UNF president leaving to head university’s MedNexus startup

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After three years as president of the University of North Florida, David Szymanski will be transitioning next month to lead UNF MedNexus, a collaborative effort he created to expand educational programs and enhance medical research created last year with $6 million in funding from the Florida Legislature.

“UNF MedNexus is about students. It’s about jobs. It’s about meeting the healthcare needs of our community, our state and our healthcare providers,” Szymanski said. “UNF MedNexus will become a leader and catalyst in preparing high-quality healthcare professionals in Northeast Florida and throughout the state in a way that is innovative and uniquely UNF.”

The UNF’s Board of Trustees announced Thursday that Szymanski will assume the position of CEO and executive director of UNF MedNexus full time, effective Sept. 17. The trustees will meet to consider an interim president later this month and announce details on the search process for UNF’s next president soon.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve as President of UNF for the past three plus years,” Szymanski said. “I am extremely proud of all our accomplishments, including the successful launch of the UNF MedNexus initiative.”

During his tenure, which began in May 2018, Szymanski was recognized as a nationally-ranked public university by U.S. News and World Report for the first time in its nearly 50-year history and has achieved dramatic and substantial growth on nearly every State University System of Florida performance metric, from increasing four-year graduation rates nearly 14 percentage points in just three years, to increasing retention rates to over 81%, employment rates to nearly 73% and starting salaries for graduates to $41,000, and reducing the average total cost of education per student by over 50%.

“Approaching the final year of my presidency and shortly after receiving state support for UNF MedNexus, I initiated discussions with the leadership of the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees and the Chancellor on the best timing for a transition to lead UNF MedNexus on a full-time basis,” Szymanski said.

The university also raised nearly $50 million and hit a record endowment of over $147.6 million during Szymanski’s term and UNF implemented a separate strategic plan focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. He also hired a new provost and new leaders in academic affairs, marketing and communications, athletics, finance and governmental relations.

In addition to the accomplishments, Szymanski helped guide UNF through the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are tremendously grateful for President Szymanski’s leadership,” UNF Board of Trustees Chair Kevin Hyde said in a statement. “Under his direction, the University has built an exceptionally strong foundation for future success, and his many positive contributions as president will be felt for many years to come.”

Projections indicate that over 20% of Florida’s future job growth will be in healthcare disciplines and Northeast Florida is a top destination for quality healthcare, including highly specialized services. UNF MedNexus allows the University of North Florida and its partners — healthcare providers, thought leaders, educators and researchers — to address the state’s growing and evolving healthcare needs and provide a path for Florida students to find healthcare positions in Florida and beyond.

UNF MedNexus is currently in discussions with many of the region’s top healthcare providers, including Brooks Rehabilitation, AdventHealth of Palm Coast, Mayo Clinic, Memorial Hospital, Ascension St. Vincent’s, Baptist Health, University of Florida Health and Flagler Hospital.

UNF MedNexus partners also include regional colleges such as Florida State College at Jacksonville, St. Johns River State College and Daytona State College, as well as local secondary school systems that will be working together to develop unique career pathways from high school through to job placement.

As part of the initial phase, UNF MedNexus is building a new nurse training and healthcare simulation center at FSCJ Deerwood, as well as expanding a state-of-the-art medical technology innovation lab on UNF’s campus.

Through an innovative partnership with the city of Palm Coast and AdventHealth, UNF MedNexus is also extending UNF’s nursing programs and partnering on a second simulation lab in Palm Coast. UNF MedNexus will begin offering courses to the first Palm Coast cohort in Fall 2021.

In addition, UNF MedNexus has created new undergraduate and graduate scholarships for students in the UNF Brooks College of Health and School of Nursing. Scholarships are awarded based on students’ high academic credentials, performance and achievements. The first scholarships were awarded in Spring 2021 with plans to expand the program in the Fall 2021/Spring 2022 academic year.