From a small two-year regional college to a local powerhouse for academic talent and community involvement, the University of West Florida has certainly grown into a Game Changer for the Pensacola area.
“For a long time, we were the little school up on the hill that didn’t do much with the community,” says UWF President Judy Bense. “I never thought that that was very productive.”
But according to Bense, times have changed.
“In the past couple of years, a lot of us have sensed that UWF is becoming a more contributing partner to the community.”
Those contributions are many, but they all stem from quality educational programs offered at the university.
“I guess you could say that we raise the talent level and intellectual level of our region,” says Bense. “About 4,000 students last year came from outside the region. They wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the University of West Florida.”
And the university’s reach is widening.
“We’re beginning to attract more and more traditional freshmen that come from all over the state, farther and farther from Northwest Florida.”
A number of key personnel have helped UWF grow and are continuing to deepen the school’s involvement in the community.
“Right now the key personnel is the baseball coach, Mike Jeffcoat. He brought us to the national limelight…winning the World Series. I want to say he’s typical of the caliber of our coaches.”
“We also have an example like Dr. Rick Harper, our very well known economist. He does research and is now in charge of the Office of Economic Growth and Engagement.”
But just like in the Pensacola community, the key players at UWF are always changing.
“Last summer with the oil spill it was (marine biologist) Dr. Dick Snyder.”
The oil spill certainly presented the region with a number of challenges, but Bense says that UWF had no interest in backing down from them.
“(We were) kind of like a first responder. As soon as it happened, our scientists, with no extra money, just ran out there and began to take samples of fish and of the water and of the sand.”
UWF also became a go-to source for the national press for information on the spill’s economic and environmental impact.
However, the university’s involvement in the crisis is far from over.
“They’re still out there, taking samples and looking at fish, and analyzing what’s going on now in this next phase of the oil spill.”
Enrollment at UWF has grown 17 percent over the last five years, and is expected to hit 12,000 this fall.
“All of our applications and admissions are up,” says Bense. “By 2015, I’d like to be at 15,000.”
Enrollment isn’t the only thing expanding at UWF. The school is building new dormitories and exploring opportunities to lease unused campus properties to the private sector.
A host of new buildings and facilities will expand UWF’s student offerings.
“The football stadium, an event arena, a quad, a tennis stadium, a brand new student union, a new center of campus. These things truly will change what the campus looks like.”
With so many successes behind her, and so many new projects underway, Bense is glowingly optimistic about UWF’s future.
“I think we’re beginning to get on the right path. And besides, it’s a lot of fun.”
University of West Florida
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