Thad Seymour Jr.
University of Central Florida
(December 2019) – Thad Seymour Jr. has a countdown calendar app on his cell phone that reminds him how much time he has left to get things done before his term is up. When he agreed to become interim president of the University of Central Florida in February, he thought it would be for weeks or maybe months. He is now staying until a new president starts next summer.
Seymour, who is not pursuing the permanent position, has embraced the interim role as an opportunity to challenge UCF to think strategically about its future — something he was already helping with as chief innovation officer and vice president for partnerships.
“There are things it’s better for an interim leader to get done — things that didn’t capture the attention of prior administrations,” Seymour said. “My biggest fear from the beginning has been that this becomes a standstill year. I can’t work that way, and neither can our team. So our board and leadership are focused on how do we exit this academic year accelerating forward?”
Before joining UCF in 2015, he had worked in the Central Florida business community for almost 25 years — most recently as senior vice president at Tavistock Group, helping shape the vision for Lake Nona Medical City in east Orlando.
As interim president, Seymour has been focused on three main themes at the university: strengthening the university’s operations, expanding its resources and investing in excellence. Over the last decades, UCF brought to life a set of goals former President John Hitt had outlined. In this new era, Seymour asked deans and vice presidents to answer the question, “What should UCF be known for 20 years from now?” Some of their answers surprised him.
“I had originally been thinking a bit more narrowly around certain disciplines and industries we serve,” he said. “That’s an important but traditional way of looking at it. But the other is, what are the characteristics of this place that are unique and help define what a 21st century university should look like? For example, the university lives in a thriving metropolitan region and has a student population that reflects the growing diversity of our region — those are unique strengths that will continue to define us in the decades ahead.”
As one of the nation’s largest universities, UCF has challenged itself to also be one of the best. “We were early at the table in leveraging technology in the science of learning,” he said. “We don’t talk about it a lot, but we’re way out ahead of most universities. This region looks to UCF as the leading talent provider to today’s and the future’s economy and industries, and that demands that we drive innovation in the learning experience.”
One of Seymour’s role models was his father, Thad Seymour Sr., who died in October. The senior Seymour served as president of Rollins College from 1978 to 1990. “I learned a lot from my dad and I’m not sure I even realized it,” Seymour said. “He was good at bringing clarity of vision to the colleges where he worked. At Rollins, he figured out quickly that its aspiration was within reach, which was to become the best small liberal arts college in the South.”
His mother, now 90, has been another role model for her intellectual curiosity and her dedication to the community. His parents, who were married 71 years, loved working together — a trait Seymour and his wife of 38 years, Katie, have found they share. She is on campus almost daily, volunteering her time to help students with initiatives such as housing and food insecurity and diversity programs.
They plan to continue giving it their all until it’s time to step aside and let the new president shine. “I was a competitive swimmer in high school and college, so I envision myself sprinting to the wall,” Seymour said. “You give it every ounce of energy you’ve got.”