On March 9, UCF selected its fifth president, Dr. Dale Whittaker, its current provost. The selection process was an open and transparent procedure, and the the candidates were extremely competitive. At the end of the day, Dr. Whittaker was selected and will take over as the next president mid-summer. As provost, Dr. Whittaker oversaw the hiring of more than 200 additional, new faculty members, the groundbreaking of the downtown campus, and, my favorite initiative, the creation of multidisciplinary research clusters to foster greater collaboration between disparate departments that would not normally collaborate. This will have a profound impact on our community and local economy.
With UCF’s growing student body, it needed new faculty members to keep up with the growth. Coming off the recession over the past 10 years, universities around the country were faced with frozen state budgets and hiring freezes. Once state budgets recovered and hiring could begin again, universities began hiring again, and UCF was no different, although most likely on a far larger scale. Dr. Whittaker was at the forefront of this expansion but also performed strategic hires in new and emerging disciplines.
Dr. Whittaker also saw the value of a flagship downtown campus for UCF. Studying the model and lessons learned from Arizona State University’s downtown campus, UCF leadership saw many similarities and the success ASU was having with its downtown campus and wanted to emulate it. Strategically, Dr. Whittaker spearheaded the effort to relocate academic disciplines from the main campus to the downtown campus that make the most sense to move downtown. The economic impact to the downtown and Paramore areas is going to be profound over the next few years. This will attract businesses to establish operations in nearby areas to collaborate with faculty and to access UCF’s student population as future employees.
My favorite initiative that Dr. Whittaker brought with him from his tenure at Purdue University is the multidisciplinary research clusters. Traditionally, in academia, faculty perform research in “silos,” that is, they rarely communicate or collaborate with other disciplines outside their own department. Generally, there has been an evolution in academia to step out of one’s silo and collaborate with other similar disciplines across the university. For example, it is normal for one type of engineering professor to collaborate with another, or a business professor to collaborate with an accounting or finance professor, because the disciplines are similar enough that they lend themselves to seamless collaboration. Traditionally, it was less common for the business professor to collaborate with an engineering professor. This multidisciplinary clusters initiative provides a vehicle for a professor from one discipline, such as engineering, to collaborate with a professor from another discipline, such as business. When you add multiple disciplines together to focus on a theme, a problem, or a specific project, this collaboration allows the engineer or scientist to develop the technology, the economist to quantify the benefit of the given technology, and the marketing professor to help tell the success story of the technology and its economic benefit, for example.
These are just a number of examples of ideas that Dr. Dale Whittaker has brought with him or executed in his time at UCF. It is important to understand the difference between a provost and a university president. A provost can be thought of as the chief operating officer of the university and handles all internal-facing matters. A university president is approximately the chief executive officer of the university and handles all external-facing matters, including government and legislative relations and the like. While this will be a change of work for Dr. Whittaker, there is no question that UCF picked the right candidate for the job. UCF is lucky to have a world-class administration and leadership team, and the Central Florida community and local economy are lucky to have them and will benefit from this tremendously.
Dr. Andre Garcia is a human factors scientist/engineer in the defense industry and owner of EduCoach Orlando. He has previously worked as a research scientist at the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and in the Statistical Research Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Through EduCoach Orlando, he coaches high school and early college students on STEM fields and education and career planning, including how to navigate the college prep, application, admission, and selection process, and also performs this for pro-bono cases. To learn more, please visit EduCoachOrlando.com.