USF Japanese Club welcomes spring with Haru Matsuri Festival

Spring is a big deal in Japan.  The cherry blossom represents the changing of the season to the people, and Haru Matsuri is the festival that ushers in the warmer weather.

The Japanese Club at USF puts on its own version of Haru Matsuri to educate students more about the culture.

Lisa Ton is one of the senior members.

“Here, we celebrate spring by presenting our own spring festival,” Ton said. “We have Japanese food, games and performances, and we just try to bring a slice of Japanese spring to USF.”

The club features organizations such as the USF Judo and Aikido clubs at the festival. They also provide experts to talk about traditional and new art forms, dances, cuisines and practices that are emerging in Japan.

One of these experts is Seth Cole, a collector of Japanese War memorabilia from World War II.

“I love sharing history of people,” Cole said. “I believe when you can touch history hands-on, it reinforces the stories of our grandfathers. It makes it a little more real.”

Even as a non-Japanese member of the club, Cole has felt more than welcome every time he presents his collection or attends a meeting.

“I’ve been welcomed with open arms and have made some truly incredible friendships,” he said.

Japanese Club festivals like Haru Matsuri build a bridge for students to learn about a culture that may be very far and foreign for them.  It also provides a forum for Japanese students to interact with and relate to students of different cultures.

Man finds hope after 10 years of battling Parkinson’s disease, depression

John Proios was a healthy man who used to sell insurance. He had a well-paid job and a vibrant life until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at 55.

“First thing I sense is that when I was typing on the keyboard,  my left pinky would not type,” Proios said.

At the time he didn’t take it seriously. However, Proios  told his friend, a neurologist, and he recommended that Proios see a local medical specialist.

Going to the doctor, he did not know his life would change forever. Proios was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and for him the diagnostic was surreal.

“I was upset and I was scared,” Proios said.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic movement disorder with an unknown cause and no cure. Nearly 1 million Americans live with the chronic disease.

Since his diagnosis, Proios has dealt with depression for 10 years.

“Depression just stops you from living. You don’t want to,” said Proios. “You think in your brain you should want to do this — I should get up, get up, I should go out, I should ride my bike and I should exercise. Well, I don’t want to.”

But Proios said these days are the best he’s ever had after 10 years of Parkinson’s disease and depression.

“Depression is very common in Parkinson’s disease,”said Robert Hauser, a USF Health doctor who specializes in Parkinson’s. “It affects about 50 percent of the patients sometime in the course of the disease. And it is taught that a lot of that has to do with chemical changes in the brain.”

Active mom, wife doesn’t let spina bifida slow her down

As a reporter, news anchor and movie set teacher, Kristine Schroeder has been in the spotlight for much of her life. She has an outgoing personality and is incredibly independent — but she also has a major physical disability.  Born with spina bifida, she has used crutches and a scooter her whole life to get around.

Schroeder majored in elementary education with a minor in mass communications in college, then worked as a television news reporter and anchor in several markets around the country.

She has also worked on the sets of “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2″ as a tutor for Nathan Gamble, the child actor who starred in the movie, when they were filming on location in Clearwater.

“It was really, really a lot of fun,” she said. “It was a great experience.”

Adding to her list of feats, she has also completed six half-marathons for charity on her hand cycle. She credits her parents for giving her the confidence to achieve her dreams.

“My mom and dad are really the reason I have the drive and the ambition that I have, because they never told me I couldn’t do something, they never said no,” Schroeder said.

Kristine has been married for 25 years, and she and her husband, Adam, have a 15-year-old son, Michael.

Her husband says: “She’s very positive and determined and still really active despite a lot of challenges, and still stays really positive.  What attracted me to her 25 years ago, still does today.”

Pi Delta Psi student balances USF Asian community with work as DJ, photographer

Casper Yen is a communications student at USF, but there is more to him than meets the eye.

Yen gets involved in the USF Asian community by joining clubs like the Taiwanese Student Association, the Chinese Culture and Language Club and the Asian interest fraternity Pi Delta Psi.

