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UNF brand promise helps Ospreys soar

Brandon Davis grew up in Detroit, about as far away geographically, economically, culturally and environmentally as one can get from Jacksonville.

He was never promised sunshine, palm trees and a nature preserve. No one promised him a world-class education with hands-on transformational learning experiences. And certainly no one promised him a life-changing journey, either. Instead, Detroit offered a declining economy with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, a foreclosure rate of 31 percent and the distinction of being one of Forbes magazine’s most dangerous cities.

Some of his memories of elementary school are much like anyone’s — filled with pencils, schoolbooks and lunchboxes. But his recollections also include the harsh staccato of semi-automatic gunfire and the blast of bullets peppering the side of his school. His school days were filled with strife, and his life became marked by stress and anxiety. He could not concentrate on class, and he fell behind. His teachers thought he had a learning disorder.

But Davis knew better. He knew there was a promise of a better life out there for him through the power of education.

When he was 18, he and his family moved to Northeast Florida, and Davis began to dream about attending the University of North Florida. He worked and prayed hard during middle and high schools to improve his grades. His focus paid off with a 3.33 GPA and a newly carved path toward higher education.

“Teachers told me I lacked the ability to do the work and that I was not college material,” Davis said. “All the while, I knew I was destined for something more.”

He was.

When it was time to apply for colleges, Davis had the grades to attend UNF, but not the test scores. He spent a few semesters at FSCJ and transferred to UNF.

“Now, when I arrive on campus each day, I am reminded how far prayer and dedication can take you,” Davis said.

Davis is just the type of student UNF had in mind when it adopted its new brand promise. If a student works as hard as Davis did to get to UNF, the faculty and staff of UNF need to work just as hard to make sure that experience is everything it can be. The University set out last fall to ensure it lives up to that promise.

Any university is only as good as the promises it keeps. The University of North Florida student experience should mirror the one depicted in its viewbook, the one discussed during the campus tour, and the one depicted on Facebook and Twitter. Today’s prospective students and their parents are savvy. They expect the experiences they have as prospective students and parents to match the ones they have once they are on campus. Alternative higher education options have never been more plentiful. They, like Davis, can choose to go anywhere. That is why it is important to make a promise to the students and keep it through to them as alumni. Davis could have chosen to attend almost any university he wanted. Instead, he chose UNF — and worked incredibly hard to get here.

The promises a college or university makes are not limited to those stated during the recruiting process. The promises made are evident in every conversation, every meeting, every written document. Every interaction that a current or future student, family member, faculty, staff, alumni, donor or stakeholder has about UNF is a promise made and an opportunity to keep it.

So in October 2011, UNF conducted an opinion poll in an effort to determine what students, alumni, donors, faculty, staff and members of the community thought about UNF in general. The results of that survey, which were generally very positive, led to another set of questions.

“It was interesting to learn that more than 85 percent of the people in the five-county area really like UNF,” said UNF President John A. Delaney. “But they could not tell us why. That provided us with the perfect opportunity to determine what it is we wanted to be known for in our own community and beyond.”

The survey turned up many interesting statistics. Sixty-one percent named UNF as a top-of-mind college or university. UNF also rated quite well in terms of quality of campus buildings and environment, academic variety and reputation and for providing programs relevant to the community. And those survey respondents who were familiar with UNF rated the commitment to the Northeast Florida region as very high. Sixty-four percent who were considering attending a college were considering UNF. Additionally, if they were not considering attending — or had already attended a college — 65 percent would recommend UNF to someone else.

UNF administrators decided a brand promise would help us stand out from other colleges and universities.

After some debate, UNF decided on this brand promise:

UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.

“This is a statement that our faculty, staff and students can live up to each day,” said UNF Vice President and Chief of Staff Tom Serwatka. “We already are. The proof points are many, and in the coming weeks, we will be identifying brand ambassadors from the University community who will help us communicate the promise through words and actions.”

Faculty, staff and students are excited about communicating this message to the larger audience.

“It is a way for us to establish this University as one of the preeminent destination institutions in the southeast by delivering on what we promise,” said John Yancey, UNF’s director of Admissions. “At UNF, we give our students a world-class education by providing hands-on transformational learning opportunities with professors who actually teach — the brand promise is a way to get that message out in the community through our actions and words.”

For alumni, the brand promise means a UNF degree has more credibility. Because with each promise kept, there is one more ambassador who is telling someone else about the quality of a North Florida education, about the excellent experiences in and out of the classroom or about the incredible, life-changing journey taken while on our campus.

Davis could not be happier with his decision — and his efforts — to attend UNF. And the University plans to uphold a promise to its current and future students, who, like Davis, have worked diligently toward the dream of a high-quality and well-rounded higher educational experience.

“Every day, I am so thankful I chose UNF,” he said. “This is a beautiful campus, a great school with an outstanding group of students, faculty and staff. It has everything. It was the best decision for me.”