Representatives from the University of West Florida joined leaders from Florida’s 12 public universities Wednesday (March 29) for a rally in Tallahassee in a show of support for beefing up the university system’s bench of mental health counselors and law enforcement officers, as well as raising its research profile and rewarding universities based on performance.
During the rally, Timothy Jones, a military veteran attending UWF, spoke about his own struggle with PTSD, and credited mental health counseling and community support with his academic success. UWF President Martha Saunders echoed that sentiment, stressing that mental healthcare was crucial for the university’s students.
“Our goal at UWF is to bring out the best in all who pass our way,” UWF President Martha Saunders said. “Counseling services help our students make good decisions at critical times in their educational and social development. For some, this kind of support makes the difference between going on to graduation and successful lives or stopping out.”
According to a statement from the Florida Board of Governors, the rally marked the beginning of the Safer, Smarter, Stronger initiative, which is designed to demonstrate the return on investment for each of the university system’s top priorities. Speakers at the rally included Board of Governors Chair Tom Kuntz, Senator Gary Farmer Jr., University of West Florida University of Florida researcher Dr. Glenn Morris, Florida State University first-generation student Genevieve Bell, and Board of Governors Vice Chair Ned Lautenbach.
“Florida recently ranked top in the country for higher education in U.S. News & World Report, an achievement that inspires all of us to continue striving toward our goals,” Kuntz said at the event. “By putting measures in place to optimize student retention and success, and by positioning our universities to be more competitive in research, we’re priming our state to meet its full economic potential.”
Dr. Glenn Morris, Jr., M.D., M.P.H and T.M. Professor and Director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, discussed the leadership of UF and other institutions on addressing Zika and other diseases.
“Universities are at the front lines in addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems, including critical work on understanding how to prevent, and treat, human diseases,” said Dr. Morris. “The emergence of infections such as Zika are an unfriendly reminder of why we must continue to invest in research, and pursue the discoveries and inventions that make all of our lives safer and better.”
Bell, who is earning a doctorate in neuroscience from Florida State University, also addressed the group about her experience as a first-generation student. Recognizing the legislature for proposals to raise the state match on First Generation scholarships, she said she would have never been able to pursue an education if it wasn’t for financial assistance.
State University System Chancellor Marshall Criser said, “Safer, Smarter, Stronger is more than just a slogan, it is a description of what we are accomplishing for our higher education system by working together with the Governor, the Legislature and the universities. We all know that the strength of Florida’s higher education system is directly tied to the success of our students and the prosperity of our state.”