By Dena Kowal
Long-time professors reflect on UNF history
Two professors at the University of North Florida, Charlotte Mabrey and Kenneth Wilburn, are celebrating their 30-year anniversary of teaching here in the nest.
In the early eighties, UNF had just built a brand new library and theater, could only dream of on-campus housing, and didn’t even let freshmen and sophomores on campus.
“I saw [UNF] as a new and young university with typical growing pains. When it first opened, there was one road in…stuck in traffic jams forever. The buildings were pretty plain, but impressive faculty and impressive students,” explained UNF President and former mayor John Delaney.
Since the 1980s, the UNF has grown in population and square footage, but has managed to harbor small classes throughout.
Charlotte Mabrey, a Percussionist professor, remembers how she started with just one student and has since then, progressed to seventeen.
“We’ve gone from a very small, quiet campus…one of the tough things about UNF is that people think of it during the 80s,” Mabrey said.
Veering away from its reputation as a commuter school, the university opened its doors to freshmen and sophomores in 1984, and from that point on, campus life splurged, starting with the formation of the Aquatic Center in 1987.
The “energy of younger kids” is all it took to place UNF on the map, Mabrey said.
John Delaney agreed that the students make UNF what it is, but there’s a limit to expansion.
“We have master-planned campus for 25,000 students. We always have a goal to have the smallest class sizes in Florida.”
Present at the opening of UNF in 1972, Delaney shares true connections to campus, along with the two professors celebrating their 30-year anniversaries.
“I felt about UNF in 2003 the same way I felt about Jacksonville ten years earlier – it was just about to take off.”
Academically, UNF has steadily added colleges and programs since the eighties to increase options for students.
Kenneth Wilburn, an administrative professor for the College of Education, has kept his same job since 1981.
“One thing I liked about the campus back then may have been the idea of putting faculty together of different disciplines in the same area. On one side of me was a professor of economics and on the other side of me was a professor of finance. Now everybody is in their own suite and disciplines of office…I haven’t had a conversation with someone in the College of Business for three to four years,” Wilburn said.
Professor Wilburn noted the commuter-nature of the campus affects the start time for classes, making them later in the afternoon rather than the morning, like they are currently.
John Delaney describes the university’s development by stating that “One-third of buildings on campus are brand new…Personally, I’ve enjoyed my time here on campus; I’m proud of where the university is heading.”
Wilburn hopes that in regards to UNF’s expansion, a limit will be implemented. Since the 1980s, this university has grown exponentially.
“I would hope that some group of people who are skilled at planning and have a good sense of future make a decision about the maximum of students and programs UNF should have. Purposeful change, not just growth,” he adds.
Both Mabrey and Wilburn cherish their working environments, even 30 years into their career in the nest.
“They’re not just good researchers,” Mabrey said of her coworkers, “they’re good people.”
Every professor celebrating landmark anniversaries at UNF have impacted the university and its inhabitants, in some way, just as Mabrey and Wilburn have.
“We just want to make [UNF] better. I call it a final maturation or maturing,” Delaney said. “Yes, since the 1980s, The University of North Florida has undergone drastic changes anywhere from the campus buildings to the campus people, change has taken effect everywhere.”
One thing, though, remains the same throughout; UNF’s individualized learning.
As Kenneth Wilburn so blatantly puts it, “You get what people would think of as a private school education with a public school price.”
Mitch Register, percussion major, details how Professor Mabrey and others should be praised for their ability to specialize learning, even with the growing campus.
“I hope we have a better way of recognizing professors like Charlotte….she has the power to get [people] where they want to be,” he said.