Stetson University: 2017 Year in Review

Stetson University launched the new Centurion Sales Program, opened a new Bookstore and started construction on the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center. Noel Painter, Ph.D., was named provost and executive vice president, while the Beyond Success – Significance Campaign surpassed the $100 million mark.

portrait of Noel Painter seated at a piano
Noel Painter, Ph.D., was named Stetson University provost and executive vice president in January 2017.

The year 2017 included milestones for Stetson, as well as accolades. The university again was recognized as one of the nation’s leading undergraduate institutions by The Princeton Review, ranked as one of the top Regional Universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report and named one of “The Best Colleges for Your Money” by Time’s MONEY magazine.

U.S. News & World Report also ranked Stetson University College of Law as No. 1 in Trial Advocacy for the 19th time in 23 years. And the director of its Veterans Law Institute was selected for a federal judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

President Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D., signed the CEO Action Pledge to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. And Stetson became the first private liberal arts institution to host the Florida Collegiate Pride Coalition Conference, helping to raise awareness of the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community.

rendering shows very pretty CUB with a two-story wall of glass along back of cafeteria
The renovation and expansion of the Carlton Union Building will be completed by the end of 2018.

In Athletics, the Women’s Basketball team became ASUN regular season champions for the first time in school history. The Men’s Rowing teams won six state titles and earned the overall points trophy for the first time at the Florida Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships.

Work continued on the renovation and expansion of the Carlton Union Building (CUB). A new, larger Bookstore, Post Office and Copy Center opened for Fall Semester 2017, and work progressed on even more spaces for students in the CUB.

Nick Blakely

But the year also brought tragedy and challenges, as well. Just days after classes began in August, 19-year-old football player Nick Blakely collapsed after a practice and later died at the hospital. The sudden passing of the popular linebacker and accounting major from Lawrenceville, Georgia, triggered an outpouring of condolences from around the country and attracted hundreds to his Service of Remembrance in Lee Chapel.

A week later, Stetson closed its four campuses and prepared for Hurricane Irma, which knocked out electricity in DeLand for days but caused only minimal damage on campus.

Here are some of the highlights of 2017, month by month, as chronicled by Stetson Today:

Noel Painter Named EVP, Provost for Stetson: After serving as interim provost since June 2016, the longstanding faculty member and administrator in the School of Music was appointed as executive vice president and provost. Painter, Ph.D., serves as the chief academic officer, overseeing the academic administration of all undergraduate and graduate programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Law, the School of Business Administration and the School of Music.

3 New Chaplains Begin Work at Stetson: Three new chaplains started work at Stetson, expanding the diversity of faiths in the Chaplains’ Office to include a Baptist minister, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor and a Buddhist minister. The trio replaced Rev. Michael Fronk, who retired in November 2016, due to health reasons.

Women's basketball team celebrates on the floor after the game.
After a dramatic overtime win against Florida Gulf Coast, the Women’s Basketball team becomes ASUN regular season champions for the first time in Hatter history.

Women’s Basketball Team Captures ASUN Regular Season Title for First Time: A dramatic overtime win added to the epic women’s basketball saga between Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast, and for the first time in school history, the Hatters became ASUN regular season champions.

Stetson College of Law Ranks No. 1 in Trial Advocacy: U.S. News & World Report ranked Stetson College of Law as No. 1 in Trial Advocacy for the 19th time in 23 years, and fourth in the nation for Legal Writing.

Beyond Success – Significance Campaign Surpasses $100 million: Jeff Ulmer, vice president of Development and Alumni Engagement, said the comprehensive campaign reached $100 million toward the goal of $150 million. The money will be used for new facilities, student support, including scholarships and fellowships, and academics, such as faculty research.

Stetson Men’s Rowing Wins Six Golds at FIRA Championships: The Men’s Rowing teams shined at the Florida Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships, winning six state titles and earning the overall points trophy for the first time.

Stetson Law Students Win Awards in International Competition: Stetson College of Law students won honorable mention awards in three categories at the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot (East) Competition in Hong Kong.

