Chief Eric Smith ’93 wants to do his part to help ensure the Orlando Police Department (OPD) and other Central Florida law enforcement agencies employ the best talent to help keep their communities safe.

On Thursday, Smith and the Orlando Police Foundation (501c3) announced a new endowed scholarship program funded by the foundation to help UCF criminal justice and legal studies students achieve their dreams — and succeed in those high-demand fields.

“Providing scholarships opens the door of opportunity for students to have a bright future,” Smith. “This will undoubtedly help students succeed. It will also help agencies like OPD hire the best to join our agency.”

Orlando Police Department Chief Eric Smith ’93 speaking at a press conference announcing the gift on UCF Day of Giving 2024. (Photo by Blake Osting)

The Orlando Police Department Endowed Scholars of Excellence Fund established a $75,000 endowment that will award two undergraduate students annually with $1,500 scholarships. Eligible UCF students can apply for the new endowed scholarship via the Office of Student Financial Assistance beginning in Spring 2025.

The new endowment was announced on UCF Day of Giving, a day dedicated to engaging alumni, faculty, staff, parents, students, fans and the community in playing a part in the success of the university. Gifts made throughout the day support UCF academic programs, faculty excellence, student success, athletics and more.

“The generosity of chief Smith and the Orlando Police Foundation will benefit our students and our community for generations to come,” says Rod Grabowski, senior vice president for Advancement and Partnerships and CEO of the UCF Foundation. “Philanthropy is so important to the future of our university. It strengthens our academic programs, fuels life-changing student scholarships and helps faculty conduct groundbreaking research. We appreciate all of our donors who have stepped up to support UCF during our Day of Giving.”

UCF’s criminal justice program is a leading talent pipeline to many area law enforcement agencies, including OPD, which employs many UCF alumni in sworn and civilian roles. Many graduates also serve with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Secret Service, UCF Police Department, and sheriff’s offices across Orange, Seminole and Brevard counties, among other agencies.

Criminal justice graduates are in high demand in many sectors, including in the courts, corrections, advocacy, juvenile justice and cybersecurity.

UCF’s legal studies program is located at UCF Downtown, close to the Orange County Courthouse, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and many other job and internship opportunities. Students can develop professional skills through participating on highly successful mediation and moot court teams and an undergraduate law journal. Many students go on to law school and then successful careers with law firms throughout Florida and beyond. Students also can be hired as paralegals after they earn their bachelor’s degree.

“Our students learn from outstanding faculty members and partners with strong backgrounds in the criminal justice and legal studies fields, and they graduate well-prepared to thrive in their careers,” says B. Grant Hayes, dean of the College of Community Innovation and Education. “By investing in the success of our students, chief Smith and the Orlando Police Department Foundation will help them grow their talents, identify and pursue their ideal careers, and go onto serve and protect their communities.”

Smith graduated from UCF in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. After working for OPD for 28 years, Smith became chief in 2022.

He initially moved to Orlando to play football at UCF. As a student, he completed an internship with what is now Homeland Security Investigations. He says the contacts he made proved invaluable for allowing him to step into his career.

The Orlando Police Foundation was formed in July 2020 as a support organization for the men and women of OPD.

“We wanted to create a foundation to help provide financial assistance to members of law enforcement in their times of need,” says Joe Nunziata, president of the Orlando Police Foundation and CEO of FBC Mortgage LLC. “We like to say that we are there to protect the protectors.”