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Celebrating the past 15 years

University of North Florida's Student Union at sunset

A look back over the past 15 years at the University of North Florida confirms an undeniable truth — leadership matters. With a commitment to both advancing student success and the student experience at UNF, President John A. Delaney engaged the Jacksonville community in a partnership to build both relevance and excellence. Alumni, donors, community leaders, faculty and staff have all played a role in elevating the offerings and reputation of the University, while enriching the value of a UNF education. 

In the pages ahead, you’ll find 15 highlights from the past 15 years — accomplishments that reflect a strong leader and a community committed to a great university. 

1. Campus Transformation
Alumni who graduated prior to 2003 might find today’s campus a bit unfamiliar. With 16 new buildings and renovated landmarks, campus square footage has increased from 2.8 million to 4.7 million square feet, adding recreational space, hi-tech classrooms and state-of-the art labs for research.

UNF’s new Student Union is a focal point of student activities, and in 2012 was chosen as the best building in the state in the Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Architects “Top 100 Buildings” listing. The Student Union also ranked at the top among online voters. It is one of 10 green buildings on campus with the prestigious LEED designation from the U.S. Green Building Council. The Student Wellness Complex, the largest fitness center in Northeast Florida, also combines artistry and green construction, winning the 2013 American School and University Outstanding Design award.

Other impressive additions include Tom and Betty Petway Hall, home of the College of Education and Human Services; the Biological Sciences Building, ranked No. 2 in the U.S. for “most impressive environmentally friendly University Building;” Osprey Fountains, a nationally recognized upperclassmen dorm; and new dining facilities at Osprey Commons.

2. Diversity and Inclusion
Today, students from over 70 countries are enrolled at the University of North Florida — nearly 30 more than in 2003. During the past 15 years, student diversity has expanded as well — with the percentage of students identifying as minority increasing from the teens to more than 30 percent this fall.

New centers, programming and multicultural courses help broaden students’ perspectives and promote understanding of differences in culture, race, gender, religion and more.

UNF’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, created in 2016, engages the campus community through programs like Courageous Conversations, roundtable discussions on difficult topics that are open to all.

Efforts extend beyond the campus. In 2012, OneJax, formerly the local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, teamed up with the University. Initially focused on building insight and respect among various faiths, OneJax is now an institute of UNF promoting understanding and civility throughout the community.

In recognition of these efforts and others, UNF received the Higher Education in Diversity Award in 2017 for the third time, and was dubbed a Diversity Champion among award recipients.

3. Environmental Focus
Responsibility to the natural environment is one of UNF’s core values, and the University has worked hard to protect its natural areas. With a 382-acre nature preserve located on the core campus, opportunities abound for recreation and reflection and create a natural learning environment like no other. In fact, students can even check out free gear at Eco Adventure to enjoy the outdoors — like kayaks, tents, backpacks and more.

From President Delaney establishing the Environmental Center in 2004 to the designation of the Sawmill Slough Preserve two years later, preserving UNF’s natural environment and promoting environmental responsibility has been a key focus. In 2010, Delaney also joined University presidents around the country in signing the American College and President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). In addition, campus expansion has focused on sustainability with 10 new green buildings receiving LEED status for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. 

4. Philanthropy
Recognized as a top regional institution, there is no question that the tremendous success of the University of North Florida has been shaped by the extraordinary generosity of friends and supporters. Each step forward at UNF creates new opportunities, and donations of time and resources continue to open new doors enabling UNF to have an even greater impact on its students and the region.

Since 2003, more than $262 million has been raised by the UNF Foundation — resources that fund scholarships, research and study abroad opportunities, professorships and fellowships, athletics programs, and countless initiatives to further enhance the student experience.

The Power of Transformation, UNF’s most successful fundraising capital campaign and one of the most successful in the region, was held from 2009 to 2012 and exceeded its initial goal by more than $20 million, raising over $130 million.

Large leadership gifts led to the naming of the Brooks College of Health, the creation of the Hicks Honors College and more.

Today, the University endowment is strong at more than $110 million — having more than doubled in value since 2003. The Osprey Financial Group, a handpicked group of elite students in the Coggin College of Business, manage $1 million of UNF’s endowment.

5. Scholarships
Through the notable generosity of donors, many students now have access to a UNF education, as well as opportunities to study abroad and more. Nearly $4 million was awarded from the UNF Foundation endowment in 2016-17 to fund scholarships, fellowships and other program enhancements. Foundation scholarships were awarded to more than 1,130 students.

Funds are made available through existing programs like Pathways to Success, which was started by Ann and David Hicks in the mid-90s, and new and expanded endowments.

