Skip to Main Content

Get to know UNF's new Interim President Pamela Chally

Interim President Pamela Chally talks with a studentAfter 28 years of service to UNF, Dr. Pamela Chally needs no introduction. She is well known on campus and around Northeast Florida. Instead, we wanted to talk with her to learn more about her new role, and, yes, maybe just a bit more about her personally.

After serving in several top administrative roles at UNF, you continued to teach. It seems that you were this close to retirement and relaxing mornings with coffee and a newspaper. And now you’re our interim president. Why did you agree to serve as interim and fill your schedule from morning to night?

Why did I agree to serve? There are three reasons. I really do love UNF, and because I was asked to serve, I wanted to serve. UNF is also such a great place. We’re on a very upward trajectory; we have great programs, we’re moving toward becoming an R1 institution, which is tremendously exciting in terms of research, and the quality of our students keeps increasing. The third reason is the strong connection between UNF and the community. There are great things happening in the Jacksonville community, and it seemed like the perfect time to have this opportunity.”

Where did you grow up?

“I grew up on a farm, 65 miles west of Chicago, in a small rural area. We had corn and beans and raised cattle and hogs. It was a full-fledged farm. I had two brothers who were close in age, so my chores were primarily in the house, but I helped bale hay, I helped take care of some of the animals, I had sheep for some of the 4H projects. Yes, I was a farm girl, definitely a farm girl, in midwestern rural Illinois. There were 46 students in our graduating class. My husband is one of them; we dated in high school and then got married a number of years later. I think growing up on a farm, you learned a lot about faith and family. Your parents are generally home all the time, and you work together as a family. And growing up in a small school like that, I had the sense I could do anything, and I wasn’t afraid to try new things.”

Any defining moments during your early education that you care to share? Lessons learned? Important people?

“Well, certainly my parents had a big influence on me. They were very supportive. I’m the oldest of five. They always gave me the idea I could do whatever I wanted to. Someone who has had a huge influence on me is Rod, my husband. For all practical purposes, we grew up together, and he’s such a big supporter.”

You earned a nursing degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Why did you choose a career in healthcare?

“I attended the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was not my first time in Chicago. One of the things that was so nice about where I lived, even though it was out in the country, we were close enough that we went into the city multiple times a year, so we had great access to Chicago. Why nursing? My mom found this piece of paper, the writing looks like I was about six years old, that said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a nurse so I can take care of my brother Gary. Gary has asthma.’ And so it’s all my brother Gary’s fault. I also have to say though that back then, there were a lot of courageous women who were stepping out into exciting careers, but for most people my age it was nursing, teaching or secretarial work. And so nursing just always seemed right. And I imagine Gary had something to do with it, so I still blame him.”

You then went on to earn a master’s and doctoral degree. Why is education important to you, and why have you stayed here at UNF?

“Education opens so many doors. I certainly didn’t go into nursing thinking I was going to be the interim president at the University of North Florida. I thought I was going to take care of kids with asthma. But because of education, there’s just so many doors that open. It just gives you a fuller and a better life. Staying at UNF goes back to my husband again. We’re a team. We did move a lot when we were first married, but his job eventually landed here, and there was a great opportunity for me here and it just kept on growing.”

Tell us about your family.

“Rod and I have two children. Both are UNF alums. Our daughter Jennifer majored in biology, went on to medical school and is a pediatrician in Jacksonville. Our son, Jonathan, majored in finance and economics, studied law at Vanderbilt and is an attorney in Atlanta; his wife, Gina, is also a UNF alum. We have five granddaughters, ranging in age from 14 to 21. The oldest one is a junior here. My granddaughters are so much fun.”

You served as dean of Brooks College of Health as well as interim provost and VP of Academic Affairs. Were there lessons you learned that you bring to your new role?

“One of the things that has always helped me was that whether people like it or not we’re all working together. The whole concept of teamwork is the only way that I know to be successful.

And there are many really good people at UNF who feel about UNF the way that I do, and so that is a tremendous help.”

You certainly know the University well after working in various positions for nearly three decades. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing UNF?

“During this pandemic, I certainly have a huge responsibility to keep people safe. Another important area are our performance based metrics. Those are still a big deal for us, and that relates directly into funding; when we are successful we’re rewarded. I’m also concerned about diversity. The number of students of color at UNF is not representative of our community, and the same is true of staff and especially faculty. That’s something that I’m really concerned about too.”

Can you identify one achievement or something essential that you want to leave with UNF during your interim role?

“Of all the things that I would really like to do is to have a real commitment to our values. I think we’re going to grow in excellence through these values: integrity, respect, accountability and innovation, especially integrity and respect. They aren’t new words, they’ve been talked about at UNF for years, but not everybody feels that we practice those values. So I especially want people to feel respected, no matter what they do here, because everybody is so important.”

What’s one idea or piece of advice that you’d like to share with the campus community as you begin your work as interim president?

“This is maybe more about me than the campus, but I am an Illinois girl, and this quote is from Abraham Lincoln: ‘I will do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until this ends.’ And that is my goal.”