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$5 Million Gift To UWF Science And Engineering

Bob Barrett

  Community leaders gathered at the University of West Florida Tuesday morning for the announcement of a major gift to the school. Dr. Brendan Kelly, vice president for University Advancement at UWF, stood in the lobby of the College of Science and Engineering building at the school to announce a record gift for that department. Calling it a "turning point in the history of the university", he announced a $5 million gift to the College of Science and Engineering from Pensacola businessman Hal Marcus. "This college will forever be known as the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering."

This is the largest gift given to UWF by a living donor, and it marks the first time one of the university’s colleges has been named.  During the announcement ceremony, Mr. Marcus said he knew he was doing the right thing even though it was personally a bit on the scary side, joking that, "I haven't had the courage to tell my children yet." Marcus noted that he could think of no better investment he could make than in the future of Pensacola and the future of these students, saying "I was trying to provide the resources for these people that could turn out to be the best engineers and scientists in the world."

Dr. Kelly said he and UWF Provost Dr. Martha Saunders joked that this gift "will make one dean intolerable." They were talking about Dr. Michael Huggins, dean of what is now the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering. He says this gift will be a game changer for STEM education at UWF. "This gives us resources to do things in the sciences that we just wouldn't be able to do otherwise. STEM education is expensive. So having these additional resources will allow us to give students research opportunities, enhance our competition teams and expand into a lot of areas where we currently don;t have programs." 

Dr. Huggins also says students will start to see the benefits of this gift very soon, probably by the summer session. 

The timing of the gift was important to Mr. Marcus. He wanted to make the gift to the university while Dr. Judy Bense was still the president. He noted that she will be stepping down later this year, so he wanted to make her term significant. For her part, Dr. Bense sees this gift as a part of her legacy at the university. She says "Every gift is personal. People, while they gift it to a team, a university, a city or a foundation, they do that but they really give it to you." Bense also said she found it "touching" that Mr. Marcus wanted to do something in her honor. "That tells me that I've done something right." 

The announcement of the gift was attended by university officials and faculty as well as business and community leaders from the area. Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward hopes this sends a message to students as they make their college plans that UWF is focused on STEM education. "That's just going to open the door up for more kids to say 'Hey, I'm going to come to this great university right in my back yard'."

This is not the first time Hal Marcus has given to UWF.  His first investment helped fund the university’s archeology program 20 years ago. Its chair at the time was Dr. Judy Bense. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.