“Coming into college, I didn’t expect to get into Greek life,” Yen said. “If you saw me before college, I didn’t look like the kind of person that would join a fraternity.”

Yen has been a brother of Pi Delta Psi since spring 2013, when he rushed with the rest of his Kappa Class brothers. One of his brothers, Timothy Garcia, says he’s seen growth in Yen since they met.

“He’s definitely a character,” Garcia said. “But seeing him now, he’s changed a lot. He’s become more of a leader and takes more initiative.”

Now Yen isn’t just involved with the Asian community at USF, he’s also the head professional disc jockey for Bulls Radio.

“I officially became a hired DJ for Bulls Radio last summer,” Yen said. “So after two years as a freshman and sophomore, I’m finally doing this as a job.”

Yen works many events for Bulls Radio, such as the Bull Market every Wednesday and the USF student tailgate for every home football game.

Yen also takes photographs professionally.

“I did a lot for the Oracle in my freshman year,” Yen said. “But up until now, I mostly do a lot of freelance, whether it is for weddings, photoshoots, grad photos and things like that.”

If you want to see some of Yen’s photographs, check out his Facebook page and Flickr profile.

Tampa Bay native runs Posimoto Afterschool program for kids to give back to community

Posimoto, an after-school mentoring program designed to give local students a push in the right direction, is nestled in a small park in Temple Terrace.

The CEO and founder, Tampa Bay native Tia Dixon, started Posimoto as a nonprofit in 2012, when she was a sociology major at the University of South Florida. Eventually, she grew it into a full program for kids.

According to the program’s website, a Posimoto is”someone who gives positive motivation to you in order to help you be successful in life. ”

Dixon was inspired by a stranger who guided her through a tough period in her life.

Eventually, Dixon collaborated with friends to set up the nonprofit that would eventually become Posimoto Afterschool.

She preaches positivity and says that it can get anyone through hurdles in their lives.

“You have to have positivity,” Dixon said. “You have to think positive if you want to get to where you need to be in life. “

Tarpon Springs hair stylist perseveres despite health woes, car crashing into salon

After having a car crash through the wall of her salon, a Tarpon Springs woman has been able to keep her business afloat.

In July 2009, two teenagers were evading police after refusing a routine traffic stop, authorities said.

After they sped off, the car slid and crashed through the walls of CK & Company Hair Designs, authorities said.

The teens then fled the scene but were apprehended by police at 2 that morning, authorities said.

Catherine Koursiotis, a stylist for over 30, had to deal with a 10-foot hole in the wall of her salon in the wake of a cardiac catheterization gone wrong earlier that year.

“It was an interesting year, but I’m a survivor. I just keep plugging on, baby,” Koursiotis said.

She improvised, walled up the hole with plywood and was ready to cut hair the next morning.

Koursiotis continues to cut hair and plans to open an advanced beauty education center to teach the next generation of stylists and to help them with their careers.

“(Koursiotis is) not a teacher, (she is) a mentor,” said Pedro Rodriguez, a barber working in her salon. “(She is) someone who’s going to help you and guide you through whatever you’re going through and teach you about ups and downs.”

Muslim community organizations work to honor memory of shooting victims near UNC Chapel Hill

Since the Feb. 10 shooting deaths of three Muslim students near the University of North Carolina, students at USF have been doing their part to honor the memory of the victims.

The Muslim Students Association at USF has worked with the Council on American-Islamic Relations to help victims of harassment after Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha were killed.

“We’re giving free legal representation to all victims of discrimination and harassment, regardless of their faith,” said Hassan Shibly, CAIR Florida chief executive director.

MSA at USF has been doing its part to keep Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha’s legacy alive.

Malak Fakhoury, interfaith outreach coordinator for USF’s Muslim Students Association, talked about a new initiative.

“Feed Their Legacy is a campaign that was started in their memory and because Deah, Yusor and Razan were so devoted to feeding the homeless in North Carolina,” Fakhoury said.

The tragedy has led to students learning about more about Muslims and becoming more involved with the Islamic community.

