In the early 1960s, Orange County’s future seemed tied more and more to the aerospace industry. The Mercury program from nearby Cape Canaveral captivated the nation and the new Martin Marietta facility in South Orange County was creating a new generation of rockets and missiles. There was an increasing demand for local educational facilities where the growing numbers of scientific and technical employees at these and other electronics and engineering companies could pursue advanced studies.
Business, professional and government leaders quickly enlisted in the cause of building what some called a “Space University” to educate current and future students for promising space-age careers in engineering, electronics and other technological professions needed to sustain the growth of these industries in Central Florida. William H. Dial, a bank president and lawyer with friends in Tallahassee, began lobbying for passage of what became Florida Senate Bill No. 125. He enlisted the aid of former state Senate President William Shands, who used his many connections in the Florida Senate to help convince lawmakers to support the bill. With Shands’ help, and the editorial support of Orlando Sentinel publisher Martin Anderson and Senator Beth Johnson of Orange County, the bill finally moved out of committee and easily passed both the House and Senate. A citizen’s advisory committee, led by Dial, was formed to help finance and build public support for the university.
On January 24, 1964, seven months after the governor had signed Bill No. 125 into law, the Board of Control (now the Board Of Regents, or BOR) selected a 1, 227-acre tract along Alafaya Trail in northeast Orange County, 12 miles northeast of downtown Orlando. It was selected as being the most accessible to the largest number of people in the east central Florida area. Most of the land was acquired from Frank Adamucci, a New Jersey building contractor who donated 500 acres and sold another 500 acres for $500,000. Donations from other landowners gave the university more frontage on Alafaya Trail and pushed the total size of the parcel up to 1, 227 acres.
In order to be eligible for funding from the 1965 Florida Legislature, the site had to be available immediately. It had been expected that Orange County would buy the property and donate it to the state, but the County lacked the necessary funds. Eighty-nine Orange County residents pledged a total of $1 million in cash and securities to secure the purchase of the site. Millions more would be needed to begin construction. Martin Anderson called Governor Haydon Burns and Dial flew to Tallahassee to argue for immediate funding. The Governor agreed and ordered the project to be moved to No. 1 on the higher-education funding priority list.
The next step in the university’s formation was the selection of a president. In October of 1965, the BOR unanimously chose Charles N. Millican, dean of the College of Business Administration at the new University of South Florida in Tampa. A few months later, in December, Millican opened the University’s first offices above a drugstore at Church Street and Orange Avenue in downtown Orlando. Among his first tasks were making decisions on designs and drawings for the buildings, recruiting academic and administrative staff members, planning curriculum and giving speeches.
By the time Millican was chosen as president, the BOR had already determined that Central Florida’s higher education needs had changed from what legislators had originally envisioned. Market surveys of high school and community college students taken showed that Central Florida needed business people and teachers in addition to scientists and engineers. So, the regents decided to include liberal arts, education and business studies in the university curriculum, in addition to computer and engineering courses.
In February 1966, the Citizens Advisory Committee and the Board of Regents, hoping to attract more high-tech industries to the area, selected the name Florida Technological University(FTU)for the new school. The name had the advantage of being both descriptive and distinctive, easily remembered and shortened, and not geographically restrictive.
Governor Claude Kirk presided over the FTU groundbreaking in March of 1967. Eighteen months later on October 7, 1968, classes began with 1,948 students, 90 instructors and 150 staff members. Fifty-five degree programs were offered within five colleges: Business Administration; Education; Humanities and Social Sciences; Natural Sciences; and Engineering and Technology. The first two of the University’s fourteen regional campuses, Daytona and Cocoa, also opened that year.
On April 5, 1968, the official university seal, Pegasus, the winged horse of the muses in Greek mythology was selected, with a single star and the motto “Reach for the Stars” and the school colors of Black and Gold were introduced. The motto was a challenge and admonition to students to always aim high, try harder and go beyond what they believed possible. Pegasus contrasted and connected the old and new, the humanities with science and technology. In 1974, at the request of students, a competition was held to create the FTU alma mater, with music faculty member Dr. Burt Szabo’s music and lyrics selected from the many entries.
In 1978, Dr. Millican decided to return to teaching in the College of Business, and Dr. Trevor Colbourn became the university’s second president. The new president realized that the community population had changed and diversified, and so had the University. Many students were now enrolled in widely varied academic programs, reflecting a shift in demand for strictly technological and scientific education as the local economy diversified. In December 1978, Governor Reuben Askew signed legislation changing the school’s name from Florida Technological University to the University of Central Florida. By the time Dr. Colbourn resigned to return to teaching history in 1989, UCF had a football team, a marching band, four doctoral programs, a Research Park, and seven endowed Chairs. The academic programs had also been diversified and reorganized to create the College of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Steven Altman became the University’s third president. His contributions ranged from hiring strong deans to raising research dollars to making clear growth plans to boost the University’s profile. By Spring of 1991 the University had completed a “Blueprint” for UCF’s future that included a Master Plan for new construction to accommodate a growing research mission and a student body that was expected to more than double of the next twenty years. UCF was now a “Metropolitan University” that would provide facilities and academic programs to match the community’s greatest needs.
