Dale Whittaker took his place July 1 as the fifth president of the University of Central Florida, an institution that opened 50 years ago this fall and has grown into one of the largest schools in the nation with more than 66,000 students.
Whittaker, 56, has been with UCF since 2014, formerly serving as provost and executive vice president. The UCF Board of Trustees selected him for the top spot in a nationwide search. He is already well-accomplished at UCF, having established more than 320 new faculty positions and helping to recruit and hire more than 245 faculty members to fill them. Under his leadership, UCF also launched an interdisciplinary teaching and research faculty cluster initiative and plans for a downtown Orlando campus, elevated UCF’s digital learning efforts, and developed the Collective Impact strategic plan, which will guide UCF for the next 20 years.
Whittaker succeeds John Hitt, who held the post for 26 years and steered UCF to new levels. When Hitt took the helm, the student body numbered 20,302 and has since grown to become nationally recognized for research and programs in technology, hospitality and digital entertainment.
During Hitt’s tenure, the average high school GPA of incoming freshmen increased from 3.30 to 4.06. Minority students make up 46 percent of UCF’s student body, up from 15 percent at the start of Hitt’s presidency.
Whittaker has been laying out his goals for the next era. “I am committed to making UCF the preeminent research university for the 21st century,” he says on UCF’s website. “That means continuing UCF’s remarkable trajectory in academics, athletics, research and community impact while staying true to our values of expanding opportunity an demanding excellence.”
Whittaker immediately tapped Thad Seymour Jr. as the vice president for partnerships and chief innovation officer. Seymour most recently held the post of vice provost for UCF’s downtown campus and previously helped lead the creation of the Lake Nona medical city concept as senior vice president of the Tavistock Development Company and founding president of the Lake Nona Institute.
“The division will consist of key partnership and innovation groups from across the university,” Whittaker wrote, “including strategic planning, UCF Downtown, the Center for Higher Education Innovation, economic development, commercialization and innovation programs, community relations, corporate partnerships, the Florida High Tech Corridor and more.”