We the Editorial staff of Westside Gazette, received this news just before press time.
Statement from Ms. JoLinda L. Herring, Esq., chair of the Board of Trustees of Florida Memorial University:
On Friday, June 30, Benedict College selected Dr. Roslyn C. Artis as its next President. On behalf of the Board of Trustees of Florida Memorial University (FMU), our prayers and well wishes are with Dr. Artis and her family as they embark upon this new endeavor. Her commitment and dedication to the FMU family and community will be missed.
As we advance through this transition, an announcement regarding FMU’s interim leadership will be immediately forthcoming.
(Part II of a III Part Series)
GC: As stated by the University’s site, since its inception in 1879, the institution has had a long history of commitment to education by “instilling in its students the values of leadership, character, and service to enhance their lives and the lives of others.” How have you been able to implement and to expand such vision by taking into account the needs and aspirations of 21st century, technology-oriented students?
RCA: So, as we think about leadership, character and service, and we focus on those individually, for students to lead, they need to have a strong base of theoretical knowledge. Our faculty does an exceptional job of preparing our students academically, intellectually for the world they are going into. We continually diversify our programs in ways that make them competitive and allow students to lead. We are trying not to limit our students. So you may be a computer science, aviation, music major but that does not mean that is all you will ever do or know. And it certainly does not mean you will not demonstrate your own brand of leadership. There are so many versions of leadership as people try to articulate it. Servant leadership is important: so as we think again, leadership, character and service. We teach our kids to think critically, to make responsible choices, mature decisions that are not always just about them, to think about their broader community, their broader society. We want to in-still in them that level of character, of thinking beyond themselves, and of service. If we look at our majors (historically: education, social work): those are service sectors to which our students have made a significant contribution over time. But we have not stopped there. As we look at 21st century jobs, we are creating new majors in cyber security, we are looking at minors and meta-majors, badges and certifications to give our students the competitive edge because that’s our job: we teach them in a holistic fashion and we add on top of that technical competence and again those badges, certificates and minors that enable them to compete at a very high level.
GC: Based on the information on FMU’s web page, the student body is about 1,600. Are the number still the same? How diverse is it?
RCA: That number is actually a little lower than that now, closer to 1,500. Unfortunately, changes with Pell and Pell Plus loans cost a number of HBCUs around the country to have drops in enrollment. We are fortunate it has not been any worse than it has but we certainly have seen a little dip. I think we are stabilizing; we are on the rebound now, which is great. Our diversity is a hall-mark at Florida Memorial. Fully 16 percent of our student population is international. And that is the highest proportion of any higher education institution in South Florida. So we have a wonderful microcosm of students who hail from almost 40 countries, which creates this melting pot if you will, a learning laboratory where students can see and learn about a culture outside of their own and exchange ideas freely. We think that one of the special features of Florida Memorial is its incredibly diverse student body.
GC: What is your goal to increase student enrollment?
RCA: I think ideally we are about a 2,000 student campus in terms of the number of beds, classrooms, desks, computers. So we’ve got a little way to go in my opinion. But I am not daunted by the challenge at all. We have recruited a stellar enrollment management team led by Dr. Emmanuel Lalande who is new to the university family and we are already seeing promise in his leadership. I am very excited for what the future holds as it relates to enrollment.
GC: Has FMU been implementing ways to create more scholarships for students?
RCA: That is my ultimate job: raising money. And most of those dollars that we are trying to raise really go directly to students’ scholarships. Our church relationships: we have tried to stimulate them over the last several years and our churches have stepped up in a very big way. We’ve exceeded all of our records in terms of our annual donation day. We’ve seen a new energy with our Twenty-Twenty Campaign in our church community. As we move into our alumni community, we’ve seen positive gains there. We’ve had student emergency fund drives, we’ve had an alumni outreach effort that is really engaged in bringing those folks back in and we have reminded them what it means to graduate from Florida Memorial. It was not easy along the way. And I need to help someone else so that African “Sankofa,” translates as “go back and get it.” We want our alumni to feel invested and then of course our corporate foundation philanthropy. It is easy to sell opportunity and that’s what we provide at Florida Memorial. When we bring the students in, we are committing to give them an opportunity. And so, when I go out to talk to people about giving money to our students, they are the greatest investments you can ever make.
GC: What role does FMU play in the community at-large?
RCA: I would argue a critical and indispensable role. You may be aware that Florida Memorial was home to the first and second annual dialogue on the state of Black Miami. As a Historically Black College, the only Historically Black College in South Florida, it is our responsibility to be a resource for our community. It is our responsibility to be a beacon not only for education, but for culture, music and arts – the broader, diverse needs of the communities of color. Miami Gardens where we are situated of course is the largest majority-minority city south of Atlanta. So, if we are going to be in the epicenter, if you will, of diversity. We have to outreach. We have to engage the community in the work that we do and we have to ultimately become a repository for all the history of Black Miami.
One recent example of our outreach is the development of the Cyber Warrior Training Center in collaboration with MDEAT (The Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust ) and other community partners, which recently opened on our campus. The program trains students in cybersecurity and assists them with securing certifications in the field free of charge. Classes are open to current FMU students and to the community free of charge.
GC: How have FMU’s undergraduate degrees and masters’ programs evolved into Global Education in a global world?