The First Generation Scholarship Program began in 2006, providing scholarships for students who would be the first in their families to graduate from college. Every dollar is leveraged for additional funds from the state of Florida. Since the First Generation program began at UNF, more than 3,700 students have received funding. The program has received significant community support, and donors enjoy connecting with scholarship recipients to learn about their academic journeys.

6. Community Engagement
Community engagement is deeply rooted in the culture of UNF. Last year alone, UNF students dedicated one million hours to community projects and service.

From engineering and physical therapy students retrofitting toys for children with disabilities to nursing students gaining hands-on experience in the community they will serve, partnerships abound and provide reciprocal benefits for UNF and the community. In addition to numerous volunteer projects and programs, UNF offered almost 700 different community-based courses or internships last academic year.

The Center for Community-Based Learning at UNF was created in 2009 to support outreach and engagement across the campus, and in 2010, the University was given the prestigious Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Partnerships continue to flourish among Ospreys on the campus and beyond — alumni join together in community projects, business leaders regularly engage with UNF on advisory councils and as mentors, and UNF students are participating in transformational experiences that are not only affecting the lives of others, but changing theirs as well.

7. Transformational Learning
Years after graduation, individuals often remember a transformational moment during their college years — a project or experience that motivated or inspired them, or simply reaffirmed that they were headed in the right direction.

Under Delaney’s UNF launched an initiative to expand opportunities for these life-changing experiences — or “aha” moments. Whether it’s researching Gopher Tortoises, providing music lessons to a middle school child, working as an intern on Capitol Hill, or even learning about the Mediterranean Diet during a study abroad in Italy, each experience broadens a student’s perspective and view of the world.

While there are countless transformational learning opportunities across all disciplines, the University offers a process that provides grant funding and scholarships for projects.

After a decade, the program continues to receive high marks from students. On follow-up surveys, more than 90 percent of respondents rated a TLO as one of their most valuable learning experiences; 92 percent would recommend a TLO for all students; and more than 80 percent felt the experience was life-changing.

8. National Stage
On a January night in 2012, alumni tweeted their feelings of pride as they — and millions of TV viewers — watched their alma mater host the CNN Republican Presidential Debate. That lofty step onto America’s stage was a memorable moment. In addition to the publicity UNF received, students gained valuable exposure to the workings of a national political event.

Over the years, students also have bene ted from other interactions with distinguished speakers through Presidential Lectures and the Distinguished Voices lecture series, co-hosted with the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville. The impressive visitor list has included: George Will, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist; Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker; Bob Woodward, investigative journalist and now associate editor of the Washington Post; Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc.; Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court Justice; and many others.

In addition, UNF welcomed the first-ever visit to the University by a sitting U.S. president in November 2016 when President Barack Obama addressed thousands at a campaign rally on campus. Former President Bill Clinton also recently visited campus to learn about UNF’s new Center for Nutrition and Food Security.

9. Division I Athletics
Nine months after his inauguration as President, John Delaney recommended to the University’s Board of Trustees the move to Division I for UNF Athletics. After unanimous approval, President Delaney commented that the vote signaled a turning point for UNF. “This is the right time in the history of UNF to move to the highest division of college athletics,” he said.

UNF Athletics transitioned to the NCAA’s Atlantic Sun Conference in Fall 2005, posting impressive results. As the newcomer to the division and conference, six UNF teams finished in the top four of conference standings in that first year of conference play. In 2009-10, reclassification to Division I was complete, and UNF became eligible for all postseason play on the NCAA Division I level.

Today, with 19 Athletics teams, UNF has logged 36 NCAA Division I regular season and tournament championships. In March 2015, Osprey Nation rallied in excitement as the men’s basketball team made program history when it advanced to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, beginning yet a new era for North Florida Athletics.

10. Flagship Programs
Just as the most important vessel in a naval fleet is referred to as its "flagship," the premier academic studies at UNF carry the same distinction — as Flagship Programs.

The first area of study to gain this elite status was Nursing in 2005. A year later, the designation went to Transportation and Logistics, International Business and Coastal Biology; and in 2011, to Music and Nutrition and Dietetics. With Flagship status, programs receive additional funding to hire faculty to nurture and sustain momentum, provide training and faculty development, and build ongoing community partnerships.

President John A. Delaney revealed the Flagship concept in his inaugural address, as a means to identify key programs with the potential for national prominence. The following year, the administration invited the campus community to submit proposals for undergraduate or graduate programs. The programs that rose to the top featured exceptional educational outcomes for students, noteworthy scholarly accomplishments of faculty as well as a quality of education linked to the civic needs in the region.

Today, each Flagship shines with a unique light. From community-based learning curriculums to the proximity to a rich coastal habitat to nationally renowned musicians, UNF’s Flagships continue to provide a competitive advantage for the University.

