The Undergraduate Experience
John V. Lombardi

, March 1999

Over the past few years, the University of Florida has expanded its undergraduate enrollment to increase access for the people of this state and to grow the university to full size. We are now about the sixth largest undergraduate university in the country, and the restructuring of the State University System shifts the effort to increase undergraduate access to our colleague institutions. This stabilization of our undergraduate enrollment at about 33,000 students refocuses our attention from the challenge of accommodating ever-larger numbers of students to the opportunity of further improving our undergraduates' experience. This process of continuous improvement and enhancement represents a long-standing effort to which we can now devote our full attention.

Student academic opportunities define the undergraduate experience at the University of Florida. We exist to deliver an exceptional quality undergraduate education that prepares our students to compete against the best graduates anywhere, whether in advanced graduate studies or the workforce. Our curriculum, already filled with many opportunities in a wide range of fields, will become even more flexible as the faculty continue to develop interdisciplinary options for undergraduate majors in such fields as molecular biology or Latin American Studies. Our students continue to arrive with better preparation and college credits accumulated in high school.

Many undergraduates welcome advanced programs that combine their undergraduate curriculum with graduate courses earning a Bachelor's and Master's degree in five years. The faculty will expand the range of combined degree programs in the colleges to support our students' interest and outstanding preparation. The highly successful undergraduate research program that currently involves almost 5,000 students a year will create even more opportunities for our undergraduates to benefit from the exceptional research productivity of the faculty and the growing graduate student population. Summer undergraduate research scholarships and research symposia along with an undergraduate research journal will respond to the extraordinary quality, capabilities and expectations of our students.

The value of a college education at the University of Florida comes not only from the primary success in the classroom but also from the multiple reinforcement of an active and engaged campus life. Famous as we are for the dynamic commitment of our students to the quality of campus activities, the university must continue to improve and enhance the quality and the opportunities for engagement outside of the classroom. Traditional activities such as intramural sports and club sports, Greek organizations and service clubs, and a rich collection of other student organizations, create the multiple communities that deliver the benefits of this large and resource intensive campus to its students. We need to develop, refine, and improve these opportunities so that more and more students engage in the organizational and programmatic activities that translate into the creativity and leadership and management skills so important to their future success.

Throughout all of our campus, the technological revolution sweeping the nation helps us achieve many of these goals for our students. The undergraduate computer requirement and the free e-mail and Internet access provided everyone on our campus has begun to create the interactive campus network of conversations and interactions possible with this technology. Student, faculty and organizational Web sites; the development of campus Intranet discussion groups; e-mail instant response time for faculty and students; and the tremendous convenience of electronic registration and course planning all help connect the many parts of this incredibly rich campus together.

The promise of the new technology is not its power, although it is powerful, but its capability that permits us to configure and reconfigure the university's many resources to focus on each individual student. It lets students easily construct their personal web of connections, information and resources that reinforces their academic and personal aspirations. We no longer need rigid predefined boxes into which each student must fit. We can have a campus rich in academic resources and people connected in a flexible and individualized way for each student.

As we continue to focus on the enhancement of our academic environment and the expansion of our campus opportunities, we will see a constant improvement in the undergraduate experience at the University of Florida. Being a Florida Gator will just get better and better.