RCA: That is a great question. We have been spending a tremendous amount of time on our academic programs. We recently received, as you are well aware, I believe, a significant grant from the Lilly Endowment and the UNCF (The United Negro College Fund) which allowed us to effectively reimagine our curriculum for all our students to be prepared for 21st century jobs in a global economy. We went out into the community, we brought in industry leaders. They engaged with our faculty and really talked about what they expect to see in a graduate, what competencies they want to see in a graduate and our faculty listened. And they went to work, they revised the curriculum, they modified assignments, student learning outcomes, and created new programs. Our cyber security programs are a perfect example. We saw our largest major in Criminal Justice; we saw our depth and capacity in Computer Science. We merged those two strengths and created a new Cyber Security program so that our students are well positioned to go out and not only get employed but get a good job that can create a career and a lifestyle change for them.
GC: After graduation, are FMU students able to find jobs locally and to be productive members of the economy?
RCA: That is a resounding, emphatic “Yes.” Florida Memorial leads the State College University system and its employment rates for graduates. Our students go to work. To be very candid, they have to. Many of our students are first generation kids who do not have the luxury of sort of traveling for a year before they go to work. They have no choice. They go right to work. So we are very proud of those placement rates. What we worked more on is what those starting hours look like, where they are going to work. Are they going to work in their field at a mid-level or on a management track or are they at an entry-level and stuck? So again, we are partnering with industry to create innovative internship programs so that our students will have the depth on their vita, their resume. When they go out, they are competing at the highest levels against other college graduates around the state for jobs. And “yes,” they are staying here and they make a significant investment in South Florida and Florida in a greater way.
GC: What are your short-term and long-term goals for FMU, its faculty and students?
RCA: There are so many! This is the greatest job I have ever had. You really have a tremendous responsibility to continue to move the University forward. These are living, breathing institutions. They are not static. They don’t stay the same. So, we will continue in the short term: stabilizing our enrollment patterns, making sure our student body is competitive, well prepared, making sure they are on boarded. That’s one of the things we’ve been working on from a strategic standpoint. That is how we orient our students to college life to get the very best opportunities from the moment they land on the campus, and how we work with them. It is not just a freshman experience. It is the FMU experience that we want these kids to have and so we are spending some time there. As it relates to our faculty, we are investing in them in ways that allow them to be productive in terms of grant writing. We want to ensure that the learning environments or the environments within which they work are technologically enhanced so that they have the resources ready to be able to engage our students in the way our students want to be engaged. They are technology kids nowadays. We are continuing to strengthen and enhance our technology infrastructure, to build out our campus. So, we have built our new Science Annex, our new Arena, we are building a new soccer complex and track. We refurbished our Robinson Hall and Goode Hall because we want to always enhance our environment for our students. Kids have choices. They want nice, current, up-to-date facilities. So, we continue trying to invest in our facilities. We invested in our Chapel this year. We did not raise money. We need this campus, this community to really support and own this institution. As much as it is the responsibility of us to outreach, we need the community to invest in this institution and value it as their university so that we can continue to make those investments and improvements.
Longterm? My ultimate goal and vision for the University are that we are the best in class, the best, small, private, religiously affiliated HBCU in the country: no question in terms of the quality of our academics, the nature and extent of our facilities, our technology infrastructure, our competitiveness and rankings. We’ve seen great gains in our rankings, which is really exciting. Florida Memorial had not been ranked historically. Two years ago, we debuted at 50 on the HBCU ranking of 103. We moved to 37 in one year and in a most recent ranking, we are 12. So we are moving. Our longer-term goal is for the rest of the world to know what I already know: that we are simply the best and we want to keep that competitive position.
GC: Specifically, what steps has the University taken to develop research and sponsored programs?
RCA: That is really the life blood of the university. If you think about creating new knowledge and opportunities for our students to engage in research at both the undergraduate and graduate level, we have to stimulate that interest among faculty. As I mentioned earlier, our goal is to empower and enable them to engage in research. And then, we have a commitment as a university to support that when it happens. Our undergraduate chemistry and radio/biology programs do a very significant amount of undergraduate research. The burden is on us. When those kids begin to produce that research, they want to present at conferences. We have to pay for it. We have to send those kids to present and to be great. We have to support faculty as they continue to go out into their fields and to distinguish themselves. And again, that takes money. So my job is to go out and find those resources so that our staff and faculty have the very best opportunity to show how great they are.
GC: What have been your greatest achievements since you became President of FMU?
RCA: As I said, I know Florida Memorial is the best. I believe and I drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak. I know that Florida Memorial is among the very best institutions in this country. I have been proud that other people are beginning to see that. I am proud to see the jumps in rankings, to see this community begins to embrace us in very real ways, grants being awarded to Florida Memorial when people did not even realize we were strong in some of those research areas. I am proud to see Industry say “Yes, I want to hire more Florida Memorial University graduates” when they see them at the airport, when they see them in cyber security space. I had a lot of little wins, whether they be gifts, or new programs, new buildings, those are all things that sustain you over time. But, the best achievement is every individual that walks across that stage. Commencement is my absolute favorite day of the year. I can’t even control myself. I am so excited. I am worse than the graduates on commencement day because how much better can a job be? I play a part in that. That’s my signature on that diploma that my students will have for the rest of their life. I would shake their hand, smile and love every one of them and forever brag that I touched the future through these students. It’s a wonderful opportunity.
GC: Congratulations for the great things you have been doing at FMU. Thank you for inviting me today.
RCA: I have been happy to connect with you. Thank you.