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Oktoberfest spurs great collaborations

TAMPA, Fla. -- Faculty members love it. Students love it.

The University of South Florida’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Oktoberfest is a fun event, but it’s more than a festive get-together. It’s where great collaborations are born. That’s why this annual event has been growing from year to year since its inception in 2006.

Integrative Biology Chair Peter Stiling exemplifies what the organizers had in mind.

“I didn’t know that chemistry professors here at USF were actively engaged in developing a film that absorbed CO2 until I saw a poster at Oktoberfest,” he said. “My team had elevated CO2 in natural ecosystems and was looking for a way to lower CO2 levels inside a series of environmental chambers. It seemed like a natural collaboration and now we’re actively engaged in pursuing grants together.”

CAS Research Administrator Sandy Justice, the event’s chief organizer, could not have been happier.

“This is exactly the kind of synergy we set out to facilitate with the Oktoberfest event,” she said. “And it’s catching on because we started out with around 80 attendees the first year and in 2011 we hosted more than 300. This year we hope to continue this positive trend.

“The goals of this annual event line up with USF’s strategic goals, specifically, expanding world-class interdisciplinary research, creative and scholarly endeavors,” she added. “The potential for developing ideas that lead to interdisciplinary research is always in the background. This event provides an opportunity to grow existing synergies even further.”

In line with these goals, CAS Associate Dean for Research Chuck Connor is leading a push for increased productivity, especially for large interdisciplinary grant applications.

“The Oktoberfest event promotes great collaborations, and our effort doesn’t stop there. The CAS Office of Research and Scholarship is working with faculty to provide targeted grant support. Working with a large interdisciplinary team can be challenging. When proposals cross several departments and include other colleges and or universities, our centralized effort is poised to support their effort in the preparation of competitive grant applications,” he said.

Co-sponsored by the USF College of Arts and Sciences, and the USF Club, the university’s social group for faculty, students, staff and friends, Oktoberfest attracts people from all over. This year it takes place Friday, Oct. 26, from 4:30-7 p.m.

Though the heart of this interdisciplinary event is in CAS’s three schools, School of Humanities, Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Social Sciences, it is open to the whole university community.

“We’re encouraging faculty and students from across the USF landscape, especially those with an active CAS collaboration, to participate,” Justice said.

“The College of Arts and Sciences continues to grow in their research productivity, with more than $20 million in new awards each year, the college sustains more than $61 million in active research grants,” Justice noted. “This strong showing has propelled USF into the top ranks in research funding by the National Science Foundation. We are proud to be in the top 50 research universities in the nation. A growing number of the projects funded involved interdisciplinary projects.”

One popular exhibit is being put together by instrumentation facilities managers Edwin Rivera, Lukasz Wojtas and Mohanraja Kumar. CAS Core Facility provides both the equipment needed to conduct cutting-edge research, as well as the hands-on experience for research students to learn and work with research equipment such as NMRs, Mass Spectrometers, and much more.

“We’ve seen ideas about research projects sparked by seeing what’s available, what’s possible and finding fellow researchers who may be focusing on some aspect of what they’re doing or who might want to do so,” Justice said.

Oktoberfest’s relaxed atmosphere is a particularly fertile ground for the more inventive people on hand.

“Many of our faculty are great ‘gadgetizers,’” Justice points out. “They find joy in tinkering and taking equipment they use in their lab or in the field and making modifications to make it better. There is some pretty cool stuff being developed by USF faculty. But don’t take my word for it, come by Oktoberfest and talk to Professor Rob Tykot from our anthropology department, for example. He brings really interesting field equipment to demonstrate at the event.

“We’re building a culture of collaboration,” Justice continued. “When you consider what a huge campus we have and how spread out we are -- for example, chemistry is in five buildings, drug discovery projects are going on in two buildings -- you can’t have too many events of this kind.”

Justice believes students who are the least bit curious about the sciences or who have a one-sided interest can gain a lot from this event.

“Oktoberfest speaks to student success in various ways,” she said. “Students who participate learn more about what is happening at neighboring labs, as well as what research intersects with what they are doing in their discipline. Finding out about an exciting new area of inquiry can lead to picking up a minor that enhances what a student is already interested in and the more interdisciplinary the background, the greater a graduate’s marketability.”

There will be a buffet featuring traditional German dishes including bratwurst, Spätzle and potato pancakes. Beer and wine are also being served. For more about research at USF, click here or visit


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Events Research Integrative Biology  
Author: Barbara Melendez