Saturday, December 16, 2017
Opinion

Column: FAMU's president explains how the university is gaining strength, moving into the future

A little over two years ago, I stood on the steps of historic Lee Hall for my first rally at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University to address the community. At that time, I vowed to move FAMU forward by increasing graduation and retention rates, reducing student debt, increasing student engagement and scholarship opportunities, and the productivity of our degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

We are well on our way to achieving these goals, and the value of FAMU is clear. We are, once again, becoming the school of choice for students across this nation. At a time when the question of relevance looms over historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), FAMU is an example of why they are needed. Right now, Florida A&M University is home to seven Gates Millennium Scholars and at least three scholars who've received more than $1 million in scholarship awards. Those students could have gone anyplace, but they chose FAMU.

In 1887, FAMU was born out of the necessity to provide an educational opportunity to African-American students who, otherwise, would not have had that chance. As the only historically black land-grant institution in Florida, designated as such in 1891, FAMU began with 15 students and two instructors who created a beacon on a hill to light the way for future generations.

Now, FAMU boasts nearly 10,000 students, 600 faculty and more than 70,000 alumni with an economic impact of roughly $3 billion statewide. And the legacy continues.

The value of a FAMU education is strong. Not only do our students graduate with the ability to help their families with competitive salaries in high-achieving professions, through our student engagement efforts they leave FAMU with a special propensity to make positive change in their communities. A recent Essence/Money magazine poll named FAMU No. 5 among all colleges and universities as the best college for African-Americans in the nation. The CollegeNET and Pay Scale Social Mobility Index (SMI) says that FAMU is one of the top universities in the nation for fostering social and economic opportunity.

We continue to develop workforce readiness by focusing on the high demand areas in the STEM disciplines. In fact, this fall FAMU has 113 incoming Distinguished Scholar Award recipients. These students are STEM majors with an academic core GPA of at least 3.5 who are considered National Achievement/Merit finalists or semifinalists, or National Hispanic Scholars.

At FAMU, STEM is converted to STEAM with an "A" for Agriculture, one of the founding tenants of our university. With the recent history-making land transfer of 3,800 acres from the USDA to FAMU and the creation of the Brooksville Agricultural and Environmental Research Station, the university is poised to become an international leader in agricultural research and technology transfer to farmers and local communities in Florida and beyond. The possibilities on this land are boundless.

The energy of our alumni matches the boundlessness of our opportunities. I have never been someplace where people have been more passionate about their alma mater. Our total annual giving is at an all-time high, and alumni understand the need. Just this week, the FAMU National Alumni Association closed a $500,000 campaign to help students overcome financial obstacles. In a recent campaign sponsored by Home Depot, it was the alumni who gave us fuel. Over a period of approximately eight weeks, more than 6 million votes were cast for FAMU in the Retool Your School campaign, resulting in a $30,000 campus-pride grant to the university to fund infrastructure improvement. And hundreds of FAMU alumni gathered right here in Tampa over the past several days to recommit to moving FAMU forward.

When I came to Florida, I established a vision of making FAMU a best-in-class, land-grant, doctoral research university with a global presence. We are well on our way to delivering on that promise. This past academic year, we awarded nearly 600 free passports to students, opening the doors to international travel — and thus their minds to the world beyond their doorstep. In Florida, our pharmacy program has been awarded more research grants from the National Institutes of Health than any other state program; and as it pertains to educating African Americans — that Essence/Money magazine poll mentioned earlier ranked FAMU behind only Princeton, Harvard, Duke and Cornell.

FAMU is moving forward. And while we have a lot of work to do yet, the climate is right, and the future is bright.

Elmira Mangum is the 11th president of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

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