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Lifelong friendships & connections made at UT

by Sydney Rhodes

When Lori Benson McRae, associate professor of biology and Jennifer Wortham, professor of health sciences and human performances, met at The University of Tampa as undergraduate students through the marine science department, they had no idea what their friendship would entail. 

The two met in 1992 when McRae was a sophomore and Wortham, a freshman. “We had a lot of classes together in the marine science program and many classes had field work involved in them,” said McRae. “So, we always found ourselves doing this work together.”

Not long after, McRae and Wortham became roommates at UT and later moved off campus together. McRae graduated from UT in May of ‘95 and Wortham followed in Dec. of ‘95. 

“Ironically, we both went to graduate school in the state of Lousianna. This wasn’t planned,” said Wortham. 

McRae attended Louisiana State University, while Wortham attended University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which is an hour drive from each other. 

“We would make the drive to see each other all the time and we were still very involved in each others lives,” said Wortham. 

In fact, McRae was apart of Wortham’s wedding and became the godmother to her son.

After finishing graduate school, the two were apart for a few years, while McRae worked a part-time professor position at UT beginning in 2001, and Wortham was a full time professor at The University of Evansville in Indiana. 

“I taught at Evansville for about three years, and then Lori called me and told me UT needed someone to teach anatomy and physiology immediately,” said Wortham. “I would fly between Tampa and Indianna every week to teach a couple classes over the summer.” 

Shortly after, Wortham was offered a full time teaching position at UT in 2004 and reunited with McRae once again. Not only did the two work with each other, but they also worked with their own research and academic advisors from when they were undergraduate students at UT, Wayne Price and Stan Rice, retired professors of marine biology. 

“Having that past relationship with Dr. Rice really helped me when I returned to UT. I would bring him into my classes to help teach some things,” said McRae. 

Both Wortham and McRae still keep in touch with Price and Rice. “Dr. Price and I published a paper together based on our undergraduate research while I was a student at UT and he took me to my first scientific conference in Washington D.C. I will never forget how much of a help he was to me,” said Wortham. 

When Wortham graduated from UT, she told Price that she would return to Tampa and work with him once again. 

“When I came back to UT, Dr. Price and I worked on several research projects together,” said Wortham. “Every manuscript I’ve ever written, he’s reviewed it beforehand. He’s helped me work things out with my own research. We really do just stay in touch and continue to help each other out. He’s basically been advising me since 1993.”

The connection to UT goes even further for McRae and Wortham. McRae met her husband, Mark McRae, associate professor of biology, in Hawaii while she was working on graduate research with LSU. Mark McRae later took a teaching position at UT in 2006. 

Wortham’s husband, Rob Haughey, attended UT himself and her son, Ryan Neal, is currently a UT sophomore and secondary education and history major. 

“We’re really all one big UT family,” said Wortham. “McRae’s family and mine are family friends and so are Dr. Price and Rice.”

McRae and Wortham also shared some advice for incoming UT students. 

“Don’t think you’re going to make life-long friendships right away,” said Wortham. “A lot of them will come once you’re with the same students within your major. When you do meet those friends, make sure you embrace those friendships. When you graduate, don’t end your friendships. Do your best to stay in contact with these people, because you may find yourself working with them again.” 

Wortham also recommended that UT students to get involved with some type of research or work with a faculty member. She highly recommends using resources to create long-term relationships.

“Make sure you treat college as a professional environment,” said McRae. “Don’t just make connections in the work world, but do it while you’re at UT. Make connections with friends and professors, because you never know if you’ll work them again or keep them as friends.” 

“I love UT. Without UT and the close contact I had with faculty members, I wouldn’t be where I am today, there’s not a doubt in mind,” said Wortham.

Sydney Rhodes can be reached at sydney.rhodes@theminaretonline.com

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