50 Most Powerful in Orlando 2022: Education
1 Alexander Cartwright
President, University of Central Florida
As president of the University of Central Florida, Alexander Cartwright is a living example of the role education can play in a person’s success. He came to UCF in April 2020 from his chancellor position at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Even more significant was that Cartwright was the first in his family to receive a college education. He has a passion for opening pathways to success for anybody willing to put in the work. “Universities continue to find new ways to broaden our ability to serve our communities, expanding beyond education to fuel economic prosperity through innovations, partnerships, and discoveries that impact society,” he explains. As an educator, Cartwright finds no more significant cause to fight than education for all. “It can have a generational impact. By providing the opportunity for every student to learn and grow—with a focus on removing barriers and boosting achievement—we can help more individuals reach their full potential,” he says. Downtime is a rare commodity for an educator in his position. But when he finds himself with the odd free moment, Cartwright prefers to spend it with his family, including his wife, Melinda, and dog Artemis.
2 Teresa Jacobs
Chair, Orange County Public Schools
Teresa Jacobs began serving her community long before she ran for public office. She was a member of transportation boards such as the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and MetroPlan Orlando, to name two. With active involvement in her four children’s PTAs and school advisory boards came a focus on the importance of education. And so Jacobs, who had served two terms as Orange County mayor, was named chair of the Orange County School Board in 2018.
She believes that the most important thing children need to succeed today is to become adaptive, critical thinkers. “Our world is changing so rapidly—from technology to the economy—that our students will need these skills to remain relevant in the workforce and to find opportunities in every change,” Jacobs says.
Essential to that, she says, is proper funding for public schools. “Public schools need enough funding to guarantee wages that motivate people to continue to enter and stay in the teaching profession. Public schools need sufficient funding to hire bus drivers to transport our children safely to and from school every day and to pay our food-service providers to prepare healthy meals for the thousands of children whose only healthy meals are the ones they receive at school. I continue to advocate for additional funding from the state.”
3 Dr. Kathleen Plinske
President, Valencia College
Dr. Kathleen Plinske took the phrase “never stop learning” and made an entire career out of just that. After attending the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy and receiving a full-ride scholarship to attend Indiana University, Dr. Plinske realized what a gift she had been given and wanted to advocate that others receive the same opportunities by utilizing her talents. Starting her career at her hometown community college, McHenry County College in Illinois, she worked to advocate that education is for everyone. Named president of Valencia College in July 2021, Dr. Plinske is surrounded by brilliant minds learning to shape the future. Her career advice is to be intentional about maintaining your humility—no one has a monopoly on wisdom. Practice being a good listener. And never stop learning. These are some wise words to follow.
4 Dr. Georgia Lorenz
President, Seminole State College of Florida
The third president to lead Seminole State College in its 50-plus years, Georgia Lorenz firmly believes that academics and workforce training pair well in higher education. Lorenz is working on expanding programs needed for students to gain employment in high-demand fields such as cybersecurity. Working closely with Seminole County Public Schools has been a priority for Lorenz, because “together we can ensure that every student finds a pathway to success.” In 2021, Lorenz earned an Aspen New Presidents Fellowship, created to support presidents early in their tenure. The college has been named one of 25 semifinalists for the $1 million 2023 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Lorenz says the school has a mission to work with underserved communities and students with jobs. “If most students have to work at least part-time while attending college, then Seminole State will engage in organizational change to create the best conditions for success for those students.”
5 Garry Jones
President, Full Sail University
In 1978, Garry Jones packed all his stuff into his ’74 Pinto wagon and drove 330 miles from Virginia to Ohio. Jones had signed up for a studio’s monthlong workshop on recording engineering and halfway through accepted an offer from the owner, Jon Phelps, to become an assistant sound engineer. The gig paid $9,000 a year.
It was a brilliant move, literally.
Phelps, who became one of Jones’ closest friends, would eventually launch Full Sail Productions in Orlando in 1979 and bring his buddy along for the ride. Renamed Full Sail University, the private, for-profit school moved to its current campus in Winter Park in 1989. Full Sail offers one-stop shopping for students looking to fuel their artistic muse through graduate and undergraduate degrees in entertainment, media, arts, and emerging technology.
Jones, 69, has been president of Full Sail since 1999. “If I were to speak of what legacy I would like to leave behind, it would reflect the school’s mission statement, which is to support the student’s dream,” he says. “From the beginning, we told our students, if you are serious about your dreams, we will take your dreams seriously. I like to keep that at the forefront of all our decisions.”
6 Dr. Deborah German
Vice President, UCF Health Affairs & Founding Dean, UCF College of Medicine
Dr. Deborah German is a physician, an educator, and an administrator. She works with students, faculty, staff, and the community to build the medical school and advance UCF’s mission in Lake Nona. Dr. German reached back to the very beginning of her career to present a remarkable gift to the 41 students of UCF Medical School’s inaugural class: Full scholarships for each. “Since I had been given such a scholarship, it was a way to give our students what had been given to me,” she says. Dr. German says it’s impossible for her to name a single mentor. “I consider everyone I meet to be my teacher,” she says, noting: “As I face life’s challenges, I am inspired by ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling and ‘Do It Anyway’ by Mother Teresa.”
7 Wendy Brandon
CEO, UCF Lake Nona Medical Center
When HCA Florida Healthcare broke ground on UCF Lake Nona Medical Center in 2018, company officials couldn’t have guessed their new teaching hospital would open amid a pandemic. But in March 2021, it did, with Wendy Brandon at the helm. The executive would bring over two decades of practical experience, including ten years as CEO of the 221-bed HCA Florida Lake Monroe Hospital, and a vision for innovative healthcare. “We were extremely fortunate that even after experiencing a year of challenges brought on by the global pandemic, we’ve inspired over 300 professionals to join our team,” she says. “Our hospital has been selected to be HCA Healthcare’s first Innovation Hub, where the future of healthcare is being built through clinically led integration of technology into care—producing better outcomes, efficiently delivered and digitally enabled.” When asked who inspires her: “I can never adequately express my gratitude to my parents, Ann and Jerry. They shared their faith, sacrificed for my education, and gave me the confidence to go out into the world to pursue my dreams.”
8 Dr. Grant Cornwell
President, Rollins College
Gorgeous architecture, home to a world-class orchestral and choral society, and the area’s only museum with Old Master paintings; we are talking about Rollins College in Winter Park, of course, presided over by Dr. Grant Cornwell. Inside Rollins’ Spanish-Mediterranean Revival walls, one will find an interdisciplinary approach to education with an emphasis on the experiential. Rollins’ 15th president oversees a faculty that prioritizes critical thought. “Our nation’s knowledge economy is vitally in need of a sophisticated, well-educated workforce,” notes Cornwell, who earned a doctorate in philosophy. “But the role of higher education is deeper still: Since the Founding Fathers, we have built the nation on the insight that democracy works only with an informed, educated citizenry,” he says. Cornwell, who has led Rollins since 2015, is an avid sailor, having learned the art while a dual-major undergrad at St. Lawrence University in New York. It would seem he was a natural fit for Rollins, whose mascot is the Tar, a sailor. (Yes, we Googled it.)
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