Beyond Rising Excellence and Stature

“I ask that you join our work to help make UF a university that builds on our tradition of public service to become more vital to, and supportive of, the work and lives of Floridians, Americans and global citizens,” President Kent Fuchs told UF friends and alumni in Washington D.C.

Beyond Rising Excellence and Stature

“I ask that you join our work to help make UF a university that builds on our tradition of public service to become more vital to, and supportive of, the work and lives of Floridians, Americans and global citizens,” President Kent Fuchs told UF friends and alumni in Washington D.C.

We’ve had a busy and eventful spring and summer in Gainesville …  and also here in Washington!

This is a city that has welcomed many important visitors from around the world.  

But I would wager that none have been as green … or had snouts quite as large … as Albert and Alberta, who accompanied me here in February for the opening of the UF Office of Federal Relations.

UF’s D.C. office is just steps away from the U.S. Capitol, so we paid the Capitol a visit. A few of our fellow visitors did double takes, but no one called animal control!

As I complete my fifth year as president, I view the opening of our D.C. office in the Hall of the States building as one of several steps that will make a profound difference in advancing our university.

This audience knows better than anyone the importance of presence here in the capitol. I implore all of you to help us in strengthening UF’s connections here.

If you have a summer internship need, please consider a UF undergrad. If you know a funder or agency seeking a research partner, please, reach out to us.

A second step we’ve made in recent years is our initiative to create and fill 500 new faculty positions. We’re 80-percent there, which means we have 400 new faculty on campus or on their way.

This infusion of some of the nation’s best up-and-coming professors will improve our student-to-faculty ratio and reduce class sizes. It will deepen our undergraduate education. It will raise our research profile.

Still a third step is our rise in the rankings. Our graduate programs climbed this spring, including business, law and veterinary medicine. In fact, our vet school entered the top 10 of all vet schools! This follows UF rising to 8th among America’s top-10 public universities last fall.

All of these steps get us closer to our goal of breaking into the top 5. But they don’t really tell you who we are as a university, or who we are becoming.

Beyond rising excellence and stature, what’s our vision for the University of Florida five, ten or 20 years from now?

Tonight I would like to invite you to join me in imagining an answer: An institution that builds on our tradition of public service to become a university that makes a difference in the lives of all people.

A university that is more vital to the daily lives of Floridians … of Americans … and of global citizens.

A “Land Grand” university, in the words of one of our UF communicators, Jim Harrison.

We were founded over 100 years ago with the mission of increasing access to education and using our knowledge and research to benefit our state and its people.

That mission remains at our core. We see it plainly in UF Health, and the hundreds of thousands of patients treated by our clinicians from North Central Florida, from the elsewhere in the state and from the nation and the world.

We also see it in our statewide extension engagement. As you can see on this map, there is an extension office in each of Florida’s 67 counties, represented by the blue dots.

UF/IFAS Extension long ago expanded its vision from agriculture to nutrition and health, financial literacy, protecting natural resources and more. About 460 diverse, often multi-lingual extension faculty work in rural and urban areas from Pensacola to Key West.

UF also has a dozen IFAS research and education centers; several UF Health and dental clinics statewide; a marine laboratory on both coasts and more.

In total, there are 150-plus mission-focused UF units around Florida.

That means we have 150-plus opportunities for all 16 of our colleges, from arts to business to liberal arts and sciences, to “extend” their missions statewide.

150 opportunities to expand UF research, services and knowledge to a fast-growing population of more than 20-million people.

150 opportunities to set a “Land Grand” example to the world.

The great news is, we have the scaffolding to build out this goal in our statewide extension network, the only such network in Florida.

Shortly after arriving at UF in 2015, I promised on Twitter that I would visit every single extension office.

Last month, I took a detour en route to Jacksonville to visit the extension offices in both Flagler and St. Johns counties.

Our agents and staff such as Sharon Treen, extension director and agent in Flagler County, open the “front door to UF in every county” in the words of Nick Place, extension dean and director.

I have a spreadsheet of all our extension offices, and I’m working my way through the list. Although I’m making progress in dropping in unannounced to our extension offices, I may be president a long time before I reach all 67!

