After a century: A university on College Avenue

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

Dr. Keith Taylor, president of Gannon University, speaks during the dedication and blessing of the university’s newest campus located in Ruskin. “It took a century but higher education has now returned to College Avenue,” he said, while thanking the community for its support. Mitch Traphagen photos.

Dr. Keith Taylor, president of Gannon University, speaks during the dedication and blessing of the university’s newest campus located in Ruskin. “It took a century but higher education has now returned to College Avenue,” he said, while thanking the community for its support. Mitch Traphagen photos.

On August 19 in Ruskin, Florida’s newest university opened its doors to the public for a dedication and blessing ceremony. Gannon University is a Catholic institution dedicated to providing a liberal arts education with professional skills and faith-based learning.

Gannon University President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., aptly summed up the historic nature of the moment by stating, “The road just in front is named College Avenue, named for Ruskin College, which operated very briefly. It took a century, but higher education has now returned to College Avenue.”

He said, “All of us at Gannon University are proud to renew the commitment to exceptional education within this vibrant community; and to join with other regional education providers in carrying forward the tradition of learning.”

Gannon University is based in Erie, Pa., and offers 55 bachelor degrees, eight pre-professional programs, 14 cooperative professional school options, nine associate degrees, 22 master’s degrees and three doctoral degrees. Student enrollment in Pennsylvania is 4,410 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of only 14 to 1. The University, founded in 1925, has nearly 35,000 alumni.

The new Ruskin campus will focus first on education for health-care professionals and will offer a doctoral program.

Administrators, staff, students and area officials cut the ribbon for the new university.

Administrators, staff, students and area officials cut the ribbon for the new university.

Dr. Taylor had high praise for those who helped to make the university campus a reality.

“One of the great pleasures has been the opportunity to work with so many outstanding people and organizations here in Florida,” he said. “This includes public servants on the local and state level. It also includes working with the chambers of commerce.”

Taylor also expressed his appreciation to Bishop Robert Lynch for the support of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

“Welcome to Gannon University in Ruskin, Florida!” he exclaimed. “It’s amazing that just over a year ago, that statement was only a concept and here we have taken a history step. Twenty years from now, 50 years from now, 100 years from now, this will be an important day in our history.”

Taylor went on to say that the Ruskin location for the new campus was chosen after a comprehensive assessment and a motivation to help the greater community meet the growing need for health-care professionals.

“We have been provided an incredible welcome and incredible support from the community and we intend to honor that support in the days to come,” Taylor said. “We have been welcomed with open arms by the community and by the Diocese of St. Petersburg.”

Dr. Taylor and Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg during the dedication ceremony.

Dr. Taylor and Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg during the dedication ceremony.

Taylor also made mention of John Ruskin, the philosopher for whom the community was named. He had clearly done his research by invoking some of the basic tenets that founded the community more than a century ago.

“All of us at Gannon University are prepared and honored to add our voices, our hands, our minds and our spirits into the mission of exceptional education here in Ruskin, Florida,” Taylor said.

Bishop Lynch described the new university as a historic moment, and he proclaimed his joy at witnessing the advent of the institution, along with making a humorous reference to scheduling an outdoor dedication event during the peak of the Florida summer. He also ended his address to the audience with humor.

“I look forward to great things here,” the bishop said. “At 74, I know my knees will someday go out. So I wish you all well, and I’m sure I’ll see you professionally.”

Senior administrators from the Pennsylvania campus — Carolyn Masters, Ph.D., RN, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, and Steven Mauro, Ph.D., dean of the Morosky College of Health Professions and Sciences — also spoke, promising to carry forward passion, hope, faith and dedication to community service.

“This is a new geographic area for Gannon … a much hotter geographic area,” Mauro said to laughter as the temperature climbed into the mid-90s.

Reverend Lawrence Persico, J.C.L, Bishop of the Diocese of Erie, leads the blessing.

Reverend Lawrence Persico, J.C.L, Bishop of the Diocese of Erie, leads the blessing.

Mauro went on to say, “We look forward to our time-honored traditions of service and dedication to Ruskin and the surrounding area.”

He referenced several area hospitals as well as local facilities such as Sun Towers in Sun City Center.

John Connelly, Ed.D., program director for Occupational Therapy Florida, said, “We’ve covered a great deal of ground in a short period of time. We are blessed to be part of an organization where our president, our provost and our dean are forward-thinking.”

He then introduced student Caitlin Smith, who will be among the first to attend the new university. The young woman’s credentials lend credibility to the objectives of the institution.

“I am honored to be representing the inaugural class here today,” she said.

Smith is a graduate of Penn State and will be entering the doctoral program for occupational therapy at the Ruskin campus.

“This campus is one of the few to offer this program,” she added.

Reverend Lawrence T. Persico, J.C.L, Bishop of the Diocese of Erie, led the blessing. Students and staff members joined him in the blessing and prayers.

Taylor again summed up the dedication by saying, “We look forward to working with the people in this university and in this community. God has unquestionably smiled upon this partnership.”

Following the dedication and blessing was a formal ribbon cutting along with a public tour of the new campus.

Gannon University is at 105 Commercial Center Drive in Ruskin, just east of the intersection of S.R. 674 and I-75. For more information about Gannon, visit www.gannon.edu.

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