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Taylor’s UNF legacy is illustrated by leadership, generosity

bruce taylor
The Journal dedicates each issue to an individual who has been instrumental in the growth and success of the University of North Florida. This issue is dedicated to Dr. Bruce Taylor, a philanthropist, board chairman and University advocate who has helped shepherd UNF through a decade of institutional development and academic excellence.

Taylor, chief executive officer and chairman of Taylor Engineering, Inc., was first appointed to the UNF Board of Trustees by Governor Jeb Bush in January 2003 for a two-year term and has remained a consistent and vital presence on the University’s governing authority through two successive reappointments. He was also appointed as board chair in 2005, a post he’s maintained through two more reappointments in 2008 and 2010.

Entering his eighth year as BOT chairman, Taylor said his board tenure has allowed him the unique opportunity to watch a University come into itself, growing into a top-flight regional institution with a national reputation. He said he is proud of the University’s skyrocketing academic profile, which places UNF in the top three of all public universities in the state. He is also proud of the relationships he has developed while leading the University’s governing body, especially the bond that’s developed between himself and President Delaney.

Taylor said his first task upon being appointed to the board was getting to know Delaney, who was hired to fill UNF’s top spot shortly after Taylor joined the BOT. The two hadn’t interacted much professionally at that point, and they spent many hours discussing the University’s future and its place in the greater Florida community.

“Those are some of my best memories of my time on the board — those frank conversations with John [Delaney],” Taylor said. “We were both accomplished in our respective fields, and we wanted to come together to help promote the best interests of the University’s stakeholders. We soon came to realize that our viewpoints and values were extremely congruent.”

Many dynamic ideas sprang from those informal conversations. One of those was the creation of an on-campus student leadership institute, a concept that was inspired by Taylor’s own military experience in the Navy. What started as the Institute for Values, Community and Leadership has morphed into the Taylor Leadership Institute, an initiative that emphasizes the promotion of personal, civic and community engagement with a concentration on values and leadership constructs. The Institute offers a minor in community leadership that includes an in-depth study of leadership from a theoretical perspective balanced with UNF’s continued focused on practical and hands-on learning experiences.

“Educational institutions have a responsibility to make their students aware of moral behavior and ethical conduct in the business world, whether that’s in the private or public sector,” Taylor said. “Leadership is different than management or administration; it’s the ability of an individual to inspire others — to achieve a common goal for the betterment of all. I believe in that concept, and it's something I wanted to push UNF to adopt for the sake of the community. The student leaders on campus will one day grow up to be leaders in the community, and they need to have the tools and the insight to lead.”

Leadership is nothing new to Taylor. His advice and guidance is valued by the entire campus community, and his generosity has created cutting-edge research opportunities for students and instructors. He made a $1 million donation in 2006 to UNF’s coastal engineering program, a gift that helped establish the Taylor Engineering Research Institute. Housed within UNF’s College of Computing, Engineering and Construction and led by Dr. Don Resio, the facility’s focus on coastal engineering has led to a host of collaborative research projects that mesh with the First Coast’s vibrant coastal ecosystem.

Taylor said the goal behind his endowment was to spur research activity at UNF in areas of interest for the region and state. His choice to head up the Institute, Resio, is a nationally renowned academic and coastal engineer with 30-plus years of experience in coastal and estuarine engineering. The program has already attracted multiple outstanding younger faculty members.

At this point, Taylor said the only limits to the program are self-imposed. From producing leading-edge research in clean energy and disaster mitigation to attracting top researchers from across the state, the Institute is becoming as dynamic as its namesake.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into when I was appointed to the Board of Trustees almost a decade ago,” he said. “Now I see clearly that I was given the opportunity to help usher a growing University into a new era of success and institutional maturity. Much like its students, UNF has grown up and achieved a great degree of success, and I’m proud to have made my own contributions along the way.”