University of West Florida President Martha Saunders delivered her first “State of the University” address on Thursday.
UWF’s sixth president spoke for about 15 minutes, beginning her remarks with a bit of a history lesson, on how the school became known as the “Argonauts” – think “Jason and the Argonauts.” Then it was time to outline the achievements of the past year.
“Our archaeologists discovered a third shipwreck from the Spanish de Luna fleet,” said Saunders. “We’ve set a framework for our first PhD program in Intelligence Systems and Robotics. Our athletics program won 22 championships in one year.”
Add to that a record year in fundraising; UWF’s accounting students who were number one in Florida and third in the nation in first-time pass rates of the CPA exam, and the naming of the Usha Kundu M.D. College.
Among the challenges which will be around for a while is what Saunders calls the “monster” of not only attracting new students, but keeping them around until they earn their diplomas.
“We have made tremendous progress; every year double-digit improvement as we focus,” Saunders said. “But we’re not out of the trouble yet. We’re doing all the right things, we’ve put the right programs in place, but we must keep our focus on retention and graduation rates.”
Of special interest to Saunders are UWF’s “Programs of Excellence,” which she says are so good and of high quality, that they hold up against those at any other school. While not specifically naming any, Saunders wants to pick a few, invest in them, and “take them to the moon.” Also, programs of student support in areas of vital interest.
“Because as we bring in students, we have a responsibility to give them the support that they need,” said Saunders. “That includes advising; that includes financial support, that includes counseling. Those will be areas where we will be diving deep.”
Online learning – in which UWF was an early participant among colleges – is ever changing, says the president. Saunders told the audience you cannot stop and rest for a lot of reasons,
“For one, we still have to provide access to students; and online programs provide very needed access, Saunders said. “But also – I don’t know if ya’ll have noticed – but we don’t have a lot of space. An online helps us reduce seat time in classrooms by offering alternative opportunities for our students. So we’re going to see a great deal more there.”
Saunders also announced a new marketing campaign, “I Hire UWF”, aimed at connecting students with employment opportunities, along with other plans for the 2017-18 school year.
“We will have a full launch of the Reuben O.D. Askew Institute for Multi-Disciplinary Studies, which will increase faculty research and collaboration on campus,” said Saunders. “We will expand our offerings in cyber-security and supply-chain logistics, which will boost enrollment and visibility for our university.”
UWF President Martha Saunders also reminded faculty and staff that these and other goals can be accomplished, because they have done harder in the past.
“We faced tougher odds than we face today; some of them natural disasters, some of them kind of unnatural disasters,” Saunders said. “But we’ve done it, and we can succeed because we have an able crew.
“You don’t have to look far on this campus to find a rock star.”