Alumni Magazine: The Next Big Thing – UWF is Charting New Territories

The article below was written for the cover of the University of West Florida’s spring 2019 alumni magazine, Connection.

Read the issue online.


It’s 1967. The University of West Florida’s inaugural class chooses a mascot, cementing a powerful symbol of inspiration and adventure for years to come. Tucked into the pine forest in Northwest Florida, this fledgling University is teeming with quiet potential, a hopeful sign of the generational impact to come.

Nestled among longleaf pines, UWF’s innate connection to the neighboring emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico is an undeniable fit for the students’ choice: UWF becomes the home of the Argonauts.

According to the Greek myth, King Pelias challenges mythological hero Jason, the rightful heir to the throne, to an impossible task: sail the treacherous seas, retrieve the Golden Fleece and reclaim the throne. Undeterred by the perilous journey, Jason enlists the help of mighty warriors, the Argonauts, to brave deadly creatures, monsters and other formidable foes and villains. In the end, Jason and his Argonauts remained steadfast in their perseverance to overcome the odds and return home victorious.

More than 50 years later, navigating the waters of opportunity and working together to make the impossible possible is a driving force for UWF.

“This University was born from a spirit of boundless drive, of moving with purpose to rise above obstacles and ultimately emerge ahead of the curve,” UWF President Martha D. Saunders said. “Now more than ever, it is imperative that we maximize this grit—this daring mentality—to move beyond the status quo. We are breaking through barriers, expanding our disciplines, forging stronger connections and charting new paths.”

The University is much more than an institution, and its purpose transcends degrees or departments. At its core, UWF represents a spirited community of learners, launching the next generation of big thinkers who will change the world. These words are a promise shared as part of UWF’s teaching and outreach; supported by every community partnership and industry collaboration; and carried out by every  student, alumnus and faculty member. This is what it means to be an Argonaut.


Take a typical day on campus: Associate Professor Dr. Youngil Lee and his research team in the Usha Kundu, MD College of Health Department of Movement Sciences and Health are conducting research on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The team’s findings in animal models show how regular endurance exercise can reverse motor impairment.

Walk across campus, and on the second floor of the Darrell Gooden Center, you will find a UWF-based hub for partnerships and programs in healthcare. Students from Florida State University’s School of
Physician Assistant Practice complete clinical rotations in area hospitals and private medical practices. They are part of a cohort of 40 students admitted to the highly competitive 27-month program that culminates in a master’s degree in physician assistant practice.

A new pipeline agreement between UWF and FSU guarantees spaces for a select number of students coming from the Florida Panhandle. In its most recent class, UWF graduates filled all eight spots for students.

In the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering, the new doctoral program in intelligent systems and robotics will usher in its first class this fall. The program is in exclusive company as one of a few in the nation, and the first and only in Florida. A dynamic partnership between UWF’s stand-out academic programs and the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
allows students to tap into the expertise of a world-class research center and leave an indelible mark in this field.

“Robotics holds the power of transforming the future of technology, and by blending the latest in future-tech theory with hands-on practice, this program will train students to develop new smart technologies that combine human and machine elements in groundbreaking ways,” said Ken Ford, director and co-founder of IHMC. “UWF graduates will emerge from this program as technical powerhouses, armed and ready for high-demand jobs in manufacturing, healthcare, defense and high-tech industries.”

Across campus, UWF is launching collaboration across disciplines with the University’s new STEAM installations. Through the multidisciplinary work, the installations will become permanent reminders that when art and design meet
science and technology, new ways of seeing the world are unearthed.

The University’s Sea3D Additive Manufacturing Laboratory houses cutting-edge technology and serves as a hub for multidisciplinary research, invention and discovery in the high-demand field of additive manufacturing. The lab provides a space for real-world problems to be transformed into creative solutions. The lab recently allowed UWF supply chain logistics students the ability to design and print 3D models of their innovations in warehousing and terminal management. Students were given access to computer-aided drawing software used by engineers, working with technicians at the Sea3D Lab to produce prototypes of their designs.

“As the industry continues to grow, UWF is matching trends by exposing students to innovative ways to improve supply chains,” said Dr. Scott Keller, professor of logistics, and director of the Center for Supply Chain Management Excellence. “In this program, students get hands-on experience with technology, data and engineering, and from that, we see nearly a 100 percent placement rate for students who want to work in supply chain logistics management.”

Next, stop in for a visit at UWF’s new Center for Cybersecurity facility downtown. There, students are running cybercrime models in the Florida Cyber Range, a state-of-the-art platform that provides cutting-edge, scenario-based training in public utilities, financial systems, air traffic control centers, chemical plants and cyber operations centers. Pushing the boundaries in cybersecurity training through simulation exercises is just a typical day at the facility.

By recognizing the demand for an extraordinary cybersecurity program in Florida and capitalizing on the region’s military assets and a growing industry tasked with protecting information and critical infrastructure, UWF is now the integral home base on the “Cyber Coast.” The Center’s model for customizable, on-demand, scenario-based training has led to partnerships with the Florida Division of State Technology, Florida Department of State and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, helping key personnel keep up with the rapidly-evolving cyber threat landscape. UWF faculty prepare graduates to fill a job shortage estimated to reach 3.5 million globally by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures. Fortune 100 companies, Department of Defense agencies and the Department of Homeland Security are among the dozens of employers who hire UWF graduates.

Collaboration and innovation are the essential undercurrents in all these programs —and the countless more that are moving full-steam ahead each day on campus. As colleges and universities across the U.S. are under pressure to innovate, adapt to changing student demands and be responsive to industry needs, UWF’s nimble character has shaped the University’s trajectory and made it a force to be reckoned with. Driven by a care and concern for our fellow man and the world, UWF is transforming the lives of our students and the future of Northwest Florida. Much like Jason and his Argonauts, the University is overcoming the odds and breaking past the boundaries of what’s possible. Its community of learners and world-changers are shifting paradigms and shaping new frontiers. Through words, deeds, values and actions, we’re proving that our reach and impact have no limits.

Photo credit: UWF