University of Missouri Chancellor Dr. Alexander Cartwright was confirmed as the sixth president of the University of Central Florida on Wednesday by the Board of Governors of Florida’s State University System. Cartwright’s first day at UCF will be April 13.
The appointment continues a remarkable journey in higher education for Cartwright, a first-generation college student who earned a GED and attended community college before earning his Ph.D. and rising through the ranks of academia while becoming an internationally recognized scholar in optics.
After being selected president by the UCF Board of Trustees on Friday, Cartwright appeared before the Board of Governors at a virtual meeting for his confirmation. He spoke of fulfilling UCF’s potential for impact as a large, metropolitan research university and an integral part of Central Florida’s business, technical, hospitality, creative and intellectual economies. He also spoke about his commitment to students, keeping their needs at the heart of his decisions, and providing a supportive culture for both students and faculty.
“For an institution to become exceptional, you must also empower the faculty, staff and students and allow them to make the institution better.” – Alexander Cartwright, UCF president
“I’m here to serve all students. Every student deserves to have opportunity… [and I] want to serve faculty and staff and the entire community to make sure all of us are as successful as possible,” Cartwright told the Board of Governors. “I believe we must empower people to do exceptional things. And I don’t think of it just as empowering the leaders. For an institution to become exceptional, you must also empower the faculty, staff and students and allow them to make the institution better.
“What I see at UCF is an intellectual and economic enterprise able to embrace and move the future forward for both individuals and society … together we will make UCF the best version of UCF.”
Cartwright says one of his most urgent priorities is helping the university navigate the academic and economic challenges it faces from COVID-19, which has shifted students to remote instruction and employees to remote work. At the same time, the new president acknowledged the many transitions during the past two years at UCF and his commitment to rebuilding trust with state legislators and the university and Central Florida communities.
“He is a man of integrity, guided by a true and accurate moral compass,” says Governor Timothy Cerio, who served on the Search Committee. “The system and UCF will be getting a leader passionate about student success and who embraces the system’s performance metrics and accountability. He’s committed to ensuring UCF’s performance under his leadership will significantly advance system goals.”
Cartwright will be taking over from Thad Seymour Jr., who has served as interim president for the past year.
Cartwright met his future wife, Melinda, at the University of Iowa. They have two children, Alyssa and Andrew.
“More than anything – [Cartwright has] impressed us with his humanity, his guiding principle as a servant leader and his belief in the power of public education and large research universities to improve the human condition.” – Bev Seay, UCF Board of Trustees chair
The university began its nationwide search for a president last fall by forming a Presidential Search Committee made up of students, faculty and staff members and community leaders. The six-month search process included 20 listening sessions and open forums held across UCF’s campuses with students, alumni, faculty and staff members, and community members.
“Dr. Cartwright impressed the Search Committee and the trustees with his keen understanding of the role that a metropolitan public research university can have in advancing not just new knowledge, but also the economic engine that a university can become,” says Board of Trustees Chair Bev Seay, who also chaired the Search Committee. “But, more than anything – he impressed us with his humanity, his guiding principle as a servant leader and his belief in the power of public education and large research universities to improve the human condition.”
Cartwright grew up in the Bahamas and moved to Iowa with his mother and stepfather at age 17. Rather than determining the grade in which he should be placed, he earned a GED. He worked to pay for community college classes, including cleaning out a hog confinement building.
His path as a first-generation college student mirrors that of many at UCF, where one of every four of our students is the first in their families to attend college, nearly half of students work more than 20 hours a week, and about half of undergraduate students have transferred from state colleges or other institutions.
Cartwright transferred to the University of Iowa, earning bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in electrical and computer engineering. In addition to serving as chancellor, he is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Missouri.
“Melinda and I are extremely excited to be moving to Florida and become part of the UCF family,” Cartwright says. “Honestly, we’ve lived the dream that higher education enables.”
Before joining MU, he served as provost and executive vice chancellor at the State University of New York for about three years.
“Melinda and I are extremely excited to be moving to Florida and become part of the UCF family.” – Alexander Cartwright, UCF president
Cartwright arrived at MU during a tumultuous period. The president of the state university system and the campus chancellor had resigned following protests focused on race relations. Cartwright is credited with repairing campus relationships, advocating for student success initiatives and pushing for a more equitable and diverse environment.
He led the university through strategic enrollment and research growth, and in 2018 the institution created a five-year blueprint called the “Flagship of the Future,” which set the groundwork for innovation and growth. He also helped with successfully completing the campaign to raise $1.3 billion for the university.
He says one of his proudest accomplishments was being part of the launch of the Missouri Land Grant program, which helps Pell Grant-eligible students by covering their tuition and fees. In addition, his team focused on improving retention and graduation rates and post‐graduation outcomes.
While at the State University of New York, Cartwright served as provost and executive vice chancellor for the university system that has 64 campuses. He introduced policies to boost recruitment and retention of students and faculty while improving diversity and inclusion. He was instrumental in a system-wide policy that included chief diversity officers for campuses, expanding candidate pools for new hires, and implementing cultural competency training.
Cartwright is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, SPIE, and the National Academy of Inventors. He was a recipient of both the National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award.