UCF's longest-working professors discuss how university has evolved

A lot has changed at UCF since professors Christian Clausen and Frank Kujawa were hired 45 years ago.

Share This Story

A lot has changed at UCF since professors Christian Clausen and Frank Kujawa were hired 45 years ago.

For starters, the campus consisted of only two buildings — the library and the science building, which is now the chemistry building. And to get to those buildings, students and faculty would drive up the university's dirt entrance road, which led right up to the library. Then, they'd have to wrangle up some guys from the biology department to shoo away the rattlesnakes that terrorized the sand parking lot.

Hired on the same day on Sept. 16, 1969 and both 73 years old, Clausen and Kujawa are UCF's longest continuously working employees. And from theater productions hosted in a tent on campus to the Apollo 11 takeoff from the roof of the chemistry building, they've seen it all.

Now nestled in an ever-expanding campus home to more students than either professor ever thought possible, their offices have stood the test of time.

Stacked with decades-old papers and books, stepping into Kujawa's windowless office inside the Mathematical Sciences Building is like traveling back in time — that is, if you can find it. Before making the trek, you might want to call Kujawa so he can lead the way.

Video: UCF's top stories of the week

Once there, you'll feel transported to the 70s, spotting an old desktop computer, slide projectors and even a dial thermometer. One of the oldest buildings on campus, MSB was built in 1970.

Inside Clausen's office, which he says will take a dump truck to clean out when and if he decides to retire, the first thing you'll notice is the shelves full of hot sauce — about 300 bottles he's collected or has been given over the past 25 years. A nod to his Louisiana roots, feathered, bejeweled masks join the spicy sauces, and somewhere in the room — if you look closely — you'll find a computer, inconspicuously tucked away.

Over the past four decades, these men have watched UCF grow from a student population of about 1,500 students into the second-largest university in the nation.

"None of us had any idea the size of this thing … they were talking they were going to eventually [have] 25,000. I thought they were nuts," Kujawa said.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes — the name change from Florida Technological University — was something Kujawa found rather amusing.

"I've never seen something go through the legislature so fast," he said of the quick decision.

Both have served under every president since Charles Millican himself, whom Clausen said you could often spy smoking a cigar whilst sitting on a bench on campus. This was followed by Colbourn — or Trevor as Kujawa says he was called by most — who helped usher in the football team, which was just a club team then.

The New Orleans native recalled bringing his students to tailgates at the Citrus Bowl — a time when he personally knew all of the players — where he'd play volleyball and cook Cajun food, a favorite hobby of his. In fact, one of his daughters performed with the school's dance team for the very first game.

Back then, Clausen would discuss school matters with Millican over a cup of coffee. Nowadays it's a little harder to squeeze in time with current President John C. Hitt, who he said was a big fan of his fried turkeys before going on a diet. To this day, every Thanksgiving, Clausen whips up about 40 turkeys per year for his students and faculty.

Under Millican, many important decisions had to be made, including choosing UCF's mascot. Students and alumni may remember the infamous Citronaut that preceded the Knight and Pegasus, but before that there was Vincent the Vulture. Never an official mascot, simply a proposal, the suggestion resembled a fat penguin and had Millican in stitches, Clausen said.

"I thought President Millican was going to die," Clausen said. "President Millican had a good sense of humor, but that almost sent him overboard."

College life for students at UCF was also very different. Instead of semesters, the university operated on the quarter system, with courses spanning only 10 weeks.

Additionally, a chemistry textbook cost only about $15, a bargain compared with the sometimes $100 price tags students see today.

With fewer students, Clausen and Kujawa said professors were able to focus on the "accent on the individual," coincidentally one of UCF's original mottoes, along with an "accent on excellence."

However, the budget and tools at professors' disposal have improved greatly. No longer does Clausen have to slump to Lockheed Martin Corp. to beg for liquid nitrogen.

"What a lot of us were thinking when we started was, 'Here's a brand new school. We determine the direction it goes and everything and have a lot more freedom of operation,' but then it turned out we didn't have anything to work with to start with," Kujawa said laughing.

Still, Kujawa believes UCF is probably one of the worst-funded institutions in the nation, mostly due to past political boundaries.

"When we first opened, we were sending republicans to a democratic Senate, so we were getting the short end of the funding stick," he said. "Central Florida used to be quite conservative, and now it's tilting the other way."

For example, during the Vietnam War, Kujawa remembers how protesters would wait outside the library for students to get out of class.

The students, being mostly conservative, promptly ripped up the protestors' signs.

Kujawa believes the university's conservative tendencies are what drew former President Richard Nixon to speak at UCF in 1973, soon after the Watergate scandal.

Both professors, however, were nostalgic for the faculty interaction of when they first started.

With such a spread-out university and so many staff members, they said you might never come in contact with some fellow employees.

"You could pass them and never know that they teach at UCF and you could have been on the same faculty for 25 years," Clausen said.

With his bachelor's in industrial chemistry from Louisiana State University and a doctorate from what's now the University of New Orleans, Clausen was primarily hired to help start the Ph.D. program for industrial chemistry, and said he remembers UCF had just bought a giant calculator that could do long division and a $50,000 mainframe computer for the department to share.

During his time at UCF, he's taught just about every chemistry course there is, served as interim chair, co-authored one of the only full textbooks to be written by chemistry department staff and made great strides in the field of science.

One of his most memorable research projects, which dealt with developing methods to clean polluted soil and water was funded by NASA and tested at Kennedy Space Center. It went on to win six national awards and was chosen as NASA Invention of the Year, landing him and a few of his colleagues a spot in the Space Technology Hall of Fame.

"A lot of great scientists who have done very, very good science and their inventions are not put into practice until after they were dead many years later, so I feel so fortunate that I was able to sit here and observe this happening while I'm alive and can enjoy it," Clausen said.

Like Clausen, Kujawa also traveled long distance, from Baltimore, to come to UCF. With his bachelor's in chemistry and a Ph.D. in geology from Johns Hopkins University, Kujawa taught his first class in what's now Howard Phillips Hall, then called the classroom building.

Now, he teeters between teaching chemistry and physical sciences, with much of his focus on chemistry seminars.

Over the years, Kujawa has dabbled in politics, serving as an officer for UCF's chapter of United Faculty of Florida — during which he remembered Millican wasn't too pleased when the group requested to meet on campus. He's also lent his time to the Natural Resources Committee for the League of Women Voters of Orange County, as well as made phone calls and knocked on doors for past elections.

Now dissolved, UCF's Sinkhole Research Institute came to be with the help of Kujawa, who has also been quite involved with his church over the years.

Although his years at UCF have been filled with wonderful memories, he said one of his few disappointments was Hitt's decision to kick the Central Florida Future off campus back in 1992.

With no current plans to retire in the foreseeable future, both professors have stayed at UCF for so long for one simple reason: the love of teaching.

"After I go to class and give a lecture I'm almost like on a high. It's still very exciting; that's why I'm still here," Clausen said. "So long as I stay healthy, I will continue to teach. The day that I have to drag myself in here, I'll be gone. Because I'm not teaching for the money, I don't need the money at this point in my career. I'm just teaching for the joy of it."

Share This Story