Expression Meets Inspiration at UCF Downtown

Expression Meets Inspiration at UCF Downtown

The new UCF Downtown campus reflects — and inspires — the energy and personalities of the more than 7,000 students who started classes there this August. 

By Nicole Dudenhoefer ’17 | Photos by Nick Leyva  ’15

“We are all students.”

The words emblazoned as you enter the lobby to the new Dr. Phillips Academic Commons building reflect the focus and purpose of the new UCF Downtown campus: to foster learning, creativity and collaboration.

While UCF Downtown is dedicated to promoting student success and academic excellence — the vibe is far from institutional. Bright, bold spaces greet you at every turn.

One area in particular on the new UCF-Valencia College partnership campus is a showstopper — the rainbow-lit Creativity Hallway. On the first day of the Fall 2019 semester, students rushing to class paused to take pictures and videos of the space. Faculty and staff took a moment between their busy schedules to check out what the buzz was about too.

“From the start, one of our goals has been to design facilities that inspire learning through active and vibrant spaces,” says Mike Kilbride ’12, assistant vice president for UCF Downtown. “With the help of local artists, we created unique places that bring people together and are inspired by the rich history, diversity and culture of UCF and downtown Orlando. These one-of-a-kind installations use color, graphics and immersive art to create community and a sense of place on our newest campus.”

A 2016 article in The New York Times, titled “The Innovation Campus: Building Better Ideas,” cites the design elements needed to ignite curiosity. These include flexible seating from “office chairs to privacy booths,” furniture on wheels that can easily be moved to accommodate different group sizes and preferences, natural lighting, and built-in cafes that encourage students to move about while grabbing coffee with classmates and professors.

The new campus includes all of these. From custom wall graphics to futuristic furniture, the space is designed intentionally to inspire all who enter to think creatively, pursue innovative ideas and perform their best. Because when we make the effort to collaborate, we’re able to achieve greater outcomes.

Jordyn James
UCF junior
Major: Human communication

“I just changed my major from business to human communications because I want to get into public relations. I’ve always been into fashion, so I want to own my own PR firm and work with big fashion houses. This is a really fresh start for me because I’m on a new campus with a new major.”

With more than 7,000 students attending classes at the new campus, everyone shares the experience of starting fresh and discovering possibilities.


Jicaro Marques
UCF senior
Major: Legal studies

“Orlando is the best college city you can live in with all its diversity, music, culture and art scene. Being downtown is convenient for me because it puts me closer to internship opportunities at lawyers’ offices, and I’m a lead singer in a band that performs down here a lot.”

UCF Downtown’s 15-acre campus is in Orlando’s Creative Village — a developing innovation district intended to help the community’s tech, digital media and creative sectors thrive. This location helps students access more opportunities to achieve academic success, community impact and professional development.


Lina Caro
UCF senior
Major: Human communication

“I only have a year left so I’m pretty excited for my classes this semester.”

The Learning Support Center, which is run by Valencia College, prepares students to have a successful semester through individualized tutoring, a writing center and a library of supplies students can check out, such as laptops and select textbooks.


Emily Kemp
UCF senior
Major: Human communication

“I think having a campus downtown will make people branch out more — kind of like I did for this photoshoot. This isn’t something I normally do, but I thought ‘It’s the first day, what do I have to lose?’ ”

Cole NeSmith ’07, who leads Orlando’s Creative City Project, designed the hallway’s colorful features to inspire students while walking to class, and UCF graphic designer Janeza Dino designed the motivational message that runs along its walls: “Stay curious, see differently. See differently, stay curious.”


Eric Young
Valencia sophomore
Major: Architecture

“I lived in Germany until I was 15, and my best friend’s uncle and grandfather there were architects, so that’s how I got into my field. I like the futuristic design on campus because it inspires me in my studies.”

The main lobby serves as a functional study space with moveable furniture and lots of natural lighting. The features in this space and across campus support collaborative, active learning.


Theresa “Resa” Saintfelix
Valencia freshman
Major: Health sciences

“After I moisturized, I looked in the mirror and gave myself a pep talk. I screamed, ‘You’re going to get straight A’s this semester.’ I have a tattoo that says ‘Think positive,’ so I’m big on self-motivation.”

Colorful murals and wall graphics in study rooms and throughout the campus are intended to keep students motivated, like this one that reads, “Be bad until you’re good. Be good until you’re great.”


Jonathan Watson
Valencia freshman
Major: Health sciences

“I’m living with six guys in UnionWest, so I’m already making friends here, but I really like the common areas because it makes it easier to meet other people.”

UnionWest at Creative Village is a 15-story mixed-use building that houses students on the top floors and classes and support services on floors one through five. Each housing floor features a gathering space for the more than 600 UCF and Valencia College student-residents to bond with one another.


Max Desir ’15
UCF graduate student
Degree: Health administration

“Everything I’ve accomplished I couldn’t have done alone. There were a lot of times I didn’t think I would be able to finish college and now I’m in my last semester because of my family’s support.”

Designed by Burnett Honors and art grad Lauren (Haar) Waters ’06, the donor wall recognizes the people and organizations that came together to help make UCF Downtown possible. Built on partnership, UCF Downtown works with Valencia College and the surrounding Parramore community to create more opportunities.


Carlos Torres
UCF senior
Major: Digital media

“I really like the way campus is set up color-wise. It kind of reminds me of the Google building.”

As a digital media major, most of Torres’ classes are in the Communication and Media Building, which is a hub for innovative programs such as the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy; Center for Research and Education in Arts, Technology, and Entertainment; and the Nicholson School of Communication and Media.


Maryam Ali
UCF graduate student
Degree: Communication

“I moved to the U.S. 3 weeks ago from Bahrain and am a Fulbright Scholar. I’m not here to just learn coursework, I intend to explore various opportunities that could help enrich my experience.”

The “Unleash your Potential” mural was created by graphic design grad Harry Foreman ’18, and captures the goal of going after a college degree.


Bonnie Bensinger
UCF graduate student
Degree: Digital media

“I’m an international student from China. I love films, video games, music and art, and I’m very excited to be studying in my grad program at UCF”

In addition to human communication and digital media, the undergraduate programs offered at UCF Downtown’s campus include: communication and conflict, emergency management, health informatics and information management, health services administration, legal studies, nonprofit management, and public administration.


Victoria McIntosh
UCF junior
Major: Legal studies

“I just got a job with Downtown Student Life as a campus programming coordinator. It feels really good to know I have a chance to make a difference in the community and to get to know my fellow classmates.”

Among the many benefits of a new campus are employment and internship opportunities that prepare students for future careers.


Nichole Campbell
UCF junior
Major: Pre-Nursing

“I just moved here from St. Louis in June, and this is my first semester at UCF. As a transfer student, it’s kind of nice to live on a campus where everything is new for everyone. It makes me feel more comfortable.”

Whether students are new to UCF or just the downtown campus, there are several services on campus for support, including academic advising, career services, mental health counseling, Student Health Services, a 24/7 police department and more.