John C. Bersia ’77, director of UCF’s Global Perspectives Office, a professor of international issues, and a Pulitzer Prize recipient while an editorial writer at the Orlando Sentinel, died Thursday of metastatic cancer. He was 62.
Bersia started working at UCF in 2001, later became a special assistant to the president for Global Perspectives, and was the executive producer and host of a weekly WUCF TV show by the same name, covering diplomacy, world affairs, human trafficking and other issues.
He was viewed by many of his colleagues and students as a global citizen, always pushing education, fairness and international awareness with the goal of a peaceful world.
“John gave UCF and Central Florida a wealth of opportunities to learn about the world and to tackle our toughest challenges, particularly human trafficking and modern slavery,” says interim President Thad Seymour Jr.
“He brought many distinguished world leaders to campus and also speakers who challenged us to actively help human trafficking victims and others who had no voice. We will forever be thankful that John has made us a stronger, more civic-minded and more compassionate campus community.”
Harriet L. Elam-Thomas, a former ambassador to Senegal and director of the university’s diplomacy program, says she came to UCF as the State Department’s diplomat in residence for one year but remained 16 years because of Bersia, “who always demonstrated the human touch” in his approach to community and world issues.
“John was the epitome of civility. Global Perspective staff, interns and fellows gained academic and life leadership skills throughout their affiliation with the Global Perspectives Office,” she says. “Thanks to John’s commitment to inform and expose the broader Central Florida community to international and domestic thought leaders, this community is well informed and able to make wise decisions on globally focused and culturally sensitive issues. The University of Central Florida and the surrounding community present a comprehensive face of America, thanks to the insight, outreach and selflessness of John Bersia.”
Dean Michael Johnson of the College of Sciences, of which Global Perspectives is a part, says Bersia dedicated many years of providing students “an opportunity to be part of the world.”
“What John knew is that the world has become very small, and our students are going to live in a world where they’re going to work and compete with people from every part of the globe,” Johnson says. “John played a key role in opening doors for students and faculty to interact, learn and engage with different cultures.”
Bersia grew up in Winter Park and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science/international relations and French at UCF in 1977. He went on to receive a master’s in government/foreign policy from Georgetown University, a master’s in public information administration at The American University, and a master’s in international relations from the University of London.
Before coming to UCF, Bersia worked in the global political-risk analysis and publishing business, was as an adjunct professor on international affairs at Rollins College, and served on the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board for 16 years, when his series of editorials on predatory payday-loan practices, “Fleeced in Florida,” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 and prompted the Florida Legislature to make changes in regulations of loan companies.
He helped establish the Center for the Study of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, was board chairman of the World Affairs Council of Central Florida, and served in various roles with numerous organizations and programs on and off campus to promote global peace and security.
“John was my friend for more than 30 years. In his hometown, and even in our university, few realize how greatly respected and admired he has long been throughout the world,” says Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs James Bacchus and director of UCF’s Center for Global Economic & Environmental Opportunity. “John laid much of the foundation for the emergence of UCF as a global institution – a foundation on which we will continue to build for many years to come.”
To highlight that foundation and the impact and legacy of the Global Perspectives interviews hosted by Bersia, WUCF will broadcast a special retrospective at 9:30 a.m. March 31.
“John worked tirelessly to bring attention to important issues and to help bridge cultural divides,” says Phil Hoffman, WUCF executive director. “He was able to combine his passion for education with a real depth of knowledge to bring an understanding of the world to Central Florida audiences.”
Bersia is survived by his wife, Renee Johnson, and a stepdaughter.
Services will be held at noon March 30, at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, 4001 Edgewater Drive, Orlando.