Think Big: The Catanese Legacy

Tony Catanese doesn’t believe in small ideas.

A favorite quote, from famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, best captures his credo: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work … remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.”

“I think that’s great advice for life—whether you’re designing a metropolis or managing a university,” Catanese said. “Set big goals and then work hard to achieve them.”

Himself an urban planner, Catanese’s career is a case study in success. As he and wife, Sara, prepare to conclude 14 years as Florida Tech’s first family, thinking big has been the hallmark of all they have accomplished.

[quote]Florida Tech is unique in the history of American higher education, (and) has a big future ahead. Sara and I have been privileged to be a part of this outstanding success.[/quote]

When the Cataneses arrived in July 2002, the campus was poised for growth. And, fresh from a dozen years as president of Florida Atlantic University, Catanese was ready for new challenges. Everyone’s expectations were high. By the end of 2003, Catanese had assembled an administrative team including T. Dwayne McCay as provost and chief academic officer. The goal was clear—elevate the high-quality institution from one of regional respect to international acclaim.

“Tony has set the table, and given us an important foundation upon which we must build,” said McCay, who has been named Catanese’s successor. “His leadership has been nothing less than transformational.”

“We knew it would take time, but by cultivating the right mix of outstanding faculty leading a student-centered educational focus including hands-on research experience, it was clear from the beginning that the recipe would work,” Catanese said.

And worked it has. Florida Tech earns numerous educational accolades each year, most prestigious of which is its status as a Tier One Best National University, awarded by U.S. News & World Report. The honors are independent confirmation that the success continues.

While success has continued to grow on campus, Sara Catanese has remained active not only at the university but in the community as a volunteer, serving on the board of the Brevard Symphony Orchestra and the former Brevard Art Museum. She has worked tirelessly with several local charity groups.

[box]Timeline and photo gallery of the Catanese administration [/box]

Meanwhile, one of Catanese’s passions has been integrating the arts into technology education.

“We like to say that we educate the ‘whole brain’ at Florida Tech,” Catanese said. “I have always believed that in order to receive a well-rounded education, the arts and sciences must be balanced in the curriculum. Appreciating the arts adds value to all of life’s experiences.” Himself a percussionist and founder of the all-faculty band TWITCHY, Catanese knows performing is enriching.

With that in mind, Catanese added a music program at Florida Tech. Ensembles regularly offer students a musical outlet, and performances are scheduled either in the Panthereum on campus or the Gleason Performing Arts Center throughout the year.

In 2008, Catanese broke ground on the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts— the only textiles center of its kind in the state. In 2011, the former Brevard Art Museum merged with the university, giving the longtime community resource a new lease on life. With a $1 million gift from the Foosaner Foundation and a fresh name, a new path for the Foosaner Art Museum was set.

Catanese knew from the beginning that funding the future of the only independent, technological institute in the Southeast would require careful coordination. Florida Tech’s Golden Anniversary in 2008 provided the perfect platform to launch a $50 million capital campaign.

“People told me at the time ‘yeah, that’ll never work. That’s too much money. Between the economy and competition for scarce resources, you’ll never make that.’”

Catanese’s team set out to prove the naysayers wrong, rolling up their sleeves and canvassing the community and the country for support from those who would invest in the university’s future. Officially concluded on Sept. 26, 2009, the Golden Anniversary Campaign for Florida Tech exceeded its goal and raised $60 million.

Major gifts to the campaign opened new avenues of research and learning like a $5 million grant by the Harris Corporation Charitable Fund through the Community Foundation of Brevard to create the Harris Institute for Assured Information; a
$5 million gift designed to enhance business offerings and strengthen online education, given by Nathan M. Bisk, one of the nation’s leaders in continuing education and online learning. A $1.5 million endowment to create the Farmer Scholars Program, given by Phillip W. Farmer. Other gifts included funding to build facilities and create programs for the Emil Buehler Center for Aviation Training and Research, The Scott Center for Autism Treatment, the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts, and the Northrop Grumman Engineering and Science Student Design Showcase.

But that was just the beginning, as the Golden Anniversary Campaign proved great things could be accomplished. This April, the university will conclude only its second major fundraising initiative, the ambitious $100 million Create The Future campaign. “We must remain focused on our future, and funding that future has always been one of my top priorities,” Catanese said.

The university has expanded in key areas under Catanese’s leadership, increasing the number of students served from approximately 3,600 in 2002 to more than 16,000 today. Revenues have risen from $73 million to $233 million. Athletics has grown to 22 varsity teams, including football and lacrosse.

“Florida Tech is unique in the history of American higher education,” Catanese added. “And her opportunities are unique as well. Florida Tech has a big future ahead. Sara and I have been privileged to be a part of this outstanding success.”

Catanese plans to continue as a member of the Florida Tech faculty following his June 30 retirement, serving as a university research professor. And of course, cheering “FIT!” at Florida Tech athletic events.

“Once a Panther, always a Panther,” Catanese said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

—Wes Sumner

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