Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday April 24th 2018

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Saunders: ‘It’s good to be UWF’

By Rick Outzen

Last week, the University of West Florida announced that its 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign raised more than $64.4 million from almost 20,000 donors, including 55 planned gifts and nearly $18 million in scholarships.

“We are truly grateful for the generosity of the community we serve, the alumni we have graduated and the friends we have made over the years,” said UWF President Martha D. Saunders. “Their belief and willingness to contribute to the work we do have created a spirited community of learners launching the next generation of big thinkers who will change the world.”

In surpassing its fundraising goal of $50 million, the campaign featured some of the largest gifts in the university’s history, including more than $5 million from Dr. Usha and Mahadeb Kundu to name the College of Health and another $5 million from Harold E. “Hal” Marcus to name the College of Science and Engineering.

Other notable gifts included $3.1 million from an anonymous donor to establish an endowment for need-based scholarships that will assist deserving students in their pursuit of the American Dream, and $1 million from Dr. Bob Kimball, UWF marketing and economics professor, to create the Bill and Ellie Kimball Memorial Undergraduate Scholarship Award in memory of his parents.

During its quiet phase that began in 2011, UWF raised more than $48 million. In 2012, Quint and Rishy Studer gave their first of two $1 million gifts, to fund the Pensacola Pledge Scholar Program. The second $1 million gift was made in July 2015, to develop the Center for Entrepreneurship.

Pen Air Federal Credit Union committed $1 million to name Pen Air Field, home of UWF football on the Pensacola campus, while $250,000 of a $770,000 legacy gift from the estate of John Thayer and Joan Ames Burr served as the lead gift for football, with the remainder supporting high impact and undergraduate research initiatives in the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering.

On “Pensacola Speaks” on 1370 WCOA, Dr. Saunders talked about the importance of the capital campaign.

“It’s the difference between just plain, no-frills education and being able to add the value that makes all the difference for our students,” she said. “We’re a public institution, and public institutions are vulnerable to the whims of the economy and political realities as well. What we really want always is to have stability.”

She continued, “We don’t want to have to cut back when things are lean and only enjoy life when things are great. We want to make sure that we have stability and then add value where we can.”

Dr. Saunders was impressed by the number of donors to the capital campaign.

“For people to step up and invest in us with the kinds of funds that really, really make a difference is impressive and encouraging and most gratifying to us as well,” she said. “I was also really moved by the fact that we had 20,000 different gifts, some small, some big, which means that people contributed to us as best they could. And when you have that kind of breadth of giving, that is very encouraging for us.”

She was also pleased that a considerable portion of the funds raised is earmarked for scholarships, which gives the university flexibility in pushing its initiatives.

“We can certainly scholarship students who need a little help to finish school—almost nobody ever saves enough for college,” said Saunders. “It’s that junior and senior year where things get really, really tough. This enables us to see them through. I am just moved by the generosity of folks that have given scholarship money for our students.”

Strong 2017
The announcement of the completion of the 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign also capped off Saunders’ first year as UWF President. She shared other highlights of 2017.

Public universities in Florida are ranked on a system of metrics, which grades the schools on the percent of bachelor’s graduates enrolled in postgraduate school, academic progress rates and the number of students earning bachelor’s degrees in a timely manner.

In 2017, UWF jumped in Florida’s public university ranking from one of the bottom three schools to one of the top three for 2016-17 school year. As provost and executive vice president at UWF, Saunders led the effort to improve its ranking. She created a “war room” for campus leaders to work on the metrics. The improvement meant more funds for UWF.

“That was about $20 million of happy,” she said of the jump in rankings. “And we expect to stay there. When all of these standards came into place, and we knew what we were dealing with, we told our board that it’s not going to be fast, but we’re going to make the kinds of changes that are sustainable.”

Saunders added, “We have not taken our eye off it at all. The war room still meets every week.”

The University of West Florida also had unprecedented success in football, reaching the national championship game in only its second season. Head football coach Pete Shinnick was named the D2Football.com National Coach of the Year and standouts Marvin Conley and John Williamson were recognized as part of the organization’s All-America Team.

“It was a joy, an utter joy to see that season develop,” said Saunders. “I think that our athletes and our coaches demonstrated what we want college football to be. They worked well together when things didn’t go so well. When things did go well, they bowed to each other. It was just a real joy for the season, and that’s consistent with all of our athletic programs.”

She added, “In the past year, we were in the top three in the Division II Director’s Cup. That measures all sports, not just one sport. That’s a testimony to the culture of the place.”

What’s Ahead
UWF has requested $27.5 million from Triumph Gulf Coast to build a Pensacola Technology Campus on nine acres between the Pensacola Bay Center and Aragon. The 70,000-square-foot facility will be part of the Innovation Network and house the Cybersecurity Innovation Center and the Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory.

Dr. Saunders isn’t sitting still waiting on Triumph Gulf Coast. The UWF Cybersecurity Center and the UWF Global Online are moving downtown this year into rented spaces.

“We and about a million other people have written proposals for Triumph’s money,” she said. “Of course, if we get that award, then we can move a lot faster, but we’re coming.”

The Pensacola Technology Campus has the endorsement of the Greater Pensacola Chamber and will be part of the UWF’s future vision of an Innovation Campus Network, a “transformative university model” that will connect physical campus destinations along the Gulf Coast of Northwest Florida for innovation, collaboration, research and engaged learning to prepare students for the workforce of tomorrow.

“We have gotten lots and lots of letters of support,” said Saunders. “We think the magic will happen, and we believe strongly in the proposal. We’re going to do it anyway; it’s just going to take us longer (without the Triumph grant).”

In looking back at the successes of 2017, Dr. Saunders shared the credit with everyone at the university and its alumni and supporters.

“We have worked very hard,” she said. “And as you know when anything good happens, it’s a team effort.”

Saunders added, “It’s a happy place. It’s a good time to be UWF.