They are living a geological love story. When Eileen Rodriguez and Steve Camp talk, you quickly discover a relationship forged in stone, marked by a rock-solid passion for the University of South Florida – and the field that brought them together in the first place.
What else would you expect from proud alums who first met as master's degree geology students in 1984, got married two years later and have emerged as arguably the program's biggest backers?
Eileen and Steve have helped the department in numerous ways since their early years at USF. They helped start the Geology Alumni Society, coordinating an annual fundraising banquet and sponsoring a table to attract promising students and raise money for scholarships. They worked with the USF Foundation in the creation of the Richard A. Davis Endowed Fellowship in Geology. Eileen has even contributed a management-oriented course to the curriculum.
But what truly sets them apart is their will to support future USF geology students – literally.
In fact, they have designated five percent of their estate to create scholarships for the program, hoping to enrich and impact the lives of students just as the subject benefitted them. "We live and breathe the Geology Alumni Society, to be honest with you," says Eileen. "We don't have children of our own, and with this being the year of our 30th wedding anniversary, we decided to just continue to give to USF. That's our baby. And that's why we've made a provision in our will to the university, and specifically the Geology Alumni Society."
Though Eileen and Steve had set up their will to help USF years ago, it formally came together recently when they mentioned their plans in passing to Marion Yongue, USF's Senior Director of Development for Gift Planning. He guided them through the process of setting up a gift to create geology scholarships. "It's a big deal for us," Eileen says. "Education is one of those things you always take with you, and once you have it, you're golden."
Steve was motivated, in part, by the higher cost of education from the time he was a student. "When I started at USF in 1980, it only cost about $18 a credit hour, and I was able to pay my tuition and fees with a part-time job that paid $3 an hour," he says. "You could never do that today with the cost of a credit hour at about $200 – you'd have to work 25-30 hours a week just pay for tuition, books and fees. So hopefully this will make it easier for recipients to pursue their geology studies."
Funny enough, Eileen, a Bronx native, had never given geology a second thought before she enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico. She had intended to study marine biology, or follow a premed track. But she was a few points shy of qualifying for the program, so her academic advisor suggested geology as a major. "She made it sound easy, like we just study rocks, and I thought, 'Oh, I can do that!' " Eileen recalls. "Of course, it was anything but. I had to take up to Calculus 3 and differential equations. But I fell in love with it right away."
Meanwhile, a different kind of love was on the horizon. Steve, who attended Tampa's Leto High School, earned his AA degree at Hillsborough Community College, intending to pursue a medical career. When he arrived at USF, however, he looked at the curriculum and decided that geology offered an appealing mix of math and science. He earned his bachelor's degree with that major in 1982, and two years later enrolled in the master's program. That's where his path crossed with Eileen. A few months into class, they began to date – and the rest is USF geology history.
Eileen went on to work in the consulting industry. She eventually specialized in coastal and hydro geology, working for several agencies, including the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission. Then she started her own consulting business, leading to a position at USF 19 years ago as an adjunct professor in the College of Business. For the past eight years, she has served as the College's Regional Director for the Small Business Development Center, drawing on her business acumen to help small business owners succeed and grow in the U.S. and in Latin America.
Steve, on the other hand, went straight from USF to work for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and has been with the agency ever since.
"Geology isn't a popular science, and people don't really think much about it, unless they're watching a bad movie and the volcano is erupting," Eileen says with a laugh. "Watch any movie with a geologist in it and they always get killed off! But the study of geology is vital. Just think of sinkholes – they're a big deal. And guess what? That's geology! Believe me, we have plenty of rocks in Florida, even though you can't see them."
There is also a pair of gems you can: Eileen Rodriguez and Steve Camp.