Trailblazing

Saunders takes helm as capital campaign at UWF takes hold



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Courtesy of University of West Florida

Martha D. Saunders, installed as president at UWF in April, engages students, faculty and alumni to pursue the next level of excellence.

If you plan to hang with University of West Florida President Martha D. Saunders, be prepared to blaze a few trails, show some creativity and have some fun. “We have been moving in double time since January,” says Saunders, who was officially installed on April 21 as UWF’s sixth president. “We are awake and we are energized.” 

Another thing to know about Saunders is that she’s having a blast. “This is a labor of love for me — I got my start at West Florida,” she says. “I tell people, you really can’t have a bad day at a university campus. You can have a hard day, but you can’t have a bad day, because you’re surrounded by hope. You have all these young people with big plans for their lives, and it’s infectious. … If you have a bad day, shame on ya!”

University on the move
Saunders has taken over UWF’s top post at a pivotal moment in the life of a university that is actively expanding its reach across the state and the Southeast. Not only is UWF celebrating its 50th anniversary this year — having held its first classes in 1967 — it’s in the middle of a $50 million capital campaign, the largest fundraising effort in the school’s history. According to the most recent state data, UWF has generated roughly $1.4 billion in sales across the state, conferred a total of 93,803 degrees and has 82,152 alumni, more than half of whom remain in Florida. 

In the spring, Saunders’ first semester as president, the school was awarded several high-profile financial gifts aimed at enhancing the university’s academic offerings. Among the most notable was the more than $5 million donated by Dr. Usha Kundu and her husband, Mahadeb Kundu, to the UWF College of Health, which has since been renamed as UWF Usha Kundu, MD College of Health. 

Other recent bequests include $550,000 from local attorney Fred Levin to establish the Reubin O’D. Askew Institute for Multidisciplinary Studies and $1 million from long-time marketing and economics professor Bob Kimball to establish an undergraduate scholarship fund.

Courtesy of University of West Florida

Martha D. Saunders

“People are stepping up,” Saunders says. “It’s very gratifying to have the support we’ve been getting.”

Across campus, growth is visible, from the number of students enrolled — just under 13,000 in the fall of 2016 — to jam-packed parking lots, to new buildings going up. 

“The campus is united, and everyone is inspired by what might be,” Saunders says. “I think our grass is pretty green.” 

The Fall 2017 term, which begins on Aug. 28, ushers in the Argonauts’ second football season, and adjacent to Pen Air Field, where the team practices, the new $6.8 million University Park Center is nearing completion. That facility, which spans 37,500 square feet, will house a state-of-the-art weight room for all UWF athletes; the football locker room, equipment room and laundry room; as well as meeting rooms and office space for the College of Health and the Florida State University College of Medicine. 

“So now we’re going to have medical students on our campus in our little ‘athletic village,’ if you will, where we have an exercise science program and an athletic training program,” Saunders says. “The opportunities for synergy are greatly enhanced, and it wouldn’t be happening if we weren’t able to build the building.”

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