Sierra Scott ’20 was one of more than 5,000 students whose academic program transitioned to UCF Downtown when the campus opened Aug. 26, 2019, and the legal studies graduate loved her downtown experience so much, she decided to stick around to pursue her master’s degree in public policy.
“The idea that you can walk 15 minutes and be at Lake Eola, in the heart of everything that makes Orlando special and beautiful, is amazing,” says Scott, who fully immersed herself in the campus as the co-student director for Downtown Student Life. “You get opportunities that wouldn’t normally be afforded to you because of the majors picked for downtown. If you’re a legal studies student, you’re just a couple of steps from the courthouse. If you’re a digital media major, EA is going to be right here in Creative Village. There are many more opportunities downtown than the microcosm of what UCF is alone.”
As UCF Downtown marks its one year anniversary in downtown Orlando this week, many other students will also benefit from the campus’ prime location, new technology and expanded opportunities.
“We achieved a lot in our first year and our future is looking bright,” says Professor Ross Wolf ’88 ’91MPA ’98EdD, interim assistant provost for UCF Downtown. “Despite the fact that the 2019-20 academic year was interrupted by Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19, our downtown students still have the opportunity to learn using our state-of-the-art downtown technology and equipment. Regardless of the modality of classes, our students can exceed their educational expectations through our countless partnerships with local government agencies, businesses and nonprofits that enhance our classes every day.”
With technology infused into nearly every square foot of the campus, IT teams have been able to support remote learning throughout COVID-19 in multiple ways, including offering students remote access to powerful gaming computers. Specialty learning spaces — like the Nicholson School of Communication and Media’s Maker Space — were designated as research space, allowing students access to 3D and laser printers, virtual reality software and other equipment that aids digital media students in their learning.
In addition to the nearly 40 academic programs offered at the campus, including 29 programs offered exclusively at UCF Downtown, faculty and staff are committed to partnering with the local community for scholarship, service and research.
“The beauty of my public policy graduate program is that it was created for downtown,” says Scott. “I’ve loved watching the campus evolve and chose to stay here as a grad student to further watch it transform from this idea into what it’s become — and a lot of that is driven by students. The longer we’re down here, the more students will be engaged with their surroundings and get to see all of the opportunities that were intentionally created for us.”
There are currently more than 80 community-based projects led by UCF faculty and staff that range from food drives for the local community, addressing health and wellness initiatives, assessing air quality and environmental impacts of an urban community, bringing together educators from Pre-K through Ph.D. to address educational barriers, and tackling innovative solutions for affordable housing.
On campus, students can engage with 15 student clubs and organizations that range from the PokéKnights to Mock Trial teams. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the campus hosted more than 200 events for the campus and surrounding community.
Other features of the campus include student housing, study and tutor spaces, a library, Recreation and Wellness Center, Student Health Services, food services, academic offices and 24/7 patrols by UCF Police. The campus is also unique transit-oriented campus that gives students, faculty and staff a variety of options for getting to and from the campus – from driving to bikes, carpools and shuttles, and public transit options like SunRail, Lynx and Lymmo.
The 15-acre downtown campus is shared with Valencia College and serves approximately 8,000 students from both institutions each semester. More than 400 faculty and staff create a welcoming environment and opportunities for all students to learn, grow and succeed.
“I can’t wait to see all the exciting memories we make in the coming years,” Scott says.