The University of North Florida’s Mednexus foothold in Palm Coast’s Town center will launch with 50 students in August, double the initially projected number of students, and the university will direct $1 million toward scholarships in Palm Coast, UNF President David Szymanski said in a joint appearance with Mayor Milissa Holland in Town Center today.
Szymanski and Holland spoke to a handful of UNF and city staffers a short distance from the City Centre building at 145 City Place, a few wingspans from City Hall, where the university is renovating space that will accommodate classrooms, a skills lab, faculty and administrative offices. That building houses the Chiumento law firm, Florida Health Care, the insurer, Allete properties, Parkside Realty and ACI.
Holland described the plan for Town Center as “a soaring vitality, a vision we have been seeking since the infrastructure was developed 15 years ago.”
UNF’s Mednexus is a new initiative that would turn Palm Coast into one of the university’s health care education hubs through partnerships with Daytona State College, AdventHealth Palm Coast and the Flagler County school district. The initiative would capitalize on a dire need for health care professionals–nursing, rehabilitation, counseling, nutrition, health sciences, medical engineering, analytics, psychology, computing, ethics–by preparing students for those professions. Officials like to apply the pipeline metaphor to the initiative, the pipeline extending from the district’s two high schools to DSC’s programs, such as nursing, to UNF’s bachelor’s and master’s programs, by way of clinical experience at AdventHealth. (Daytona State College President Tom LoBasso was at the Town Center announcement.)
“So we originally talked about 21 students coming down,” Szymanski said. “We’re going to have 50 students in the cohort, and 21 of these students are going to be doing their clinicals right here at AdventHealth.” UNF will also appoint a local director. “It’ll be somebody from this area, who lives in this city, who understands our needs and understands our students.”
UNF’s Mednexus is one of two major university launches in Town Center on Holland’s watch. The other is the concurrent arrival of the Jacksonville University, whose classrooms will also start at the same building in fall. In both cases, the Palm Coast City Council approved direct subsidies for the initiatives–$1.5 million for UNF, and $2.5 million for the Jacksonville University, $1 million of that in the form of a forgivable loan. UNF’s overall, long-term Mednexus plan is for a $23 million investment between Palm Coast and Jacksonville operations, much of it drawn from legislative appropriations. The Jacksonville University is a private school that gets no direct state subsidies.
Referencing the local hire of a director and the scholarship amount, Szymanski seemed intent on stressing local connections, perhaps to counter any resistance that may simmer against the city’s contributions (Council members Victor Barbosa and Ed Danko, for instance, have opposed in part or in full the contributions to the Jacksonville University. Danko said a private school should not get city subsidies. Barbosa wanted to see the $1.5 million subsidy go to city needs).
“Perhaps one of the things that I’m really, really excited to talk about is that we’re going to be reinvesting money that was given to us by the City of Palm Coast back into scholarships,” the UNF president said. “We’re going to have about $1 million in scholarships we’re going to give to students locally so they can pursue their undergraduate degrees as well as their graduate degrees.”
UNF is “a few years out” from building its own facility in Town center, Holland said. “The key to growing the program here is ensuring the clinical rotations are in place and are able to scale as that is the essential piece to graduating the students,” the mayor said after today’s announcement. “This short term facility made sense to ensure they were able to accept students in the immediate future.”
Holland acknowledged the contributions of State Rep. Paul Renner and Sen. Travis Hutson, who represent Flagler County, LoBasso and AdventHealth’s David Ottati.
“It was obvious from the beginning that this innovative vision and model was an exciting new opportunity for our community in so many ways,” Holland said. “Here we are, witnessing the reality of this vision, the work, the collaboration, and the support. We are so happy that UNF chose the City of Palm Coast as a partner, and we so appreciate the support from those that helped bring us to the point we are at today.”