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C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0
Land Use Oral History Project Patel Center for Global Solutions University of South Florida Interview with: Ms. Laura Starkey Interviewed by: William Mansfield Location: Odessa, Florida Date: August 9, 2006 Transcribed by: Wm. Mansfield Edited by: Laura Starkey & Wm. Mansfield Audit Edit by: Kyle Burke Audit Edit Date: January 23, 2008 WM: We always put a label on the disc by saying: This is Bill Mansfield, from the Starkey, here in the offices of the Starkey Ranch in Odessa, Florida on August 9, 2006. Ms. Starkey, we always get people to start out by having them state their name and tell us when they were born and where they were born. So let her go. LS: Okay. My name is Laura Starkey. I was born on December 12, 1965 in Tampa, Florida. WM: Okay, and how would you describe your current occupation? LS: My current occupation is two fold. At this moment I have half time work for Flatwoods Adventures, which is my Da tourism business. [See J.B. Starkey, Jr. interview with Bill Mansfield 8 9 Which is developing an institute f or the conservation area of the ranch, as we head down the road with our plans. WM: Could you um Well I guess um explain what you do for the Flatwoods Adventures and then the development institute? LS: Okay. For Flatwoods Adventures twoods full time, for about two years, having left my teaching job to come help my Dad look at the option of converting Flatwoods Adventures into a non profit business. We looked at that project, that option for a bout six months and decided that it was not the best plan for Flatwoods Adventures at this time. WM: Uh huh.
2 LS: At that point I stayed on board, on salary you know, on staff, to increase marketing and business development. Just to help with smoothing o ut some of the business elements of it and kind of overseeing the business side of things, in an effort to get it to where it is closer to solvent. with it you k now the people that come out here. But from a business standpoint, it has really not been so hot. project. LS: Uh huh. LS: The conservation project is part of Starkey Ranch, the Starkey Family or Starkey Land Company. Well, Starkey Land Company is the land holding company, which owns the ranch, which basically is made up of family members. In general we just refer to it all a s Starkey Ranch. But as far as our plans for the future go, we are going to be developing portions of the remaining ranch in mixed use, traditional neighborhood design developments, little pods of neighborhoods, a town center, a district park, different t hings like that. process the Development of Regional Impact process. And part of that project, that overall plan for the remaining ranch is to keep a chunk of about rough ly a thousand acres in conservation. And alongside of that conservation area, we want to develop an institute which will, most likely, be a non profit organization which will encompass the eco tours, that type of educational element as well as possibly a research facility for one of the state universities. Ah a place for people to explore the interface between man and nature as well as continue our being a part of the living history of this area. WM: Uh huh. es of that, just as we are with the that institute is going to look like and how we are going to go about making that happen. WM: Your father said that you were devel oping what? the Longleaf or was it Greenleaf? LS: Longleaf.