When Dr. John Hitt arrived from the University of Maine in 1992 to become the University’s fourth president, one of his first moves was to draw five clear goals for the schools that would become part of the strategic plan and take the University into the 21st Century. As of March 2011, 56,235 students are entolled, making UCF the second largest school in the country. UCF has 212 degree programs in 12 colleges, and 10 regional campuses. Among UCF’s alumni and students are a Miss America, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a NFL quarterback, a Rhodes scholar, a NASA astronaut, a World Cup/Olympic Soccer champion and the five creator’s of “The Blair Witch Project”; the most successful independent film of all time.
UCF has become one of the nations leading metropolitan research universities through its community and corporate partnerships and UCF still stands for “Under Construction Forever”; planning, building and creating new programs, facilities and opportunities for Central Floridians as it continues to “Reach for the Stars”.
The university was established on June 10, 1963 when the Florida State Legislature passed, and Governor Farris Bryant subsequently signed into law Bill No. 125. The Board of Regents appointed Charles Millican the first president of the new university in 1965. Millican, with the consultation of a citizen advisory group, would choose the name Florida Technological University as well as co-design the school’s distinctive “Pegasus” seal. Before the university was constructed, the land where it would be was desolate farm land. In fact, the first time that Millican went to see the land where the new university would be, he could not find it and had to return weeks later with specific directions from the Chancellor of the Board of Regents.
In March 1967, Florida Governor Claude Kirk presided over the groundbreaking of the new Florida Technological University. Eighteen months later on October 7, 1968, classes began with 1,948 students, 90 instructors and 150 staff members, in the school’s first academic building, the library. During the university’s inaugural year, fifty-five degree programs were offered within its five colleges: Business Administration, Education, Humanities and Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Engineering and Technology. The university’s first mascot was the Citronaut, a mix between an orange and an astronaut.
UCF was founded as a non-segregated and coeducational university, with the founding goal being to educate current and future students for promising space-age careers in engineering, electronics and other technological professions, thus serving as a support system for the nearby Kennedy Space Center. In addition, the Central Florida Research Park, located adjacent to the UCF campus, serves as a major focus of simulation for space and defense-related research.
Expansion and growth
The university’s second president, Dr. Trevor Colbourn, recognized the diversification and growth of UCF’s academic programs away from its strictly technological and scientific beginnings. From its establishment the university was known as Florida Technological University, nicknamed Florida Tech, until December 1978 when Governor Reuben Askew signed legislation changing the school’s name to the University of Central Florida.
The official colors of the university were chosen by Charles N. Millican, UCF’s Founding President. When the first student handbook was being drafted, the university had no official mascot. During the school’s first year, the student newspaper, the FuTUre, compiled mascot suggestions from its readership body. A night nurse at the Health Center, Judy Hines, proposed “Vincent the Vulture” in 1970, which remained the school’s unofficial mascot for more than a year. Later that year, UCF students voted and selected the “Knight of Pegasus” as their official mascot. Until 1994, the Knights were represented by a jouster from the Medieval Times dinner show located in nearby Kissimmee, Florida. That same year, Knightro was introduced at the staple homecoming event, “Spirit Splash.” Two years later, UCF students were introduced to Knightro’s girlfriend, Glycerin.
During its brief history, UCF has hosted numerous notable speakers. Among these include Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, then Senator and current Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Bill Nelson, Mel Martinez, John Edwards, and Florida Governors Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist and Bob Graham to name just a few.
The past decade has seen enrollment increase by over forty percent at UCF, the acceptance rate for first time in college students falling from over 60% to near 40% in 2008, and the doubling of expected annual expenses. Since 2000, the university has awarded over 100,000 degrees.
Once known mainly as a small commuter and technology school, in recent years UCF has undertaken an effort to increase its academic and research standings while also evolving into a more traditional research university. The university has changed dramatically since its founding in 1963. As of 2011, there are approximately 58,587 students attending classes on twelve campuses spread across Central Florida. The university consists of twelve colleges and employs more than 10,150 faculty and staff. Since its founding, the university has been led by four presidents. Under the direction of current President Dr. John C. Hitt, UCF has raised admissions standards, increased research funding, built new facilities, and established notable partnerships with major research institutions. Hitt’s efforts have resulted in not only an increase in the university’s academic profile, but also an on-campus football stadium, new arena, more on-campus housing, and the development of the UCF College of Medicine at Lake Nona.
UCF is currently the largest university in the nation by terms of undergraduate enrollment, the largest university in Florida, and in 2003 held the distinction of being the fastest-growing university in the United States. During its Spring 2010 graduation ceremonies, the University of Central Florida awarded its 200,000th degree, less than five years after awarding its 150,000th diploma.