'Growing Energy And Momentum' Around Downtown Campus, UCF Leaders Say

Monday, April 22, 2019 3:57 PM | Anonymous

A sleepy part of downtown Orlando near the site of the former Amway Center has awakened in recent months as construction workers bring to life the long-planned dormitory, classrooms and recreation center that will comprise the new shared UCF and Valencia College campus.

But the idea of living alongside professionals might be slow to take hold with students. Just 40 percent of the roughly 600 beds in the yet-to-be-finished dorm have been reserved. It’s too soon to know how many students will register for courses on the new campus. Some, however, won’t have a choice because a few programs are moving there.

With a planned fall semester opening, University of Central Florida Interim President Thad Seymour told the Orlando Sentinel recently he thinks there’s a “growing energy and momentum” surrounding the new campus, which is expected to serve 7,700 students.

“Early on, I do think it took some people some time to get their heads around the idea that ‘Oh, I’m actually going to be teaching downtown or my classes are all going to be downtown,’” Seymour said of the new complex, which promises to reshape several blocks of downtown west of Interstate 4.

Though most of the trappings of traditional college life — football games, the student union, Greek life — will remain 15 miles away on the university’s main campus in east Orange County, school leaders hope the opportunity to be close to internships and potential employers will lure students downtown.

“It’s very exciting for Orlando that we’re going to be able to bring this game-changing program to life this fall,” said Michael Kilbride, the assistant vice president of the downtown campus.

The idea of taking classes downtown initially didn’t appeal to Sierra Scott, who is double majoring in political science and legal studies, one of the programs shifting to the new campus. The school was slow to provide information, said Scott, a junior who first learned about the planned move during her freshman year. But after attending an open house and going on a hard hat tour of the construction site, she said she sees the potential benefits.

“All these opportunities they’re giving to us makes it more worth it than I initially thought,” said Scott, who plans to attend law school after she graduates from UCF next spring.

But while Scott said she’s excited about taking classes downtown next year, she intends to live five minutes from the main campus so she can remain active in student organizations based there.

While UCF students in the nine undergraduate majors that will be based at the downtown campus are encouraged to take courses outside their majors there, it’s not required.

Shuttles between the main campus and downtown will be provided for commuters. If UCF students choose to take general education requirements at the new campus, they’ll be in classes alongside Valencia peers, who can earn associate degrees there and then transfer to the university through the DirectConnect program.

UCF leaders say one of the key benefits of being at the new campus for their students is the proximity to potential internships and employers. For similar reasons, students in the Rosen College of Hospitality Management attend classes on a separate campus near International Drive.

For legal studies majors like Scott, the university estimates there are 786 companies and organizations related to the field in four downtown ZIP codes, compared with 31 surrounding the main campus. Students also will be within walking distance of the Orange County Courthouse.

The move also will make it easier for faculty members to attract guest speakers to legal studies classes, said Alisa Smith, chair of the department. And the program will have a mock courtroom for students to hone their skills. Smith agreed the prospect of moving downtown is becoming more palatable as the opening date approaches.

“Even the people who had reservations are seeing the promise that downtown holds,” Smith said.

Students in the handful of communications majors moving downtown are generally excited about the prospect, said Jennifer Sandoval, an associate professor. But she said there’s some anxiety about being separated from amenities like clubs, activities and the student union building.

“I hope we’re going to create our own unique campus environment so students don’t feel like they’re missing out,” she said.

That’s what university leaders hope to do.

One of the most striking parts of the new complex is a 15-story building that will include the dorm, as well as classrooms and Valencia’s culinary arts and hospitality programs. Across Livingston Street is the new Dr. Phillips Academic Commons, which will include more classrooms, a library and space for studying and tutoring. It’s all part of the 68-acre Creative Village, which also will have offices and mixed-income housing.

There’s still plenty of work to be done on the new campus before employees and students are expected to move in this summer. Students interested in the new dorm, for instance, can’t tour the facility yet but can view a model unit.

Still, Seymour said the campus will be ready in time for the first day of fall classes Aug. 26.

“We’re on schedule, on budget,” he said. “We’re not just easily coming in for a landing, but it’s on the glide path and we’ve got a great team working on it, between us and our Valencia partners.”

At Valencia, existing faculty members interviewed for positions downtown because they wanted to be part of the new campus, said Eugene Jones, the college’s executive dean of the campus.

Aside from offering opportunities to existing students, university and college leaders say they want to make higher education accessible in an underserved area that’s a 20-minute drive from Valencia’s west campus. And for people who want to improve their skills but aren’t interested in a two-year associate degree program, Valencia will offer a few short-term job training programs that last between eight and 22 weeks.

“We really think it’s going to be a paradigm shift for the residents of that community and all of downtown,” Jones said.

Source:  Orlando Sentinel

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