USF Professors Create Lasting Legacy for Biology Students

Dr. Mary Jane Niles and Dr. John HigginsIn their 40-plus combined years of teaching, Dr. Mary Jane Niles, professor of biology, and Dr. John Higgins, professor of media studies, have profoundly influenced the lives of countless USF students. But their commitment to the university goes beyond the classroom; they recently made a legacy gift to support future biology students.

“USF has given us the opportunity to do what we love to do—teach in fields for which we have great passion and bring that passion into our classrooms and labs. My students are smart, sincere, and hard-working, and they are a pleasure to work with. We are part of the USF family. As we approached estate planning, there was no question that we would include USF in our plan in some way,” says Mary Jane.

John and Mary Jane have also served as officers of their respective unions: John as president of the USFFA-PT, the union representing more than 1,000 adjunct faculty; and Mary Jane in various officer positions with the USFFA-FT. When asked how they met, they both remember the moment. John recalls, “We met at the Tonga room in 1996 at an informal faculty ‘pub night.’ When I saw her, I immediately introduced myself—and the rest is history. USF is a full-service employer.”

Over the years, they have made connections on many different levels at USF—and one is their union work. Having a voice through collective bargaining has been integral to their time at USF. They believe the faculty-librarian unions are part of what makes USF such a special place.

John says, “Any working relationship has its bumps. What I find at USF is even if I were to disagree with some of the decisions, at least I know that they are ethically based decisions rooted in the Jesuit tradition.”

Mary Jane and John delight in constantly learning from their students who often challenge their way of thinking. Over the years they have witnessed the university evolve as the student body has diversified. These students bring with them a range of perspectives and approaches to the world. As a result, they have grown as teachers.

“I went to graduate school because my dream was to teach college students, so I am grateful,” said Mary Jane. She cherishes the connections she makes with students and enjoys when alumni drop by to say hello. And, she adds, “it’s been fun to witness the changes USF has gone through since I started teaching here 25 years ago.”

“We were able to create an estate plan that benefits our nieces, nephews, and USF students. It’s wonderful to know that our gift is going to impact the lives of future students. The process of expressing our values through charitable giving feels right. We’re changing lives one scholarship at a time.”