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President Szymanski named CEO and Executive Director of UNF MedNexus

Hyde, Kitson, Szymanski and Criser posing for a photo in front of a UNF backgroundThe University North Florida Board of Trustees announced today that UNF President David Szymanski will be transitioning from his role as President of UNF and leader of the UNF MedNexus initiative to assuming the position of CEO and Executive Director of UNF MedNexus full time, effective September 17.

"It has been a tremendous honor to serve as President of UNF for the past three plus years, and I am extremely proud of all our accomplishments, including the successful launch of the UNF MedNexus initiative,” said Szymanski. “Approaching the final year of my presidency and shortly after receiving state support for UNF MedNexus, I initiated discussions with the leadership of the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees and the Chancellor on the best timing for a transition to lead UNF MedNexus on a full-time basis. Completing a successful academic year and positioning UNF well for another year of success were integral to the decision to make the transition shortly after the beginning of our Fall 2021 semester. The support from the Board of Governors, Chancellor, Board of Trustees and state leaders both during my presidency and through the establishment of UNF MedNexus has been phenomenal. I am eternally grateful. Together, we have successfully elevated UNF to a world-class academic and research institution uniquely committed to student success and diversity, and we will continue to work together to address the critical healthcare needs of our region and the state.”

During his tenure, which began in May 2018, Szymanski has led UNF to a multitude of significant accomplishments. During his presidency, UNF has been recognized as a nationally ranked public university by U.S. News and World Report for the first time in its nearly 50-year history and has achieved dramatic and substantial growth on nearly every State University System of Florida performance metric, from increasing four-year graduation rates nearly 14 percentage points in just three years, to increasing retention rates to over 81 percent, employment rates to nearly 73 percent and starting salaries for graduates to $41,000, and reducing the average total cost of education per student by over 50 percent. Overall, UNF improved its excellence score on the SUS performance metrics by over 26 percent, placing UNF among the upper echelons for improved excellence among SUS institutions.

Under Szymanski’s leadership, the University also raised nearly $50 million; hit a record endowment of over $147.6 million; developed and approved a bold 5-year university strategic plan focused on student success; formulated and implemented a separate strategic plan focused exclusively on diversity, equity and inclusion; advanced pending Carnegie research classification to R2 status; increased underrepresented minority freshmen by 40 percent; and furthered UNF’s status as Florida’s Jobs University.

In addition to these accomplishments, President Szymanski helped guide UNF through the COVID-19 crisis, minimizing the impact of the unprecedented pandemic on the University community. The leadership team he developed during his presidency was instrumental to this success. This included hiring a new provost and new leaders in academic affairs, marketing and communications, athletics, finance and governmental relations. He also created new leadership positions in crisis management/COVID, data analytics, technology, as well as diversity and inclusion, all reporting to the president.

“We are tremendously grateful for President Szymanski’s leadership,” said UNF Board of Trustees Chair Kevin Hyde. “Under his direction, the University has built an exceptionally strong foundation for future success, and his many positive contributions as president will be felt for many years to come. On behalf of UNF and the Jacksonville community, we are delighted President Szymanski and First Lady Maria will remain members of the Osprey family here in Jacksonville. We are especially pleased that President Szymanski will continue to meaningfully impact UNF and Northeast Florida as CEO and Executive Director of UNF MedNexus. This rare opportunity provided by President Szymanski will be instrumental to further advancing our mission of educating the healthcare leaders of tomorrow.”

Starting in mid-September, President Szymanski will become the first full-time CEO and Executive Director of UNF MedNexus, the comprehensive, university-based medical and healthcare nexus he created and established. First proposed by Szymanski in 2019, UNF MedNexus received initial $6 million in funding through the 2020-21 state budget passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Governor DeSantis in June 2020.

“UNF MedNexus is about students. It’s about jobs. It’s about meeting the healthcare needs of our community, our state and our healthcare providers,” said Szymanski. “UNF MedNexus will become a leader and catalyst in preparing high-quality healthcare professionals in Northeast Florida and throughout the state in a way that is innovative and uniquely UNF.”

Projections indicate that over 20 percent of Florida’s future job growth will be in healthcare disciplines. UNF MedNexus is designed to meet these growing healthcare needs by linking resources across county lines and throughout the state in a collaborative effort to expand educational programs and enhance medical research. Northeast Florida is a top destination for quality healthcare, including highly specialized services, and UNF is at the center of this medical ecosystem. The hub-and-spoke structure of UNF MedNexus allows the University of North Florida and its partners — healthcare providers, thought leaders, educators and researchers — to address the state’s growing and evolving healthcare needs, while providing pathways for Florida students to find healthcare positions in the state and beyond.

“We are thrilled to have President Szymanski lead this vital initiative,” said State University System of Florida Chancellor Marshall M. Criser III. “Under President Szymanski’s leadership, UNF has reached new heights of excellence, and I am confident that his leadership of UNF MedNexus will bring together the brightest educators, administrators and researchers to address healthcare challenges throughout Northeast Florida and the state. MedNexus also establishes UNF as a university of distinction in healthcare education, thought leadership and innovation.” 

UNF MedNexus is currently in discussions with many of the region’s top healthcare providers, including Brooks Rehabilitation, AdventHealth of Palm Coast, Mayo Clinic, Memorial Hospital, Ascension St. Vincent’s, Baptist Health, University of Florida Health and Flagler Hospital. As it expands, UNF MedNexus looks forward to partnering with universities in the State University System of Florida and other healthcare providers across the state. With these partners and community support, UNF MedNexus will develop unique experiential learning opportunities through immersion in new and existing health facilities, classes taught by experienced healthcare professionals and innovative research.

UNF MedNexus partners also include regional colleges such as Florida State College at Jacksonville, St. Johns River State College and Daytona State College, as well as local secondary school systems that will be working together to develop unique career pathways from high school through to job placement.

As part of the initial phase, UNF MedNexus is building a new nurse training and healthcare simulation center at FSCJ Deerwood, as well as expanding a state-of-the-art medical technology innovation lab on UNF’s campus. The medical technology lab houses specialized equipment, including a suite of Shimadzu molecular analyzers, which will be used by research hospitals in the state (Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins Children’s St. Petersburg, Baptist MD Anderson) to develop hyper early diagnostics for diseases such as cancers and neurological disorders. The medical technology lab will also include a suite of 3D biomedical printers to facilitate student experiential learning and research with healthcare partners across the region. 

Through an innovative partnership with the City of Palm Coast and AdventHealth, UNF MedNexus is also extending UNF’s nursing programs and partnering on a second simulation lab in Palm Coast. UNF MedNexus will begin offering courses to the first Palm Coast cohort in Fall 2021.

In addition, UNF MedNexus has created new undergraduate and graduate scholarships for students in the UNF Brooks College of Health and School of Nursing. Scholarships are awarded based on students’ high academic credentials, performance and achievements. The first scholarships were awarded in Spring 2021 with plans to expand the program in the Fall 2021/Spring 2022 academic year.

UNF Board of Trustees will meet to consider an interim president later this month. Details on the search process for UNF’s next president will be announced soon.