University of South Florida

Willie Mitchell is retiring from MCOM Student Affairs, leaving a legacy of service with a smile

For 26 years, Willie Mitchell has helped thousands of medical students navigate through medical school.

He is the first person visitors see in the Office of Student Affairs for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM).

He plays important roles in key events for medical students, from orientations as they begin freshmen year, to Clinician Ceremonies as they transition to third year, to Match Days as they learn where they will be resident physicians, and to Commencement Ceremonies as they reach the culmination of their efforts and officially become doctors of medicine.

Long time MCOM Student Affairs Office staffer Willie Mitchell

Willie Mitchell is retiring after 38 years at USF, 26 of which were on staff in the MCOM Student Affairs Office.

And he is forever a positive force for USF Health, notorious for his smile, laugh, and calming demeanor, not to mention his extensive collection of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia.

On June 26, Willie Mitchell will step out of those roles and retire.

“We’ve developed a family atmosphere in Student Affairs, a place for every situation – fun or tough times – for us and for students,” Mitchell said. “It’s a place of calm, peace and family. We still meet, eat lunch together, and gossip, just like a family.”

Mitchell joined USF in 1977 and the MCOM Office of Student Affairs in 1993, giving him more than 38 years of fond memories. Many of those stories revolve around changes taking place on campus and within the Morsani College of Medicine, including personalities of each entering class of freshman.

How do today’s medical students differ from those of two decades ago? Mitchell, who is a staff assistant in the MCOM Office of Student Affairs, sums it up this way: While all students understand the impact they will have as physicians, today’s medical students seem to be “more appreciative for being able to be a physician,” he said. “They’re taking the humility part another step further and are getting to know better the person, the patient and the classmate.”

In total, Mitchell has helped multiple generations of medical students experience the key milestones of their four years at MCOM. Of all events, Mitchell doesn’t hesitate to say that Match Day is his favorite. The annual rite of passage is when senior medical students across the country find out simultaneously where they will conduct their medical residencies, the next step in their medical education. The USF MCOM Office of Student Affairs coordinates the entire event for USF medical students, an effort that includes weeks of planning.

“Match Day is my favorite because I like to see the medical students with their families,” he said. “And it’s an event where everybody works so well together to make it happen.”

Mitchell has also witnessed vast changes to facilities at USF Health, saying he has always been impressed by USF’s growth and the University’s efforts to constantly build space for more and more students, including those in MCOM.

“The changes to the study spaces for medical students, and the new people joining in, like Pharmacy, Physical Therapy and SELECT, has improved us and made us better,” he said.

For Mitchell, students always come first and he has always been amazed at their ambition and talents. To gain a slight sense of what they experience as medical students, Mitchell said he would participate in Dr. Lois Nixon’s annual summer reading and movie list for medical students and the USF Health community at large.

“I wanted to watch what they’re watching and read what they’re reading,” he said.

That effort to put students first also earned him an Outstanding Staff Award and the USF-Gabor Employee of the Year Award, both in 1999.

Long time MCOM Student Affairs Office staffer Willie Mitchell


Mitchell is father to three grown boys: Damien, 18; Javon, 19; and Eric, 21. He is active in church, acting as youth director. Once retired, he said he hopes to become involved with more programs, fundraising efforts and working with the elderly.

And, he will continue exercising, a pastime he enjoys but was recently urged to increase when he had a medical scare that pushed him closer toward diabetes. That is why some of his first activities in retirement will revolve around vegetable gardening so he can continue his good eating habits.

“One of my first things to do is to renew my library card so I can read more about growing vegetables,” he said. “My diet now has so many more vegetables in it but I want to grow my own. I’m going to start with collards, tomatoes and mangos, and go from there.”

He also plans to take classes and workshops to bolster his farming efforts, starting with a workshop on building his own rain barrel.

Walking into retirement brings an intensity of mixed emotions for Mitchell. The people in the MCOM Office of Student Affairs have had tremendous impact on his life, he said.

“They are wonderful people to work with,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to work with some outstanding people who truly care about students, about the school. There is lots of love in this group and that will carry me for quite a while.”

While Mitchell has such fond words for USF, there are lots of people who know and love him in return. Here are words of gratitude and fond memories from several MCOM staff and faculty who have worked with Willie Mitchell over these past decades.


