This week marks the start of Alexander N. Cartwright’s tenure as UCF’s sixth president.
Cartwright joins the university after a 25-year career in higher education, most recently as chancellor and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Missouri.
His educational journey in the United States began at age 17.
After moving to Tipton, Iowa, from the Bahamas with his mother, Cartwright was determined to be the first in his family to earn a college degree. He earned his GED and went on to attend community college and then university while working at Stuckeys and then at a factory to help pay for classes. His first job in the U.S. was cleaning hog confinement buildings.
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, where he earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in electrical and computer engineering. It is there that he also met his future wife, Melinda, with whom he now has two children, Alyssa and Andrew. There, he also began on the path to becoming an internationally recognized scholar in photonics.
Today, 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.
In addition to continuing his academic research, Cartwright pursued a career in administration, including serving as vice president for research and economic development at the University at Buffalo and as provost and executive vice chancellor at the State University of New York, overseeing 64 campuses and 1.3 million students. While at SUNY, he introduced policies to boost recruitment and retention of students and faculty while improving diversity and inclusion. Key changes through a new diversity and inclusion policy resulted in installing a chief diversity officer at each campus, expanding candidate pools for new hires, and implementing cultural competency training.
In 2017, Cartwright left SUNY to became chancellor at Missouri’s flagship campus in Columbia, during a time when the institution was experiencing some challenging times. The president of the state university system and the campus chancellor had resigned following protests focused on race relations. At MU, he has advocated for student success initiatives and pushed for a more equitable and diverse environment.
He led the university through strategic enrollment and research growth, and in 2018 developed a five-year blueprint called the “Flagship of the Future,” which set the groundwork for innovation and growth. He also successfully led the campaign to raise $1.3 billion for the university.
He says one of his proudest accomplishments has been the launch of the Missouri Land Grant program, which helps Pell Grant-eligible students by fully covering their tuition and fees. In addition, he has launched programs to improve retention and graduation rates and post‐graduation outcomes.
“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.”