Inspiring the Gulf Coast: The UWF University-Community Partnership Model

September 13, 2018 | Martha D. Saunders, Ph.D.

University-Community Partnership
Family at the Commanding Officer's Compound, an outdoor exhibit located in Museum Plaza behind the T.T. Wentworth Florida State Museum

At the University of West Florida, we see ourselves as much more than an institution of higher education. We’re a central hub for the Northwest Florida region, with the resources, expertise and initiative needed to drive educational, cultural and economic partnerships that make an impact far beyond our campus.

Universities and communities thrive when they work together to accomplish mutual goals. This is why we’ve made “Community and Economic Engagement” one of the five key directions in our strategic plan. In a university-community partnership model, everyone wins.

Educational and Environmental

UWF is partnering with area schools to infuse STEM education in K-12 classrooms, not only to instill an early love and appreciation for science, but also to address future workforce needs. Our researchers are making daily breakthroughs, and we’re getting the next generation excited about STEM fields.

Researchers at the UWF Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation are partnering with area high schools to engage students in hands-on, “Citizen Science” experiences through pop-up genetics labs that study the impact of the invasive lionfish species on native fish communities in the Gulf of Mexico.

Over the course of three years, more than 1,300 students at seven area high schools have engaged in the labs, dissecting lionfish and identifying prey through a process known as DNA barcoding. To date, the students have identified 16 fish species preyed on by lionfish, including the economically important red snapper.

Citizen Science opportunities like this example are catching on. Through a partnership with the National Park Service’s Gulf Islands Research and Education Center, UWF supports the conservation of natural and cultural resources on the Gulf Coast and increases student access to high-quality, hands-on science education. Volunteers of all ages and educational backgrounds put on lab coats and help address important regional environmental issues. Their experiences range from investigating artificial light on nesting turtles to identifying bees threatened by a changing climate.

Cultural

Our resources and expertise aren’t limited to science labs - through the UWF Historic Trust, we also invest in preserving, interpreting and sharing the rich history of Northwest Florida to give tourists a reason to visit and residents even more reason to stay.

We are currently engaged in the development phase of our UWF Historic Trust Interpretive Master Plan that details the transformational vision for Historic Pensacola. This plan details a series of appropriate and achievable enhancements that balance resource protection, historical education, visitor and recreational use and enjoyment.

Included in our plan is UWF Historic Trust’s Museum Plaza, a historic preservation and education project that tells the story of Pensacola’s vibrant history. The multi-purpose, cultural public space features an outdoor education center with a covered stage and seating area designed for presentations, performances, lectures and other educational activities. An exploration playground will provide affordable and family-centered activities in a fun and engaging environment.

The Pensacola Maritime Heritage Trail, a partnership between the City of Pensacola and the UWF Historic Trust, offers a valuable addition to downtown Pensacola. The trail, which is marked by signs stretched along the downtown waterfront, encourages visitors and residents alike to take a walk through history and read the story of how our city was shaped by seafarers dating back to the 1500s.

Economic and Business

We actively partner with the business community as part of our commitment to the region’s economic growth and focus on emerging and in-demand industries. As an added benefit, these partnerships strengthen our students’ career preparation and connections.

We kicked off the year in high gear, opening the new Sea3D Additive Manufacturing Laboratory inside the Museum of Commerce in Historic Pensacola. This is an incredible example of collaboration, innovation and community engagement that also serves our University’s academic mission.

The facility provides valuable 3D printing resources for both the University and the community and fills a gap for manufacturing skills training in the state. It also promotes collaboration between academic disciplines at UWF - such as engineering, art, industrial and organizational psychology, business and health care - and connects students, community members and area businesses and industries in a fresh, exciting way. Last but not least, it puts real-world science on display for the thousands of local K-12 students who visit the Museum of Commerce each year.

In March, about 90 state agency personnel participated in two-day cybersecurity awareness training courses in Tallahassee. The training courses launched a partnership between the UWF Center for Cybersecurity and the Florida Agency of State Technology to provide cutting-edge cybersecurity education and training for state agency personnel. The program integrates innovative features and provides hands-on training and educational courses using face-to-face, online and remote delivery to prepare state personnel to detect and protect against emerging cyber threats and attacks. State personnel who complete the sessions receive competency-based certifications.

The mutually beneficial partnership model has become a way of life at UWF. We recognize that our University exists and thrives as part of a larger context. We’re using our resources, brainpower and collaborative spirit to positively impact our students and region.