LGBTQ+ Conference at Stetson Attracts More Than 100: Stetson became the first private liberal arts institution to host the Florida Collegiate Pride Coalition Conference, attracting about 140 participants to hear speakers and raise awareness of the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community.

Meet Stetson’s New Title IX Coordinator: Executive Director and Title IX Coordinator Cathy Downes and her team of professionals ensure Stetson follows Title IX policies and procedures on the DeLand campus, Gulfport campus, and the centers in Celebration and Tampa. Title IX prohibits gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence in education.

Donald Payne, wearing his Jacksonville Jaguars uniform, readies for a play on the football field.
Donald Payne plays on Special Teams for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Donald Payne Signs with NFL Team: The former No. 7 became the first Hatter to sign with an NFL team in the modern era, training initially with the Baltimore Ravens and later joining the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Stetson Breaks Ground on Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center: University leaders and athletes gathered for a ceremonial groundbreaking of the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center. Named for a great-granddaughter of the university’s namesake and benefactor, John B. Stetson, the facility will provide a permanent home for the University Rowing teams, space for the Stetson Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, and a place for public recreation along Lake Beresford. The first phase of construction is set for completion in fall 2018.

Building on a sloping hill
A rendering shows the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center.

New $5 Student Fee Will Fund Environmental Projects: A Stetson Environmental Fellow led the effort for a new $5 Green Fee that will pay for projects that save money and decrease the university’s environmental impact. Students will vote on the first project of their choice during the Spring 2018 semester.

Stetson Board of Trustees Elects 4 New Members, Reappoints 7: The new members are all graduates of Stetson. The Trustees also approved the university’s 2017-2018 budget, which provided funding for the ongoing renovation and expansion of the CUB, and $1.5 million for energy-saving projects, such as switching to more efficient LED lighting across campus.

Stetson Graduates Largest Class Ever: A record 879 students graduated in DeLand, up from 830 graduates the prior year. The latest class included 687 undergraduate and 192 graduate students. And in Gulfport, another 254 law school students graduated from the Stetson University College of Law.


portrait of Sean Kennard
Sean Kennard

Internationally Acclaimed Classical Pianist Joins Stetson Faculty: Sean Kennard was selected as assistant professor of piano for the Stetson School of Music, replacing Professor Michael Rickman, D.M.A. and Steinway Artist, who retired after 34 years.

Director of Stetson Veterans Law Institute Tapped for Federal Judgeship: Michael P. Allen, director of the Stetson University College of Law Veterans Law Institute and a professor of law, was selected by President Donald Trump for a federal judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. His appointment was later confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

New Bookstore, Post Office and Copy Center Open in the CUB: A larger campus Bookstore, Convenience Store, Post Office and Copy Center opened in the Carlton Union Building in time for fall semester. The CUB will be renovated and expanded in phases through the end of 2018. A new Commons Dining Hall is slated to open in Fall 2018, along with student offices, meeting rooms and lounge, and a renovated Stetson Room.

Stetson Named Among ‘Best Colleges for Your Money’: Time’s MONEY magazine looked at 2,400 public and private colleges and universities nationwide and ranked them based on factors, including educational quality, affordability and alumni success. Stetson was listed among the 711 best colleges in the country, according to the 2017 ranking.

Stetson President Wendy Libby on stage at the lecturn
Stetson President Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D., speaks at the Opening Faculty and Staff Meeting on Aug. 23.

President Libby Says Stetson Will Sign Diversity Pledge: Speaking at the Opening Faculty and Staff Meeting for the new academic year, President Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D., announced Stetson will sign the CEO Action Pledge to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. “I’m announcing that Stetson University intends to sign the CEO Action Pledge, being one of the first universities in the country to do so and joining hundreds of national and international companies,” she said. Libby’s announcement came a week and a half after the violent rally by Neo-Nazis and white supremacists at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Convocation Speaker Says Stetson Fueled her Dreams: Julia Nesheiwat ’97, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, Acting, spoke to students, faculty and staff at Convocation about Stetson’s role in shaping the trajectory of her life – and of her four siblings, who all attended and/or graduated from Stetson. Her mother, Hayat, took a class, too. Nesheiwat, Ph.D., also received the Distinguished Alumni Award for 2017 during Homecoming Weekend in November.