3 WM: The Longleaf area and you had to go through the DRI Development of Regional LS: The Development of Regional Impact. WM: Tell me about that process. LS: Okay. Longleaf is separate from th e DRI. That was done by my brothers. [Trey and Frank]. [See Frank Starkey interview with Bill Mansfield 8 24 06] completed and they hav e someone, a developer who is finishing the construction of the second half of the whole project. That is separate living there, mowing their lawns and everything. the ranch, the remaining part of the ranch. WM: Okay, tell me about that then. LS: Um well the DRI is a statewide permitting, required permitting process for any it would be more responsible and more profitable but also have more options to do a of pieces. mostly opposed to reactionary, defensive decision making. So the DRI process w as a decision that we made oh gosh two years ago now. could you explain what you mean by that? LS: Responsible in forms of more you know environmentally sensitive areas and beautiful pristine areas of the going keep in conservation. To be able and be responsible and manage that land as well as preserve it um f responsibility that we felt. Financial responsibility, in terms of doing things that took into consideration the needs of all of our family members with our varying ages and life stages and financial needs. The
4 generations from now. [What will be] the best, [most] responsible use of this property. Not only for ourselves, who have been stewards of it for the last sixty some years, but also for future generations. So for this whole area, looking at this whole region as well as this most immediate area. Also, [I am referring] responsibility in terms of social responsibility, in terms of creating a place that twenty, fifty, a hundred years from now, that is gonna be a place that people ly did a good de sac subdivision that could be God knows what fifty, a hundred years from now. envi ronmental responsibilities? LS: Yes. WM: Okay. (Office Assistant delivers coffee to Mansfield and takes a request for coffee from L. Starkey. Mansfield & Starkey briefly discuss the temptation to nap after lunch) WM: But anyhow, you need to face the economic realities, but you also want to do the right thing environmentally? LS: Uh h uh. WM: How did you how do [you] know what to call it, environmental awareness, and social responsibility? What brought about that, that way of thinking? How did that evolve? you know overly polished about it, but we just I ah think a lot of landowners, ranchers [and] farmers would agree, that as farmers or ranchers, people that are in agriculture business, taking care of the land is just a natural thing that you do. And land mana gement here, we grew up knowing what land management is about. From controlled burns of the flatwoods areas since we were kids. My granddad and dad have always done that; for certainly as long as I can remember. For the last thirty years, anyway, they have done controlled burns, and just being concerned about the crops, which are the cattle as well as the grasses and the pasturelands, and all of those things. So it just was a natural fit, literally. Being a ranching family, maybe we have it in our genes.
5 definitely a pretty sentimental bunch with the property. coffee arrives) So um not so sentimental that we are not realistic as well. I think our generation, myself and my sister and my brothers look at t ranching. So what does that mean? Do we hire out ranching for the next few generations? Do we go against what you know our parents raised us to be who and what we wanted t o be. of the American dream. Not that bettering yourself means not becoming a rancher, but none of the four of us happened to really be drawn, professionally, to ra reality. WM: Okay. I seem to remember in the newspaper that after your grandfather passed away, you all had to sell some of the land to pay the estate taxes. LS: Uh huh. WM: If I recollect, the newspaper said that at that point ranching was a real economic liability. Is that [accurate]? LS: Yeah. The issue is ah part of it happened when Granddad planned for the future by putting the top half of the ranch into the wilderness park. WM: Uh huh. LS: That you know cut o ur ranching area by half. [Though] most of that land was not cleared for pasture, a lot of it was woodlands. And then having to face the estate tax, we did have to pay in cash. His estate was valued in land; therefore we had to liquidate. And [we] were abl e to put that thirty five hundred additional acres by selling it to the DOT, who needed it for mitigation, [and so we] were able to add it to the parkland. So, in effect, we were able to add to the parkland and having to do a couple of other sales other small developments on the fringes, we were able to pay off the estate tax. [my brothers, or my Dad] would probably know. A certain number of hundred of acres
6 are needed per head of cattle, in order to be viable as a business. So after all of these sales, initiated by the sales to the wilderness park, due to A) wanting to protect it for future uses, future conservation as well as B) having to pay off all that estate tax. The end result, we have to have a smaller space and that becomes unviable as a ranch. Now, another possibility would have been to buy other property and continue ranching. Again it comes back to what the current generation really wanted to do with t heir lives. Did we really want to continue into the ranching business? his cattle herd to a family that is [ranching]. [They have] a large spread and this ranch is a s atellite location for them, [and they] continue to be a ranching family. WM: Okay that clarifies things. LS: Okay. WM: Ranching is pretty demanding and a risky enterprise. I can see how you might want to think about doing something else. e got bad years. And the value, in this area, has become higher for the land itself than the cattle business. LS: Right. Exactly. WM: So you came here f ull time to work with the eco tourism? LS: Uh huh. WM: Tell me about what you how you all set the eco tourism up. Your father mentioned looking at another ranch, or another eco tourism enterprise. LS: Uh huh. WM: So tell me what you all did to adapt S tarkey Ranch for eco tourism? Not to adapt [the ranch] but to prepare it [for eco tourism]. LS: Well I think he did his got the idea through a conference or workshop he had gone to and saw a coupl e of other