“I remember as a student, it was always comforting to see Willie’s smiling face upon entering the Office of Student Affairs.  We always knew he would help us with anything we needed, even if it might have been insignificant or tedious.  Now that I am a part of the office of Student Affairs, it has been great to know that today’s students have the same thoughtful and caring resource to help them.”

Kira Zwygart, MD, (Class of 1998) Associate Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean of MCOM Office of Student Affairs.


“Willie Mitchell and I worked together in Student Affairs for 13 years.  Every day he brought a warm and friendly attitude to work, thus I referred to him as Mr. Sunshine.  He was the first person everyone encountered upon entering the Student Affairs Offices and he made each person feel welcomed and important.  Willie Mitchell is as fine a man as any who has worked at USF.”

Steven Specter, PhD, Associate Dean for MCOM Alumni Relations and Advancement.


“I’ve never met anyone who has tried to improve himself and to help an institution more than Willie. It was wonderful to see him progress in his work and provide such real value to the College. And he had real impact on the students. Carolyn and I attend alumni reunions and students ask how a lot of people are doing and Willie is always at the top of the list. He really is a truly decent human being.”

Greg Nicolosi, PhD, retired USF Professor of Physiology, former Executive Associate Vice President and Interim Dean/Vice President for the USF College of Medicine and Health Sciences Center, and current member of the USF MCOM Alumni Society Board.


“I was extremely fortunate to be able to hire Willie in our Student Affairs Office. He wasn’t hired initially to be the frontline person but it became crystal clear very quickly that his talents were with interacting with people and that’s where he needed to be. He is an incredible person. For years he took care of his mother and raised those boys and still he found time to help other people. I remember seeing a stack of brand new shoes in boxes and bags and hearing him say he was buying them for a family he met at his bus stop who didn’t have any shoes for the children. That’s who Willie is – always thinking of others.”

Carolyn Nicolosi, former Assistant Dean of Student Affairs in the USF College of Medicine and current member of the USF MCOM Alumni Society Board.


“I remember when I was a first-year student meandering through orientation week, wide-eyed and lost as I stumbled into our Student Affairs office. Willie was the first person I saw as I came up to the front desk.  His smiling face has put countless other students like me at ease as they were finding their way through the tumult of medical school.  Willie makes MCOM feel more like home for our students.  He’s a testament to the fact that sometimes the cure to what’s ailing you is a warm smile and a gentle voice telling you that you need to focus on staying well and that everything really is going to be okay.  All students at our school can look to Willie for inspiration in his unending generosity of support. The MCOM family will deeply miss him, and the student body will do all we can to live truly to the legacy of kindness and service that he’s imparting in our community. There were 26 years of him leaving his mark on every student that walks past his desk to the murky waters beyond.  After all that, there’s a little bit of Willie Mitchell in every doctor’s office, operating room, or hospital ward of the MCOM graduate. The world is one thousand-fold better because of that legacy.”

Neil J. Manimala, MS4, Medical Student Council President.


“I can’t imagine the student affairs office without him there. Willie was one of the first people I interacted with when I started medical school at USF. Over the 4 years of medical school, and intermittently in the years since, I have never once stepped into the student affairs office without seeing him with a big smile on his face — his positive energy is practically infectious. He is one of those unique people that has the ability to make you feel really good about yourself and brighten your day with nothing more than a caring ‘hello’ and his trademark smile. I am not sure that I could remember the specifics of a conversation with Willie, but I will never forget how those conversations always left me feeling more calm, especially during those high stress exam times. Willie always seemed to genuinely care about the medical students and was always there to help out if you needed anything.”

Nishit S. Patel, MD, (Class of 2010) Assistant Professor, Associate Program Director, and Associate Director of Clinical Research for the USF Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery.


“Willie Mitchell is an amazing individual and it has been a blessing and honor to have worked with him.  He is my dear friend and colleague and I can’t even imagine Student Affairs without him.  His smile and kind disposition define our office.  He has served the students and the university for 38 selfless years and he and his kind and gentle disposition will be missed. He’s definitely leaving some really big shoes to fill.”

Phyllis Ridgeway, Office Manager, MCOM Office of Student Affairs.


Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications

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