2 min read November 2021 — Interim President Pamela Chally at the University of North Florida stated in an interview with Invest: that Jacksonville is “the biggest small town there ever was due to the close working connections and interactions within the community.” She noted how business in the city “is accomplished through strategic relationships and associations.” Chally also addressed the ways UNF actively engages the community and how the university adjusts its educational offerings to match the changing demands and needs of students.
How has the University of North Florida grown in the past year and how do you plan to carry that into 2022?
Ensuring that students are successful is a top priority at UNF. We work hard to attract and retain students, educate and train them with desired skills, and help them graduate and enter the competitive job market with well-paying, quality jobs. As an example, UNF MedNexus is one of our new endeavors designed to meet the growing healthcare needs of Florida. Healthcare executives in the area are concerned about replenishing the healthcare workforce and MedNexus, which received private and state funding, focuses on learning, leading, and innovating in the healthcare industry. We’ve made an effort to determine ways to grow the size of our nursing program, which is the biggest need of the industry, but MedNexus will meet the industry’s needs in a multitude of areas by connecting students with nursing and other essential healthcare opportunities.
We also have powerful initiatives aimed at the personal and professional growth of our students such as the Student Success and Fearless Woman programs. We’re committed to ensuring that our students have all the necessary resources to be successful. We’ve developed many programs for our undergraduates that align with their unique needs and provide the tools that allow them to be successful. And we are enhancing opportunities for students to connect with trained and talented career counselors to ensure they are confident in the majors they choose and their future careers.
How have the demands in your educational offerings shifted?
We listen to the needs of our community in terms of skills needed for graduating students. With each major we offer and potentially add, there needs to be a wealth of job opportunities available for our students. From our programs in business analytics, advanced manufacturing, and biomedical sciences to the expansion of our nursing programs, we have an array of undergraduate offerings that have significant opportunities for jobs in those fields. Moreover, we’ve brought back our MS in nursing program, which gives students experiences in both nursing education and nursing administration. We’re increasingly focused on STEM degrees and have already witnessed a huge growth in existing programs in those fields.
While our enrollment has dropped slightly, primarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re fortunate to be in the state of Florida where enrollment rates have remained strong and are very optimistic about future enrollment growth. We realize now that 90% of our students have some aspect of a special touch program in their degree, whether it be an internship program or being a research assistant for a faculty member. UNF has a strong focus on students.
How does UNF develop programs to assist the business community?
Many of our programs have community advisory groups where we identify leaders in the business sector, asking them to join our advisory boards. We work to choose individuals who are cutting edge and represent high-growth employers in town. It has been the most effective way that we learn what the business community needs and how UNF can fill their talent needs. We strive to be the place that businesses look to in finding more employees.
What are the differences between UNF pre-pandemic and post-pandemic?
Providing mental healthcare has become an important part of the educational environment. Our students are asking for more help in this area than they have in the past. We’re going to see a greater emphasis on mental health in the broad sense. We’ve learned that we can utilize different technological programs like Zoom and WebX to connect with people. There are advantages and disadvantages, but I do believe that we’ll see an increase in online learning. A portion of the population won’t want to return to campus as the remote experience has provided them greater flexibility, given their busy lives.
What are your key objectives and outlook for the near term?
We’re going to continue focusing on collaboration and building upon our relationship with the UNF community and with the Northeast Florida business community. We’re the #1 job placement school among state schools in Florida. We will continue to be the institution that meets workforce needs in Northeast Florida. We’ll continue to emphasize STEM and healthcare but we’re also looking into financial technology as a growing field.
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