Congratulations to the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee on 40th anniversary

Tonight, as the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee kicks off a year-long 40th anniversary of the school's past, the present and the future remain firmly in focus, too.

Since her appointment as USFSM's regional chancellor in November 2015, Sandra Stone immediately embarked on working with stakeholders and the community to formulate a new five-year strategic plan, Focus on Quality 2020.

Her predecessor, Arthur Guilford, shephered the school though exponential growth and major accomplishments. USFSM attained separate accreditation from USF's main Tampa campus, no small feat and one that allows the campus to design new programs, grant its own degrees and award diplomas, and more. He also created a learning center in North Port, recruited the institution's first freshman class into a four-year program, thus establishing USFSM as a complete university.

Guilford launched what are today two of the school's top-tier programs, the College of Hospitality and Tourism Leadership and Culinary Innovation Lab as well as a partnership with the highly regarded Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.

These are but a few recent advances in the university's drive to excellence over the past four decades. Communities around the region share in past success, and as Stone projects in her Focus on Quality 2020, there will be many more to come in the years ahead.

The strategic plan aims to improve student success, campus life, international enrollment management, teaching and learning, scholarly activity, community engagement and resources.

Changing the campus

Under those seven primary focus areas, the plan calls for USFSM to become the home of the school's NCAA Women's Rowing Team (a natural outgrowth of the surge locally in the sport). The establishment of housing options for students and space for a student union would go a long way into creating a full-fledged campus atmosphere by expanding student life opportunities. The university's small size, low student-faculty ratio and low tuition and fees should appeal to students.

The strategic plan's mission statement lays the foundation for the future, with the school focused on providing "high-quality bachelor's and graduate-level education and scholarly activity in a personalized learning community that prepares successful leaders and responsible citizens."

Straddling the Manatee, Sarasota county line, the USFSM sits in the middle of the region's high-education corridor along with State College of Manatee-Sarasota, New College and Ringling College of Art and Design -- with each institution unique and partnerships abounding. This well serves community interests and economic development as successful students become the innovators and leaders of tomorrow.

While we celebrate the history of University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, we look forward to the future with great anticipation of higher achievements. Today, though, congratulations on the past four decades, a time to pause and reflect, and then forge ahead.