‘You Always Had a Smile’: Family and friends are shocked by the sudden passing of Stetson football player Nick Blakely. The sophomore accounting major collapsed following a practice on Aug. 28, 2017, and later died at the hospital. The next day, students crowded into the Allen Hall Auditorium to mourn for the popular athlete and hundreds attended a Service of Remembrance for him in Lee Chapel days later.

Stetson campuses closed for Hurricane Irma: Stetson closed its four campuses as Hurricane Irma headed toward Florida. After the storm passed, university officials said the campuses had fared very well considering the strength of Irma, which downed some trees and caused minor damage. Restoring electricity was the major issue before the Gulfport and DeLand campuses could reopen.

Stetson wins 11th Annual Civil Rights and Liberties Moot Court Competition: A team of students from the Stetson College of Law won the 11th Annual Civil Rights and Liberties Moot Court Competition in Atlanta. A total of 30 teams nationwide travelled to Atlanta for the competition.

Stetson Business Ethics Team Takes Third at National Collegiate Competition: Stetson students placed third in the 15th Annual Collegiate Ethics Case Competition at the University of Arizona, competing against teams from the top public and private business schools in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Pete Dunn Honored; Gavilsky, Ryder Selected for Hall of Fame: Former women’s soccer star Tessa Gavilsky and current PGA Tour member Sam Ryder became the latest members of the Stetson Athletics Hall of Fame. The ceremony during Homecoming Weekend also celebrated the career of retired baseball head coach and Stetson Athletics Hall of Famer Pete Dunn.

A group of people hold ribbon in front of Sales Center inside the Lynn Business Center
Attending the ribbon cutting were Leopoldo Fernandez ’73, holding the scissors, whose donation in honor of his father, Genaro Fernandez Centurion, made the new sales program possible. Standing to his right is Marilina Fernandez, and to his left, Stetson President Wendy B. Libby.

Stetson’s Centurion Sales Program Takes Off: Stetson’s School of Business Administration held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new Centurion Sales Program, celebrating the grand opening of five new role-play, sales laboratories on the DeLand campus. The new program was made possible by a donation from Leopoldo Fernandez, a Stetson alumnus and entrepreneur, in honor of his father, Genaro Fernandez Centurion.

Hatters Score Well in NCAA Report on Graduation Rates: Stetson student-athletes who entered college in 2010 graduated at a rate of 91 percent, exceeding the national average for student-athletes, according to a NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate Report.

Stetson Water Institute Set to Receive $1.3M in Water Pollution Lawsuit: The Stetson Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience may soon receive $1.3 million to create a Sustainable Farming Fund and help farmers reduce pollution draining into area waterways. Chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride agreed to pay the money in a proposed settlement filed in federal court after two environmental groups sued over pollutants discharged into the Suwannee River. The settlement is awaiting approval from the federal judge.

Black and white portrait of Michael Fronk seated in a recliner chair in his home.
Michael Fronk reflects on his career, his family and his health in his DeLand home in October 2016. Photo by Joel Jones/Stetson University

Remembering a Beloved Stetson Chaplain: As winter break began, the Stetson Community learned of the passing of retired Stetson Chaplain Michael Fronk ’74. The Southern Baptist minister had battled a lengthy illness and passed away Dec. 21, 2017, with family members at his side. A memorial service will take place at Stetson in Lee Chapel at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018.

Stetson’s Sold-out Christmas Concerts Air on WMFE: The popular concert featured more than 200 student vocalists and musicians celebrating the holiday season in live performances in Stetson’s historic Lee Chapel. The performance also can be seen on video.