President Hitt delivered his annual State of the University address alongside notable UCF students and faculty in the Pegasus Ballroom Wednesday at 1 p.m.
Hitt highlighted upcoming construction projects in Downtown Orlando and throughout Central Florida, university achievements in science, academics and enrollment, and difficulties the university has faced in the wake of wide-ranging state budget cuts.
"Today I can tell you that the ascent of UCF to its next level as a premier university is happening now, in this academic year," Hitt said. "Our record enrollment is but a page in the far more compelling story of progress, one that you and I are composing together. Despite the wave of budget cuts starting in 2007, our university is on the move."
Hitt announced plans to break ground on a number of new facilities on campus and in the Central Florida area. In December, construction will begin on a three-floor, 50,000 square-foot building on Memory Mall to accommodate international students as part of a program called Global UCF.
At Lake Nona, the UCF College of Medicine will open its second Pegasus Health Clinic for primary and secondary care with a focus on inflammatory conditions. Also, there is a 100-tennis court complex planned for 2016 in partnership with the United States Fitness Association.
In Osceola County, UCF will break ground on a Smart Sensor Research and Manufacturing Center, which Hitt said will bring thousands of new jobs to the Florida economy. The Osceola County Commission has provided 20 acres of land and $61 million dollars in cash funds to match UCF's $16 million-dollar contribution toward the construction and staffing of the new facility. The center is slated for opening in early 2017.
Hitt announced plans to bring on 197 new staff members within the next year; 100 will fill new positions and 97 will fill vacant positions. Of the 197 jobs, 90 were announced as tenure-track positions.
"We were able to hire these new faculty members thanks to the $16 million dollars received from the state of Florida," Hitt said. "These are the first new dollars from the state in seven years. These same funds made possible the five-percent raise received by UCF employees."
Hitt said that UCF became the first Florida university to accommodate 60,000 students this fall. The fall freshman class broke or tied a number of university records, registering the highest average GPA (3.91) and SAT (1257) scores in university history. In addition, the university welcomed 79 new National Merit Scholars, bringing the total number to a record-breaking 275.
"The heart of our mission at UCF and what we do best is to transform lives through the power of higher education," Hitt said. "Last year, UCF awarded more than 15,500 degrees, a new school record total that led all universities in Florida. This is important because college degrees have been and continue to be the single most important factor for a successful career and a better future."
Hitt also noted the exceptional work accomplished by students and faculty. A prosthetic arm was produced by students for a handicapped 6-year-old boy, which drew national attention; the Armory, UCF's new cyber-defense team, was recognized by the White House; Dr. Shin-Tson Wu was inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame for his work with liquid-crystal displays; and six sports squads were ranked within the top 25 nationally this season.
Hitt said that UCF has entered into a national research coalition with two of America's largest universities, Arizona State University and Ohio State University, a $5.7 million partnership. Locally, UCF has entered into the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities with Miami and Tampa-St. Petersburg and was awarded $8.5 million by the Florida Board of Governors.
"In many respects, the guiding lights of our state's economy are in the metropolitan areas of Miami, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Orlando," Hitt said. "Together we serve 63 percent of Florida's population, 70 percent of the state's ethnic and racial minorities and 47 percent of all students in the state university system of Florida. Together we also award nearly half the baccalaureate degrees in the state of Florida."
Hitt announced a fundraising campaign, IGNITE, to support first-generation students, hire new faculty members, refurbish buildings and expand support programs on campus.
"Although we received our first student legislative budget dollars in years, our state funding is less than it was in 2007," Hitt said. "The needs and numbers of our students have never been greater. The IGNITE campaign is vital to UCF's future, to our progress."
Finally, in the wake of rising rates of sexual violence and misconduct on college campuses, Hitt announced the development of the Shield website, a comprehensive source for the response to and prevention of sexual violence.
"On this subject let me be direct and clear: UCF does not tolerate sexual violence or misconduct in any form," Hitt said. "We listen to and care for survivors. We will respond quickly to help survivors respond to barriers and shield them from additional sexual misconduct.
We will leave no Knight behind."