“There’s been a shift of atmosphere in misunderstanding Muslims, and students are making greater efforts to hold interfaith dialogues, to reach out and to have a better understanding of what Muslim is,” Fakhoury said.

Currently, the FBI is investigating the case for violation of hate crime laws. Suspect Craig Stephen Hicks could face the death penalty.

“The most important thing in relation to the tragedy is not letting their lives be lost in vain to this,” Shibly said. “We’ve personally said we’ll spend our careers and all of our of organization’s resources fighting the intolerance, the bigotry and the hate that ultimately led to their killings.”



Florida Focus 04-09-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: The Sabra Dipping Company is recalling 30,000 cases of hummus; Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and Deputy Jonathan McKinney are being sued; Your banking information may be at risk at Bay Area gas stations; USF proposes a body farm in Lithia.


Video: Community of Tarpon Springs gathers to commemorate Greek independence with day of celebration

TARPON SPRINGS — A sea of blue and white engulfed the streets March 22 as hundreds gathered to celebrate Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Empire.

The event commemorated the 194th anniversary of the Greek Independence Day and Greek War of Independence, which took place from 1821-1832.

Tarpon Springs has the largest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S. But the festivities draw visitors from all over the state to the downtown sponge docks.

“We’re going to prosper, Tarpon, with our great heritage and our love and care for the community,” said Manoli Stavrakis, president of the Young Adult League from the St. George Greek Orthodox Church.

Although the official date for Greek Independence is March 25, many large cities around the U.S. celebrate it the weekend before.

And celebrate Tarpon Springs did, showcasing Greek songs, dances and food while as revelers paraded through downtown to greet spectators.

Dimitri Kalogiannis, who retrieved the Epiphany cross from the chilly waters of Spring Bayou in 2010,  enjoys the event.

“It’s a beautiful day out here in Tarpon Springs,” Kalogiannis said. “We all come out here to celebrate our Greek heritage and have a good time.”

Brooksville Woman Purchases Lifelong Dream House Despite Rumors of It Being Haunted

Donna Maine Smith has always dreamed of owning an older house. Last May she made that dream come true when she closed on a 133-year-old house in Brooksville.

“We saw (the house) first online and almost didn’t come and see it because it’s supposedly haunted,’” Smith said.

Despite the unkempt state of the home and the neighborhood rumors of the house being haunted, Smith was unwavering in her decision to buy the home.

“Within a week, I decided I was going to buy it,” Smith said. “If you find them online, especially foreclosed houses, you have to be pretty fast.”

Smith’s daughter, Claire Smith, was all in on the idea of buying a house that required some fixing up. She even offered up some of her own time to make sure the house was somewhere she and her mother could live comfortably.

“It was really tough at first,” Claire said. “It felt like things took a really, really long time, and then finally you would see a result and it would feel gratifying. That was like the biggest thing, probably. Just the work on it and how long it took, it’s crazy it’s finally livable. “

Fixing up this old house hasn’t been a quick process, but Donna and Claire are enjoying every minute of it, especially since they are now living in their dream home.

USF Psychology Major’s Dedication to School Pays Off

College can seem like either a privilege or a hassle, but one University of South Florida psychology student is appreciating the opportunities she has.  Andrea Sullivan, 21, has not had an ideal upbringing, but she is making the most of her college career.

“I like school. I like the environment of school.  I like learning new things,” Sullivan said. “I’ve always been the type of person who wanted to keep gaining new knowledge.”

Sullivan, a former education major, switched her major to psychology with the hopes of being a guidance counselor for high school or college students.

Sullivan’s hard work and dedication to school landed her acceptance into a study abroad program in England.  During the 2015 fall semester, she will be representing USF as a student at The University of Nottingham.

To pay for school and living expenses, Sullivan has worked full-time since she graduated high school in May 2011.  She works as a full-time receptionist for an electrical company and picked up a second job as a driver for a taxi-like service called Lyft.

Sullivan has sacrificed her social life to work toward her bachelor’s degree, and that dedication has not gone unnoticed by those around her.