7 building these buses, adapting them into tour buses. Then he hired a woman, Rhonda, beginning. Since the year prior to opening [of Flatlands Adventures] to the public. She helped him develop [the tours] She has experience with eco tour ism as well as some related fields so she was highly qualified to come in and help develop this. She worked with Dad. Dad went around with a tape recorder and drove through the ranch, talking into the recorder about things that he knows about and wanted to explore you know wanted to present more of. [She helped him] develop the route. They looked at how to they added the information, the knowledge, and the educational pieces that needed to be in there for all of the different ecosystems so that [it containe d] family and [community] history as well as the environmental education. So they developed this tour script and they hired five part time tour guides and trained them over several months. [They] worked really hard on training these women. [They] all turn recently retired] but three of them are still with us. One of them that retired was here (WM and LS discuss whether the telephone call will be answered.) So they hired the staff and started marketing it through different areas. You know, got some area media coverage. [We] joined some different associations, worked on the oduced brochures. attention, when it first started out as a brand tour in But, of course, you have to continue that [sort of publicity] and it costs money. You have to spend the money to make the money. So we kept spending the money and spending the money, and people were sta rting to come in, but because it was such a new project and a new concept for this area, and not highly replicated around. There were some other businesses to learn from and other people to learn from, but there was an awful lot of um Hindsight is twenty twenty. I was here when they first opened, working part time in the gift shop, so I was around for the first year or so, before I got busy with my own career and graduate school. I saw it, somewhat at the ground level seven years ago. And then coming back two years ago and looking at the non profit option, we could look back and say that we should have gone non profit from the beginning. But seven years into it, it was a little too late to try and shift gears and change direction from a for profit business to a non profit. It is such a work culture change, if you know what I mean.
8 So we could have gone non thought was that this could be someth ing that actually brought in a little bit of cash flow for the ranch. That was his original thought and that was his reasoning, I think, behind not going non profits for the orchestra and the master ch orale and other arts organizations. We all know non profit is tickets for a non profit. But anyway, he was still thinking that it could be an economic answer, for the ranch. dreams, the answer to encroaching development on a cattle ranch. S o I think a lot of times people get the impression [that] is out there that eco tourism is going to solve the think that was going to ever be a possibility. I think h e was just hoping that it could be one thing to bring some attention to this property and be able to share this property with other people, at the same time bringing in some money and helping us out economically. WM: Kind of like another crop, so to speak ? LS: Exactly! Diversifying your crops. WM: What changes have taken place in eco tourism, here at Flatwoods Adventures? What changes have you made, or seen in the past seven years? horseback activities. We added it and then we changed our business format where we contract it out, instead of working together and doing the overhead. We changed it to where we simply to answer the phones Business wise we worked out the best way to do that. Programming wise, people love because it is high (laughs) WM: We can edit that out if you want. LS: Yea [its] okay. But you know, its um As far as the public goes, they love the horseback rid ing and having a petting zoo, and We rent [it] out for private parties a
9 come out October through May [on] the Saturday night closest to the full moon. We have barbecue, we have campfires, w e have hayrides, optional horseback riding. We have folksingers around the campfire. Families come, couples come. [We have] groups, birthday parties, seniors, singles groups you know single individual people come. I uh an amazingly popular e vent. WM: Uh huh. hour buggy tour, that we started out with several years ago is essen tially the same thing who have been on it once, will want to come back and do something different. WM: Uh huh. LS: The problem is that there are a few of us that would love to come back time and again and bring our friends and relatives that are visiting. But for the most part, once So when it comes to education, most people, not all of us, but most people just want to hear it one time. (laughs) LS: Exactly. Exactly. WM: Well tell me about the educational aspect of it. Have you worked with the school systems? LS: Yes! We are an approved field trip site for Hillsborough County; I believe Pinellas County and Pasco County. So we have school groups from north Pinellas and north Hillsborough, primarily, and west Pasco. Logistically we have within a short driving distance so the school buses can get to and from in time. But during field trip season, [in the fall and in the spring] post booked five days a week, double bus the afternoon for non school groups. teacher at Tarpon Middle School who wrote a curriculum book for gra de children a book called A Land Remembered written by Patrick Smith. If you Have you read it?
