There is nothing that changes a person’s life more dramatically and emphatically than higher education, said President John C. Hitt during Tuesday’s annual State of the University address.

Hitt discussed UCF’s plans for the year, diversity and inclusion, UCF’s accomplishments and UCF’s faculty, alumni, and students.

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“If we want our students to be able to reach their full potential, they have to work in an atmosphere that is diverse and inclusive,” said President Hitt on why diversity and inclusion is important at UCF. Moderator Grant Heston, vice president for UCF’s communications and marketing, said to President Hitt “when [Hitt] first started at UCF, in terms of UCF’s student population, the diversity was about 15 percent; we are now at 46 percent this fall. What did that make [President Hitt] feel like?”

“It makes me feel great, but also know we have a long way to go to achieve our goals so it’s a good progress along the way and I think we’re closer to where we need to be,” said Hitt. “But again we still have work to do.” In a new twist on things, President Hitt was asked questions by video from community members and UCF alumni.

Barbara Jenkins, class of ‘83, ‘86, ‘96 and Orange County School Superintendent, asked what’s next for the downtown campus.

“In early ‘18, we’ll start pouring concrete and moving dirt so there’s a lot of other work to be done and making sure we’re prepared programmatically for what we do when we get there,” said Hitt. “If you think about that downtown opportunity, it’s so phenomenal.”

“Scale times excellence equals impact,” is what George Kalogridis, class of ‘76 and president of Walt Disney World resorts, asked President Hitt on the meaning and origin of that formula.

“This phrase emerged from our strategic planning efforts led by our provost and executive Vice President Dale Whittaker and what it really says is that if you look at size and quality there’s a multiplicity relationship between them and that’s very important if it were just an additive relationship, you wouldn’t see the tremendous impact you could get with the application of scale and quality,” said Hitt. “What it’s really getting at is if you can combine good size with good quality, you get an enormous impact for the good and if you don’t understand scale is a multiplier of quality than you are missing the point. We so often encounter people that just because something is big, it can’t be good. To me it just recognizes the effect that scale really matters and size matters.”

Hitt spoke positively on UCF’s Athletic teams. He said Katie Abrahamson-Henderson has done a remarkable job coaching UCF’s women’s basketball team as well as mentioning the women’s soccer team, “last I saw they were ranked #8 in the country and had just beaten LSU.”

On UCF’s football team’s current winning streak, Hitt said it’s phenomenal. We’ve had our best start ever.

During the address, there was the musical stylings of Jeff Rupert’s, a trustee chair, a Pegasus professor and director of UCF’s Jazz studies program, students as a way to show some of UCF’s arts.

Jeff Strange, president leadership council vice chair and first-generation college student, asked Hitt what UCF is doing to ensure all students are successful during their time at UCF and afterward.

Hitt said he was a first-generation college student and it was his father’s dream for Hitt to go to college, but his father passed away when he was 15. Hitt credits having access to education to be where he is now and UCF can offer the same opportunities to first-generation students that he received.

“I would have never had the kind of opportunities that I have enjoyed as a faculty member, administrator, dean, vice president and president, the scope and scale of opportunity that one gets through accessing higher education,” said Hitt. “We have about 25 percent of our students who are the first in their families to go to college, that’s a good size number. We really have an opportunity through the work that we do with the first-generation students and members of other underrepresented groups, we’ve got a real opportunity to help them get to a point in life where they are going to have a much more fulfilling and stimulating life than otherwise.”