“Andrea’s drive has been quite noticeable through the fact that I’ve known her for about seven months now, and I’ve probably spent a grand total of four hours with her,” said Sullivan’s neighbor, Corey Vayett. “She’s constantly focused with school, constantly focused with advancing her career.”

Former MLB hopeful Christopher Reynoso pursues career as a firefighter


RIVERVIEW — Christopher Reynoso is far from  your average 22-year-old. He can’t remember the first time he played baseball, but many of  his fondest memories revolve around the sport. He often spent his afternoons playing baseball with his friends and going to Yankee games with his grandfather.

‪Reynoso played for school baseball teams for years and was offered a full scholarship to Wabash Valley College in Illinois. After a year in school, he received a call from the Diamondbacks organization. They were interested in recruiting him to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a scout came to see a few of his games.

“He came up to me and asked if I was interested in becoming part of the organization,” Reynoso said.

‪Becoming a Major League Baseball player was Reynoso’s lifelong dream. Unfortunately, his dreams were dashed.

‪“After a few months of strenuous activities and overuse, my shoulder decided to give out on me” Reynoso said.

Reynoso sought medical assistance, but no one could figure out what was wrong with his shoulder. His professional baseball career vanished.

‪Reynoso decided to pursue a different dream–becoming a firefighter. He is an EMT and is going to fire school, where he has learned many new and interesting things.

‪”He called me one day and he told me basically that he had to try and resuscitate an already deceased person,” Reynoso’s best friend Josh Fernandez said.

‪Reynoso is satisfied with the turn his life has taken and is determined to reach his new goal.

Family-owned Spirou’s Cookhouse serves up traditional Greek food in Tarpon Springs

Angela Spirou and Katerina Spirou are working with the rest of their family to run a new Greek restaurant, Spirou’s Cookhouse and Desserts in Tarpon Springs. Katerina moved from Greece years ago and opened the business here.

“It’s different here,” Katerina said. “I try to bring the Greek tradition here with my family and keep it up. I met my husband while he was on vacation in my country, and it was sort of like an arranged-marriage kind of thing.”

Katerina’s mother-in-law, Angela, helps run the business and says there are many benefits of working with family members. She could not think of any negatives when working with each other. The business runs successfully because the family works as a team.

“I have been blessed to work with everyone,” Angela said. “Each family member has something to offer the restaurant, whether it is cooking or serving tables. It is all about communication. If there is some sort of problem that occurs, then we discuss it with one another.”

Spirou’s Cookhouse and Desserts is open seven days a week and focuses on preparing food from scratch. They serve a bit of everything from traditional Greek dishes to homemade pastries and desserts.

Plans to give USF students access to drones grounded, but they may be available this fall

Tampa – The University of South Florida gained national attention as the first university to offer drones to students for checkout at their library. Unfortunately for students, the program never got off the ground.

Due to guidelines set by the Federal Aviation Administration, USF was unable to begin loaning the drones to students as planned. The FAA ruled that the distribution of the drones by the university for educational purposes would enable the use of unregulated aircraft.

“When we purchased them, new regulations were being decided by the FAA and on the federal level as to how these things are going to be managed,” USF Library Services manager Scott Ryan said.

USF is working with the FAA to meet the guidelines to be able to check out the drones. Ryan hopes drones will be available this fall semester. He would like to see the drones help students in their academic endeavors.

“There’s tons of potential to use them for,” Ryan said. “So we want to keep them for research purposes and for different projects and classes.”

One USF student, Brian Watters, decided he could not wait for USF to begin offering the drones. He rented one from a Tampa vendor and has taken flight, experimenting with footage for a production company he is looking to create.

“I love creating a sense of emotion with pictures,” Watters said. “If you want to have any kind of production company or do any kind of videography, a quad-copter for aerial shots is a must.”

Watters feels that the drones can help students, rather than creating negative outcomes that the controversy surrounding the drones suggest.

“There is a question about safety, but in my view of it, it’s really a hobby. It’s just for fun and to make cool videos,” Watters said.