10 resting. We sell it like hotcakes at our bookstore. Children read it as part of their state curriculum, of state history. I believe eighth grade is the year they go through state history. So it is part of their history and we do A Land Remembered tour for kids that are reading that book in their school. grade curriculum book on A Land Remembered really excited about maybe developin g more stuff with us. WM: Uh huh. educators in the area. Ah e I want to mention. We have seniors groups that come out. We work with tour operators to get groups out [to the Ranch]. ot to pay attention to primarily [business], first and foremost at this point. Because Dad you got to love him has been pouring so doing that after seven years. [You could] ah I feel like my job is to make sure we do everything we can to get away from that dependence on his checkbook. So [with] the tour operators and the school groups you have the same overhead of running a bus with a group of six people you know tourist, people that pick up a brochure at their hotel and come out. To have four or six people on the bus is the same overhead as having a group of forty kids or you know twenty adults. WM: U h huh. things like that are ways that marketing and business direction to go to keep the place a float. WM: Well have you worked with the school systems? Have you gone to them or have they come to you?
11 LS: We usually we do some direct marketing. They come here, in terms of the tours. We don WM: I know, but in terms of scheduling. Side 1 ends; side 2 begins. LS: In terms of getting them scheduling We usually send out notices, with like, summer programs and that type of thing. During the summertime we get lots of su mmer day camps or summer camps that bring their kids [of information] out to the schools. At this point that has pretty much gotten enough you know rolling with it as much as we did a couple of years ago. I know two years ago we were sending out letters to the schools, but [now] if we have to raise the price we might send a letter out saying what this here are the prices. But, that element, getting the school groups out here. Now they are booking as soon as they get their budget. do got enough going with it with the school groups. LS: Uh huh. WM: What about environmentalist groups, like the Audubon [Society], or the World Wildlife Fund? Have you worked with them? LS: Uh the um list of important birding areas. The local Audubon Society group comes and does an annual bird count. One of our tour guides is an avid Audubon member and leader in the area. She usually brings out Audubon groups, different chapters throug hout the area. So, Audubon, definitely. goodness various different things. But you know the ones that have groups in the area do get out here. WM: What kind of permitting process did you have to go through for the eco tourism? What ah county and state agencies did you have to deal with for that?
12 that question intelligently. Rhonda and Dad would be the ones to ask. LS: (Laughs) Tell me about that. out and collecting information, collecting ideas, meeting people, making contacts, networking and have started this strategic plan of the prelimina ry mission statement and Essentially the idea of it is to have two prongs to it. One prong will be land m anagement; the other prong will be people experiencing nature. If you think of it as the two prongs being man or humanity and nature, both take care of each other. There is sort of a symbiotic relationship between you know humanity and nature. In this day and age and in this area, specifically, nature really depends on humanity to take care of it. is to be said in itself. But, in this area we have to [for example] take the control burns into things. So, humanity, in this area has to take ca re of nature and nature takes care of humanity institute will have the two prongs of that relationship, with nature being taken care of through our land management plan, w hich will include exotic weed control. Invasive as the world gets smaller. Control burns; managing pasture lands if they want [it] to stay in pasturelands, restoration o f certain habitats, that type of thing. Other elements of that would be a biological research station, which would also be feeding into the bigger the element of taking care of nature. ity Stewardship Organization, or CSO. There is a group out in Arizona called the Sonoran now.