11. Academic Profile
UNF’s successful strategies to improve academic programs and employment outcomes for graduates has not gone unnoticed. Today the University is attracting some of the brightest students from the state and beyond. During the past 15 years, the average high school GPA of incoming freshman rose from 3.6 to 4.27, the second highest among Florida state universities. UNF is also the third most competitive among Florida’s state schools. 

UNF has expanded the number of accredited programs. Adding competitive programs often begins with identifying a need in the community, as well as sources of financial support. Through strong partnerships with area employers, UNF has added several notable degrees: doctoral degrees in physical therapy, nursing and clinical nutrition; master’s degrees in business, engineering and ASL/English Interpreting; and an undergraduate degree in social work, to name a few. UNF’s online learning also expanded. 

Within these new programs, faculty incorporated transformational learning opportunities such as undergraduate research, real-world projects in the community, study abroad experiences as well as internships and practicums — all focused on educational quality, student success and employment. Each academic advancement ultimately enhances the value of a UNF degree — for current students and all alumni.

12. National Recognition
In 2003, the University of North Florida was recognized for excellence, earning a place among “America’s 100 Best College Buys.”

Fifteen years later, the list of accolades has expanded from one to more than a dozen, and now UNF consistently lands on some of the country’s most prestigious lists for quality and value: Best Business School for 11 years — Princeton Review; Best in the Southeast College for nine years — Princeton Review; Best Regional University for seven years — U.S. News & World Report; Best Colleges rankings for four years — College Factual; Higher Education Excellence in Diversity — INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine; Top Colleges List — Forbes; Best College Value — Kiplinger’s Personal Finance; Ranked Among the Top Universities — The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education; and more.

Achieving that level of academic success is the result of a strategic decision to expand and improve the school’s programs and learning opportunities, while maintaining small class sizes and individualized attention. With a focus on student success, the University added more real-world learning experiences, opportunities for undergraduate research and ways for Ospreys to become involved on campus.

The payoff has been the recent trend of national recognition, as the academic world takes notice of UNF.

13. Hicks Honors College
In October 2015, through the generosity of longtime Jacksonville philanthropists Ann and David Hicks, the University created the Hicks Honors College. Hicks students engage in transformative learning, taking classes with some of UNF’s most accomplished faculty members, and volunteering throughout the community including partnerships with local refugee groups. Since 2015, Honors students have given more than 16,000 hours in service.

More than $200,000 to date in scholarships have enabled Hicks students to study all over the world — Argentina, Austria, Cambodia, Czech Republic, England, France, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, Peru, Spain and Vietnam. Funds are also available for research fellowships, conferences and more.

14. MOCA
MOCA Jacksonville became a cultural institute of UNF in 2009, connecting the University to one of the largest contemporary art collections in the Southeast.

The alliance has created a downtown satellite campus for UNF's art education program. Students benefit from available internships and docent programs as well as an artist-in-residence program that provides a semester of studio space, professional development and an exhibition of the student’s art. UNF faculty gain a venue for art classes and the curatorial professional development afforded by the UNF Gallery at MOCA.

The Museum also serves as a resource to the entire Jacksonville community. From 2016-17, MOCA provided art education programming to more than 20,000 children from Title I schools and tours to more than 1,500 students from across the region.

To safeguard the future of these educational programs as well as the collections and exhibitions, Preston Haskell — local art enthusiast, collector and businessman — contributed $5 million to MOCA’s endowment in 2015. His generous gift provided a significant investment in sustaining the Museum and its educational connection with the University.

MOCA’s reach also extends beyond Northeast Florida. Of its 70,000 annual visitors, about 1,400 are international guests, 11,200 national and 57,000 from across Florida.

15. Public Art
Art is alive on campus — from mosaics, murals and grand sculptures to functional pieces serving as bike racks and benches. Works of art also grace the interior walls of numerous buildings, as well as the University’s two galleries. 

The Art in the Library Project, started in 2008, has added about 140 pieces to the Thomas G. Carpenter Library. More recently, UNF also added a new art gallery on the Library’s second floor to feature student art. In 2009, the Lufrano Intercultural Gallery, the campus’ second art gallery was opened on the second floor of the Student Union. Outdoors, stately bronze statues of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., donated in 2006 and 2012, stand as a reminder of the humanitarian teachings of the civil rights leaders. 

This artistic energy on campus has made its way into the community as well. The UNF Sculpture Park, a public art installation at the beach that opened in 2016, has showcased a total of 10 student-created sculptures. Student art also has been added downtown, to the Murray Hill Mural Project and Henry J. Klutho Park in Springfield.