There has been little word from the FAA on whether the drones will be cleared for flight by fall. Each drone cost approximately $1,500 and will be available through the USF library’s Digital Media Commons as soon as clearance is received.

Florida Focus 04-07-2015

In this Florida Focus News Brief: The Plant High School student that went missing last month has returned home; A wrong way driver is arrested in Palm Harbor; The Bucs locker room is still feeling the effects of the MRSA outbreak; Twenty thousand fans will pack Amalie Arena tonight; The Rays estimate they will sell about 400,000 hot dogs this season, including the Mac Dog.



Florida Focus 04-08-2015

In this Florida Focus Health Brief: A study released results of compared CT scans, the Human Performance Research Lab at UT may have a solution for those with little time to work out, and a new study suggests breast biopsies misdiagnose breast tissue.


NOMAD Art Bus Paints Smiles on Faces of Tampa Bay Children

Carrie Boucher’s mouth moves and syllables pirouette out. Sometimes they’re punctuated by smiles. Sometimes they’re not.

When she talks about the way she started her project — an interactive mobile art machine — you can see the enthusiasm swell in her eyes and pool to her feet in a colorful swirl.

Every so often, she tucks a piece of brown hair behind her ear with paint-stained hands: mermaid blue, ballerina pink and Fruit Gushers green. She continues talking, but the hands tell her story as the former teacher who refused to let art be treated trivially. In fact, Boucher grew up flouting the rules.

“In art class I quietly broke the rules and used tools and materials in any way I imagined might lead me to a new discovery,” Boucher wrote on her blog.

Beneath the dried tempera, her hands are worn. She spent a year teaching art to children in schools before she became “Lead Nomad” in her new venture: an art bus that travels to festivals and occasionally serves as an after-school program.

How could she expect to teach children to create, to express themselves and to love art if they kept getting pulled for FCAT tutoring?

“There will always be children who won’t be good at reading or math,” Boucher said. “But to not give them exposure to other things they might be good at and feel good about that could lead to a career for them is really limiting, and that’s frustrating to me.”

Instead of complaining about the school system, Boucher set out to create.

The art teacher wanted to create a program in St. Petersburg that would offer kids the resources to express themselves through art. She wanted everyone to have access, even if they couldn’t afford it or didn’t have the transportation. As her non-profit’s creed says, she wanted to bring the art-making experience to the people.

The NOMAD Art Bus was born.

From the inside, the bus is a shabby slice of an art classroom. The art lesson changes with the scene, but on one recent day, red Solo cups hugged Crayolas on a long plank where children, parents, and a few hipster strays escape from the mayhem of Localtopia 2015 to fold origami squares into hearts. Volunteers offer their heart-folding guidance and LEDs to nestle in the squares to make their hearts shine.

From the outside, the bus is an art-making temple. It’s hard to imagine the brightly splattered machine as its naked predecessor. The sherbet-colored brushstrokes on its exterior offer excerpts from hundreds of children and families: “Bikes for Life,” “Recycle,” “Love your planet,” “R hearts K,” “Follow me on Instagram,” “Aliens Exist,” and “To Shelby.” Beneath the paint lies ghosts of brushstrokes from thousands more. Although this time the bus is dipped in complementary hues of pinks and oranges, the bus was once a calamity of crayon.

Originally, the nomadic bus was doctor’s-coat-white. You wouldn’t have known the difference between the NOMAD Art Bus and a greasy moving van. Boucher knew something would eventually be painted on the outside of the bus — maybe a mural, she thought.

The monotone mobile made its way to the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in 2014. The line to get inside the bus was snaking infinitely, and guests were getting bored and leaving. In attempts to keep her guests entertained long enough to stay in line and experience the inside of the bus, Boucher unveiled the crayons, and the iconic colorful exterior of the art bus was born.

Although the team switched to tempera, little has changed since.

When Carina Giuffre, 8, was asked outside about her favorite part of the bus, she held up her dripping pink art wand, appearing lost in introspection.

“Painting,” Carina said.

Washing it is another story.