Our vision is to build on this established, thriving extension network to create a platform for all our colleges and students to change the lives of all Floridians … and the lives of people well beyond Florida.

What would that look like?

The first thing to understand is that many of our faculty and colleges are already strongly engaged in public-minded efforts in the state, nation and world.

For example, they’re helping Florida youths learn to read.

With the support of bestselling author James Patterson, who spoke at our Spring Commencement, the College of Education heads up an ambitious initiative to double the number of Florida schoolchildren who can read proficiently.

At the national level, the education college heads up Algebra Nation, an online program helping students learn algebra that is now being used by public schools in seven states, including Michigan and New York.

Our faculty are assisting entrepreneurs in building the technology economy.

The College of Engineering is establishing satellite innovation extension offices, starting with UF Innovation Station Sarasota County, to support UF-industry collaborations and to nurture middle- and high-school students interested in pursuing engineering.

UF faculty are even teaching students to design mega-attractions in Orlando—and even on the high seas!

The College of Design, Construction and Planning offers a masters architecture program at CityLab in Orlando. This fall, it will add another master’s in that city with a concentration in “themed environment integration” to train designers of theme parks and cruise ships.

At the same time, we are engaged in what we call “Moonshots” – bold projects to tackle society’s biggest problems – that stress our commitment to statewide partnership.

I love the “Scientist in Every Florida School” Moonshot that seeks to make UF researchers available to our state’s schoolchildren.

And the “iCoast” Moonshot will soon start building a network to monitor Florida’s ecological and manmade coastal infrastructure.

We also work well beyond state and national lines.

In 2017-18 alone, our faculty made over 4,000 trips to 158 countries for research or education, according to the UF International Center. Meanwhile, more than 1,700 international scholars came to UF.

We hosted nearly 5,000 international students on our campus from 144 countries. I was so proud when, at our spring graduation in May, we graduated Gators from every state and from 99 countries.

When you think of melding our international focus, our college’s growing engagement, and our Moonshots with our extension network, you can see the possibility for a very different kind of UF.

You can see the possibility of a “Land Grand” university.

UF/IFAS Extension faculty and staff are already in discussions with the College of the Arts on ways to offer arts education through extension offices in rural schools that today have zero arts programming.

They are also working with Dean Mike Reid in the College of Health and Human Performance to partner tourism faculty with extension offices to build eco- and agro-tourism.

But the most exciting potential may be in the area of health.

UF/IFAS Extension and UF Health’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute co-sponsored a major conference this spring to discuss new collaborations to improve health outcomes in rural areas.

This closely follows a priority of our new Senior Vice President of UF Health, Dr. David Nelson, shown here with IFAS Senior Vice President Dr. Jack Payne, for UF Health to create “the healthiest generation” through focusing on preventative health.

Closer to the ground, we already have health-extension collaborations in place. Our College of Public Health and Health Professions is working with extension agents on an NIH-funded project to reduce obesity in underserved rural areas.

Imagine a statewide network of UF health practicioners who are as well-trained and well-supported as extension agents. Now imagine adding the arts, engineering, the humanities and more. You can see the outlines of a new and even more public-minded UF.

Imagine our impact broadened globally, rooted in Florida.

To be sure, there are challenges to this vison.

Not the least of these is finding the resources, while ensuring we deploy them in ways that help communities tackle their most urgent problems while we work on the systemic causes behind them.

But only UF has the comprehensiveness to address the many challenges facing Florida, which offers a microcosm of the challenges facing our world.

Only UF has an existing strong statewide network in the form of extension to provide structure and leadership.

And only UF has the national profile to transform extension for the needs of 2050 and beyond as an institution “that the state, nation and world look to for leadership.”

Again I ask that you join our work to help make UF a university that builds on our tradition of public service to become a university fully engaged with its citizens … a “Land Grand” university that is more vital to and more supportive of the work and daily lives of Floridians … of Americans … and of global citizens.

Our D.C. presence and the partnerships I’ve discussed tonight are signs of our continuing success. Thank you!