The University of West Florida formally installed Dr. Martha Saunders as its sixth president on Friday during an inauguration ceremony held at the UWF Center for Fine and Performing Arts.
“The inauguration of a new president is really a celebration of the university she serves,” Saunders said.
Trustees, faculty, staff, students, board members, community leaders and delegates from institutions across the globe attended the celebration, which included a reception at UWF on the Emerald Coast on Tuesday, a distinguished guests reception on Thursday evening and an inauguration procession, ceremony and reception on Friday.
Honored guests included Chancellor Marshall Criser III of the State University System of Florida, Chancellor Madeline Pumariega of the Florida College System, and Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, as well as past UWF presidents John Cavanaugh, Morris Marx, and Judy Bense.
“This is an extraordinary day for the University of West Florida and I am thrilled to install Dr. Saunders as the sixth president of this remarkable institution,” said Mort O’Sullivan, chair of the UWF Board of Trustees. “She is the leader we need to take the University to the next level and help us grow our impact on our community, region, state and beyond.”
University trustees chose Saunders as UWF’s sixth president last September, selecting her over fellow finalist Don Gaetz, a former president of the Florida Senate. Saunders was confirmed by the state Board of Governors in November and assumed the role on January 1 as UWF launched its 50th Anniversary milestone celebration.
Saunders’ career in higher education began in 1984 at UWF, where she served as an instructor in the communication arts department. She quickly rose through the ranks, taking on roles including public relations program coordinator, director of the University Honors Program and dean for the College of Arts and Sciences.
Saunders also served as vice president for academic affairs at Columbus State University and as the first female chancellor for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She then led the University of Southern Mississippi as its first female president, before returning to UWF in 2013 as provost. In 2014, Saunders was appointed executive vice president at UWF, assuming the role as chief operating officer, in addition to chief academic officer and vice president for the Division of Academic Affairs.
Saunders’ tenure at both Wisconsin-Whitewater and Southern Miss were marked by growth in enrollment, strong fundraising, and new campus development. Saunders envisions similar growth in those areas at UWF by increasing its physical presence in downtown Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, investing in programs such as global online, cybersecurity and supply chain logistics and visiting local high schools to recruit talented students.
“I foresee a future when people arriving in this area will know they are in a university town because they can see it, hear it, feel it, experience it,” Saunders said. “ Our students will come to us fully confident in their choice because we will take them where they want to be.”
Saunders received a doctorate in communication theory and research from Florida State University. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a bachelor’s degree in French from the University of Southern Mississippi.