13 ] you have a developer. Generally those two groups have been diametrically opposed and in conflict with each other. But there are a lot of developers who really want to be conservationists. There are a lot of conservationists and environmentalists who are realistic about um that development is going to happen, so therefore it is those two groups that are willing to elopment that is conservation oriented, they have and going to visit those proj other TND [Traditional Neighborhood Design] New Urbanist type of projects around. New Urbanism is an area that is beginning to embrace conservation development more of seeing those two philosophies join together. know people that are other landowners that are going through DRI. Specifically developers that are conservation oriented [and] seeing other projects where people are successfully using green designs, green engineering, conservation oriented development. Housing projects as well as non profit organizations, institutes and land trust areas, where rring with conservation easements on the natural parts of the development. ah other projects that are doing similar things to what we are doing. WM: Now have these been r was it New Mexico? LS: Yes. There um I know Spring Island, is um a conservation develo pment out retirement settlement, second home, higher end you know minimal housing type. Like one house on a big conservation lot. Maybe [there are] thirty six homes o n this island. I set up what they call a land the Spring Island Trust, or the Spring Island Institute, an organization that oversees the land management and involves the community members in preserving, conserving their island, their space. Prairie Crossing is another project up in Illinois, just north of Chicago, which is probably
14 h our outside of Chicago. You can get there in forty a train stop. know 150 years ago, before it became farm land, it was prairie la nd. Which as far as natural prairie land, to [being] farmland, which was very intensive and degraded and destroyed the prairie grasses and the prairie eco system. Now so they are taking the housing area and restoring it back to prairie grasses. [They are] using old seed banks [to restore it]. Amazing stuff that they are doing. Of course they had a different set of habitats. They have a diffe rent set of economic WM: Uh huh. lots of collecting and sorting out and taking bits from the way they are doing their structure and organization here and how they are doing their land management over there and how they are creating their [land] institute over here. So, [in] taking all th LS: Exactly, yeah. WM: What kind of I mean how have you been received with this in the local area? I know with real estate prices just going up and up and up, are people resistant to this notion? Are they in favor of it? What kind of response have you received? Because there are s o many people that are here that have been here for a long time. There are many people that are here, that are moving here every day. Flatwoods Adventures has an interesting opportunity or interaction with the public because across the yard over here at our offices, Flatwoods Adventures, every day we But we have interaction, daily, with [the] public in this a lot of times the first thing
15 I find [this] interesting, because when I get into conversation with them [and ask], Trinity was a cow pasture about twenty minutes ago (laughs). I mean literally, it was just a few years a go that it was a cow pasture, like they are looking at here. It looked exactly r home. There is a real I think the public is somewhat conflicted about their feelings. They move out here because they want the green open space. Yet, they are a part of the market that is pushing the green space out. So and then they find themselves fe eling conflicted ambiguity, so I find myself a little conflicted with th at attitude. But to be fair, a lot of times when I can say and I can they like it here. So but I so we have had some ne gative reaction to early announcements of plans for who have raised their families h ere. [People] who are not from here but have been here But when you sit down and talk to them and explain just some of the basic issues that are a decisions]. [There has been] years and years of process to get to this point and its still When you sit and talk to someone about just a few of those issues they start nodding their ah about [our decision]. Of course there are still a few people who are pretty hard core about core and when I tell them the whole story, they do soften up about it. WM: That is one of the contra dictions because people want to live in the country and when they move to the country LS: They are part of the disappearance of it. WM: Yeah, they help destroy the country. But what about real estate people or developer people? How do they feel about this controlled growth that you are advocating?
16 LS: Um as I just did about the everyday public coming in, from my living or working with Flatwoods. I think Frank can tell yo u more about what the business world of developers and real estate people are feeling about it [See Frank Starkey interview with Bill Mansfield, 9 24 06]. I hear bits and pieces of people who say they are looking forward to having more real estate options and some alternatives to the same old conventional um stuff, that you see in terms of developments, the same old subdivision format. WM: The sprawl complex? conserva wn in south Hillsborough County and they were farmers and were glad to see the development, because that increased the value of their land. Which gave them more leverage when borrowing money, but also gave them, when LS: Oh, yeah. inhibiting what he would do with his land. I think property rights is the term he used. LS: Yeah. WM: He said, g up in arms, literally, over property What do you see t in place, but do you foresee happening? I guess you can [show] me a best case scenario and a worst case scenario.
