MANATEE -- When people think of college towns in Florida, Gainesville and Tallahassee are normally among the first two to come to mind, with Miami and Orlando not far behind.
Higher-education officials in Sarasota and Manatee counties are making a push to get Sarasota and Bradenton on that list, too.
There are tens of thousands of students who attend college in Sarasota and Manatee counties every year, according to David Gulliver, New College of Florida spokesman, and talks of a partnership between local colleges and universities is expected to continue into 2015.
In addition to New College, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota, Ringling College, Florida State University at the Asolo Theater and Eckerd College in St. Petersburg will be moving forward for plans of the joint programs, shared services and
cross-registration as the college presidents will meet in January.
"The idea is to really formalize this network and promote Sarasota-Manatee. Nobody thinks of Sarasota-Manatee as a college town and this will continue to formalize in 2015," Gulliver said. "We are moving toward having joint programs and cross registrations. There are all these cool colleges that have their own niches."
In addition to the college collaboration talks continuing into 2015, three major colleges in the area -- New College of Florida, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota -- all have big plans for the new year.
New College of Florida
Since the school's inception in 1960, New College has been undergraduate-centered, but in the fall of 2015, that will change when the college will launch its first master's degree program in data science.
"Data is the way of the future," Gulliver said. "It is the first masters program in the history of this place. ... It is kind of a revolutionary thing for us to launch this."
The new year also will mark the end of the first year of the partnership with the Daughters for Life Foundation, which brings up to 10 female students a year to New College on full four-year scholarships.
In the first year, five women attended to New College as part of the program. As a way to mark the end of the first year and beginning of the second year, Izzeldin Abuelaish, founder of the Daughters for Life Foundation and author of "I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey," will speak at New College's commencement on May 22.
Abuelaish, who was a past nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, has visited the school to speak before.
"He is a really powerful speaker," Gulliver said. "He is a big believer in empowering people. It is also kind of a touchstone of the end of the first year of this program."
Also in 2015, expansion of the college's Heiser Natural Sciences Complex is expected. The state university system board of governors approved the expansion plans in November. The complex was built in 2000, and at the time because of funding cuts, only two of three planned wings were constructed. The $7 million project would include 22,000 feet of laboratory, classroom and office space. Florida Gov. Rick Scott would need to approve the additional funding during the upcoming legislative session.
"It is going to be a big, big year," Gulliver said. "If we get the money for the science building, it is going to be a huge expansion."
In 2015, the university's new regional chancellor, Sandra Stone, will lead a comprehensive Strategic Planning process, which will "help shape USF Sarasota-Manatee and the community for years to come," according to USF Sarasota-Manatee spokesman Charlie Terenzio.
USF Sarasota-Manatee also will host HospitaBull Evening, an upscale dinner event planned, organized, cooked and served by university students, on Feb. 17. This year the theme of the event is "A Taste of Israel" and Yaron Azuolay, a chef from Israel, will help the students with the authentic Israeli cuisine.
On Feb. 19, the Knowledge-A-Bull Speaker Series called Global Cuisine, Global Education will feature a panel of world-renown chefs will talk about Global Cuisine and how it relates to local tourism culture in Sarasota and Manatee, Terenzio said.
Also in the new year, the campus and community leadership will continue to work toward developing a local fund raising and support campaign that ties in with the USF system-wide campaign, called Unstoppable.
The new year "is poised to be an extremely important and exciting year in the history of USF Sarasota-Manatee," Terenzio said. "With the leadership team already working on a new strategic plan, USFSM's impact on the Sarasota/Manatee community will grow to new heights."
State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota
For SCF, the construction of the new Library and Learning Center at SCF Bradenton is a top priority for 2015. The college is seeking the remaining $8.9 million for the center and SCF previously received $8.7 million from the Florida Legislature, allowing SCF to move forward with the planning and design phase of the project.
"The Library and Learning Center has been our No. 1 priority for several years, and we are beginning the early stages of the project in anticipation of seeking the remaining balance in the upcoming legislative session," SCF president Carol Probstfeld said. "The new facility will be designed to meet the needs of our 21st century students who embrace collaboration and creativity in their learning as they take courses on campus and online."
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 19, SCF will participate in a day of community service to honor King and $135,000 has been awarded to community organizations in Manatee and Sarasota counties for the projects thanks to funding from the Florida Legislature.
On Feb. 21, SCF Foundation's Avenues des Artistes will take place from 6-11 p.m. at the Bradenton campus. The event "boasts a festive fusion of food and artistry showcasing the talents of SCF art, theater and music students, faculty and staff," according to Jessica Klipa, SCF Manatee-Sarasota spokeswoman.
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.