Dr. Judy Bense, the President of the University of West Florida, was interviewed at the monthly Pensacola Network event at DeVilliers Square by Robin Reshard, co-founder of the network. The DeVilliers Square atrium was packed with business owners, members of both the Pensacola and African-American Chambers, members of the Belmont & DeVilliers Neighborhood Association and faculty from the university. The Pensacola Network, the brainchild of Lloyd and Robin Reshard, has become the hit of the 4th Friday of every month and this past event was one for the history books.
Robin Reshard questioned Dr. Bense on being recruited to become the 5th President of the university in July 2008. Bense said she received a call about seeking the post after Dr. Cavanaugh, the 4th president, announced his resignation. Since she became the first female president she has focused on university growth, a positive campus atmosphere, and community development. A question she stated the officials at the college are asking is, “How big do we want to become?” She described how a development consultant brought all of the college’s real estate assets to her attention and she began to seek strategies to build income for the school through the development of those assets. She stated that the Business Enterprise Inc. (BEI) is a non-profit corporation leading the university’s involvement in real estate development.
Robin went on to focus on UWF community development, research, and partnerships remarking that “You have right upstairs the Innovation Institute.” The president responded that, “I am so glad they are here!” Robin exclaimed, “Me too! What the heck do they do?” The atrium burst into laughter as she asked again, “What do y’all do?” Dr. Bense shifted into her marketing mode and said that they right now are focused on what is hot, namely Cyber Security, IT, and Complete College. The Complete College Program is focused on assisting the two million people who dropped out of college and figuring out if the courses they took years ago are still relevant to today’s educational system and marketplace advancement. The Institute then assists them to complete their degree and find new career advancement. The institute is working with 11 other institutions on this initiative. Additionally, during this segment of the interview, Robin recognized the work of Dr. Karen Molek, the Director of the Chemistry Department and Dr. Kim LeDuff as the new University Diversity Director with at least $1,000,000 being identified, through a committee that they are a part of, for minority students in what is being called the “Chem Scholars Program”.
Following these educational support program revelations, the focal point shifted to minority business utilization, where the university’s record on procurement is quite challenged. Robin stated that out of $300,000,000 only $1.8 million was contracted out to minority firms. Dr. Bense, once again, turned on her marketing acumen and invited minority firms to come out to the university and become registered vendors with the school.
Dr. Bense emphasized diversity of the university campus compared to the lack of multiple ethnic representation years ago. She stated that she has a vision for a Greek Village, a football stadium, a marching band, student housing, restaurants for the creation of a campus that is attractive and conducive for a positive student life. The president closed with, once again, stating, “I am so glad that we are in Belmont and DeVilliers. It is a very important message that we meant to say– put our money where our mouth is. Show up in your community and try to make your community better. And it is with great pride that we hang our flag here and that we do some of the most innovative work that we do at the university and it is our privilege to be here.”
Robin Reshard in an exclusive interview with the Pensacola Voice summed up the impact of the interview with the following statement, “She made it very clear that there is opportunity for business, community, and student partnerships. She acknowledged the historical challenges of the past, but that she is looking to partner in ways to overcome that. I believe that is the biggest thing that I got out of it.” During the same interview her husband and co-founder of the Pensacola Network, Lloyd Reshard, cited the success of the Network as a response to the local community requesting an event that mirrored the Ft. Walton Beach First Friday events that has been going on for years.