineering societies are back in workshops and racing to compete

By Annabella Keim

USFSP Student Reporter

TAMPA – After a year and a half shut down, societies of student engineers at the University of South Florida are finally back and working on several new and innovative automotive and aerospace projects.

Reece Ulmer, a senior at USF Tampa, is the Society of Automotive Engineers’ lead designer for the base frame, otherwise known as the chassis. Their 2021-2022 car body has already been manufactured and will have a four-cylinder engine compared to their previous
build’s single cylinder.

Students are now preparing the suspension, and Ulmer estimated the entire vehicle will be complete within a couple of month’s time, ready for participation in
Formula SAE competitions across North America.

“If you refine your designs and you talk to a lot of people on the team, you can bounce ideas off of each other,” Ulmer said. “It’s pretty much all student taught, it’s just the application of knowledge.”

The Society of Automotive Engineers does quite a bit of in-house production at its workshop on campus. In order to efficiently create a vehicle from scratch, the team created different subsystems within the group that focus on a specific aspect of the car: chassis, suspension, breaks, powertrain, drivetrain, ergonomics, composites and aerodynamics. Each subsystem has its own team of students dedicated to designing, testing and manufacturing the creation.

“Once that geometry is set, everything is pretty much ready to get bolted on and attached. And then, it’s just about refining the work that we’ve already done and finding ways to improve it the best we can after that,” Ulmer said.

The small, formula-style racing cars are taken to the Formula SAE annual competition where the project will compete against 120, and indirectly against more than 500 other student-created vehicles. This year’s competition is in Michigan.

Due to the pandemic, all manufacturing stopped because students were not able to be in the shop. All of the activities had to move over to the group’s Discord server, which only allowed for designing and deliberations. Trying to stay motivated, Ulmer said, was the most challenging part of meeting virtually.

The student-led Society of Automotive Engineers, in collaboration with the Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry, hosted a racing and rocketry showcase at the USF Tampa campus on Sept. 2.

This event gave students the opportunity to see and catch up on the progress of each society’s innovative engineering projects. In the past, the Society of Automotive Engineers has placed sixth place overall at the Formula SAE Lincoln and placed favorably in other categories like endurance and fuel efficiency. The Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry has also participated in several different NASA student competitions.

Alumni from each society are often sought out by engineering giants such as SpaceX and General Motors. Companies like Optimum G, Continental, Stewart-Haas Racing and Raytheon Space all have hired USF SAE alumni in the past. SpaceX even filters their applicants based on their involvement with SAE.

No matter your major, all students are welcome at the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry. Interested students are also welcome to come to the Society of Automotive Engineers workshop located at the USF Tampa campus engineering research building to see some welding and learn more about cars.

To learn more about aerospace engineering, come to the Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry’s payload meetings for the NASA Student Launch every Tuesday and Wednesday at 5 PM in the ENR building at USF Tampa. For more information join the SOAR Slack page at