TAMPA (FOX 13) - The most-quoted person in Florida politics and a familiar face on election nights in the Tampa Bay area plans to retire. Dr. Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, is leaving the classroom this year.
The self-proclaimed 'country girl' said she never imagined she would one day mold the minds of future politicians, journalists and political consultants, both in Florida and nationwide.
"I grew up in rural Pasco County; Land 'O Lakes. There wasn't much out there except watermelons and orange groves," said MacManus. "I dreamed, but you never realize what you're going to end up doing."
A hard work ethic instilled by her family led MacManus to earn a degree in government from Florida State University, a graduate degree from the University of Michigan, and later, a Ph.D. from Florida State University as well.
She eventually returned to her roots in the Bay Area to take a teaching position at the University of South Florida.
MacManus knew early on in life that she had a passion for politics.
"I grew up in a very politically divided family and extended family. I also grew up in a family where education was important and discussion of public affairs was always on the table at any kind of gathering," she recalled.
Her ability to see political issues from both sides of the debate landed her a reputation of being fair, both in her classroom and as a television news political analyst on countless election nights.
"Obviously, the 2000 election was extremely competitive and Florida was the epicenter," said MacManus.
During the Bush-Gore election night, MacManus said she went 36 hours without sleep.
"I laid down at 2 o'clock in the morning. I was going to get four hours of sleep before coming back to do the morning shows, and I get a call from somebody in Japan who doesn't realize the time difference. He says, ‘What's going on in Florida?’" remembered MacManus, who stayed awake to continue providing coverage over the controversial election that led to a Florida recount.
Her experience outside of the academic realm has led many students to her classroom, in hopes of learning from someone who's worked in the same positions they hope to one day fill.
"Just very casually, I remember her one day saying that she was an expert witness for one of the first cases that [Supreme Court Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg was on the bench. Who else has the ability to say that?" said sophomore political science major Beatriz Zafra.
"I'm 75 years old, and it took me this long to get her class," said student Sunny Von, who is taking MacManus' last class as a life-long learner.
"I like hearing how young people feel," added Von.
In today's Florida, MacManus said many politicians are unaware that nearly half of all registered voters in the state are millennials or a part of Generation X.
"That's where research and teaching go hand-in-hand," explained MacManus. "Over the years, my students have taught me as much as I've taught them. They are a clear warning signal to politicians that don't pay attention to them that if they don't follow the changes in young people's communication patterns and policy interests, they can very well lose an election," MacManus offered.
MacManus also leads the Sunshine State Survey, which dives deep into what Floridians value and where residents stand on ballot issues.
MacManus' legacy at USF will be her ability to make students of all political viewpoints feel welcome and heard in her classroom.
"I want them to leave my class understanding that people can vehemently disagree with each other, but they can also be civil to each other," MacManus added.
She plans to continue working as a political analyst after retiring as a professor.
MacManus has a new book called Florida's Minority Trailblazers, which explores the contributions minorities have made in Florida politics. The book took her nearly 10 years to complete.