17 LS: Happening with this ranch? WM: Around here, yes. LS: Hmm Best um something really unique. A place that really develops into and grows into being some really charming and beautiful and warm neighborhoods. A lot of beautiful trees and some pasture land views, and wooded areas that are kept and an area where people are ab is my home where I raised my children This is where I grow old with my partner, my ook at. And they can hear crickets and frogs at night and [can learn] not [to] be freaked out by snakes and raccoons running through their back yard. WM: (Laughs) to my coffee shop and walk my kid to the park to play ball and then walk that way and go case scenario. And healthy habitats in the woods that we keep. And some place that is an example, a replicable model, a place that people from around the country can use as an example of a place that did it right. A family that made some hard choices but took a road of integrity and made something really beautiful, and contributed [something that will last] to the seventh generation! (laughs) WM: Okay. That sounds good. LS: Worst case scenario is um always win you know you Hopefully we can get the numbers to match up whe re we can do a green design and do it right, because the market will demand it. Market demand will pay for it. I think our world e energy efficient and alternate uses of our materials and resources. It will happen. But, in the meantime, will the timing be right when it comes to us having to make the numbers work? We could miss it by five or ten years, and what have we got? WM: I guess the worst case scenario would be you stocking shelves in the Wal Mart in Starkey Plaza.
18 LS: (laughs) Hopefully not Wal Mart. At least Target. (laughs) WM: But either you pay for [development] up front, by doing it the smart way, or you do it the c heap way and end up paying for it down the line. LS: Right. What kind of I mean are you aware of any kind of pressure from real estate people or development people to sell out? To go ahead a nd turn it over to them for a quick profit? LS: I think my older brother Trey fields most of those calls, but I know Frank gets them [my brothers] get calls weekly, w But you know forthright with our decision making and proceeding with our plans that some pressure, but mostly in the form of offers and you know. WM: What about the county? I remember reading about the Tourism Development Council (TDC) in Pasco County. What county agencies or what kind of support did you receive from county agencies, and I guess support or advice or (unintelligible )? LS: Well we work a lot with the county because of the permitting and were hoping to get a district park on part of property as part of our plan. We would like to see happen for our neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods and the county needs one in this area county because we have been working them for years. SWIFTMUD S outhwest Florida Water Management District we work hand in hand with them on a lot of things. Of to answer a lot of questions to them about our application. So those certainly the county and the Water Management District with right of way things and things like that. Other than that I would have to refer that to Frank to answer that better. He is more in that realm.
19 WM: Well, shared with me is going to be deposited in the Special Collections of the University of South Florida Library to be available for future research. We need your permission for scholars to have access to this. LS: Uh huh. LS: Okay. And that will be after we look at the transcript and get it corrected? WM: Well, you can sign it now or you can sign it when you return the corrected transcript. Which ever suits you better. and sign it then. WM: Okay. I can do that. ll be happy to sign it. I just will, to sign it at that time. picture? LS: Sure. WM: Okay. Well, let me turn this thing off end of interview
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interviewed by William Mansfield.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file ( 60 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
West Central Florida land use oral history project
Laura Starkey, director of business development for J.B. Starkey's Flatwoods Adventure and director of conservation of lands for Starkey Land Company, talks about her experiences with land conservation and ecotourism. She discusses the Starkey Land Company, the development and activities of the Flatwoods Adventure, connections with the Audubon Society and other conservation groups, publicity, and environmental education. She focuses on the importance of nature in people's lives.
Interview conducted August 9, 2006, in Odessa, Fla.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
J.B. Starkey's Flatwoods Adventure.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS