Call him “Master Mayor” if you’d like: Gulfport’s mayor now has a master’s degree. Mayor Sam Henderson received his Masters of Liberal Arts in Florida Studies from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg at the end of the 2014 fall semester. His area of focus centered on public policy and ecology, something he says will help him serve Gulfport.
“We have issues involving water quality and coastlines and certain invasive species,” Henderson said. His graduate work gave him “knowledge of environmental science in general, a lot of urban ecology, stuff that’s very relevant to where we live.”
He started as environmental science and policy major, but “there was no policy left in the program whatsoever” so Henderson switched to Florida Studies, an interdisciplinary program focusing on Florida politics, history, environment and culture. His studies allowed him to follow an environmental policy path, and his master’s work culminated with a research project about nine Pinellas parks.
Henderson researched the Pinellas Trail and eight other Pinellas parks (Williams, Egmont, Lincoln Cemetery, Abercrombie, Fort DeSoto, War Veterans Memorial, Clam Bayou and Little Bayou) and rated each park on a gradient from “urban”to “wild”using four main categories: manufactured landscape, sensory disruption, human occupation and flora and fauna. He looked at factors such as noise pollution, litter, artificial light and each park’s amount of native and invasive vegetation.
“It’s very subjective,” Henderson says of his research, “but the point is to see which parks are closer to the urban environment and which parks have been kept closer to a wilderness environment.”
Henderson finished in six semesters. He received his Bachelor of Science in environmental science and policy with a minor in geography from USF in 2009. Before that, Henderson worked in environmental restoration with superfund sites and government sites. He says he’d like to return to working in the environmental field but would also enjoy teaching.
“It will come in handy,” the mayor said of his degree, noting that the Florida history component of the program also added deeper perspective to decisions he makes as mayor. “It’s just a good bed of knowledge in general.”