Think Big: Tony Catanese Doesn’t Believe in Small Ideas
Tony Catanese doesn’t believe in small ideas. In fact, a favorite quote, from famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham, best captures Catanese’s philosophy: “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, mark a decade at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne; thinking big remains the order of the day.
From Respected to World Class
When the Cataneses arrived at Florida Tech 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.
“At this time in Florida Tech’s history, it is important that our president be someone who can elevate the university to the same prominence nationally that it now enjoys on a local and regional level,” said Florida Tech trustee and search committee chairman Charles Clemente upon Catanese’s hiring. “The committee is certain that Dr. Catanese is that president.”
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.
“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.”
And worked it has. Florida Tech earns numerous educational accolades each year, most prestigious of which is its status as a Tier 1 Best National University, awarded by U.S. News and World Report. The honors are independent confirmation that the success continues.
While success has continued to grow on campus, Sara Catanese remains 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 is also an active participant in several local charity groups.
Embracing the Arts
“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. Ruth Funk, artist, teacher, collector and philanthropist, had supported textile arts exhibits, symposia and curriculum on campus since 2004. It was her $1.25 million gift that provided the impetus to make the center a reality.
“The Funk Center is a great example of technology and art uniting in ways that benefit us all,” Catanese said. “The human history of textiles is a fascinating study, and we’re pleased to have such an important center at Florida Tech.”
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.
“We have great hopes for the future of the Foosaner Art Museum, and what it can mean for the community as well as students at Florida Tech,” Catanese said. “In its first year, we’ve had some wonderful exhibits. There are exciting times ahead.”
Focused on the Future
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. The university officially concluded its 50th anniversary celebration on Sept. 26, 2009, announcing that the Golden Anniversary Campaign for Florida Tech had exceeded its goal and raised almost $60 million. The campaign, underway since 2004, benefited a range of areas—from scholarships to bricks and mortar facilities.
“The spirit of the Golden Anniversary Capital Campaign was inextricably woven into the fabric of who we are as researchers, scientists and educators,” Catanese said during the celebration.
“We look to the horizon and see not only what is, but what it could be.”
“As I reflect on the campaign, I’m particularly gratified to consider the thousands of students who will reap its benefits,” said Campaign Chairman and Trustee Phillip W. Farmer. “Students from all walks of life, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures and countries, now have new opportunities to pursue their dreams of an education thanks to expanded scholarship funds. Those seeking the latest in technology need look no further than the university’s enhanced physical resources. New faculty and new programs will give these students the means to pursue their educational ambitions and to succeed.”
Major gifts to the campaign opened new avenues of research and learning. Examples included: a $5 million grant by the Harris Corporation Charitable Fund through the Community Foundation of Brevard to create the Harris Institute for Assured Information. The Harris Institute focuses on developing advanced solutions to protect global information security. An additional $2 million was earmarked for research and development. A $5 million gift designed to enhance business offerings and strengthen online education was given by Nathan M. Bisk, one of the nation’s leaders in continuing education and online learning and a $1.5 million endowment to create the Farmer Scholars Program was given by Phillip W. Farmer. The retired chairman, president and chief executive officer of Harris Corporation said the gift was his way of recognizing the importance of scholarships for deserving students. 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. “Soon, we’ll announce plans for a new capital campaign,” Catanese said. “We must remain focused on our future, and funding that future is a top priority.
“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. Our campus, continuing to work together with alumni and the Space Coast community, remains committed to the big ideas that befit a bright tomorrow.”
President Anthony J. Catanese
Select Accomplishments, The First Decade
- Students served grown from approximately 4,000 in 2002 to roughly 16,000 annually
- Ensured that Florida Tech is more visible and active in the local community—not only “in” Melbourne, but “of” Melbourne
- Achieved and maintained a Tier 1 Best National University ranking from U.S. News & World Report
- Funded research expanded from $16 million to $100 million
- Revenues grown from $60 million to $150 million
- Raised $125 million in private funding in 10 years, including a $60 million capital campaign
- Expanded and embraced the arts, with the founding of the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts, the Foosaner Art Museum and a growing music program
- Grown the athletic program to 21 sports, most recently adding swimming, lacrosse and football
- Enhanced athletic facilities, including the addition of the Panther Aquatic Center and the Athletic Training Facility (under construction)
- Established institutes that are fast becoming international leaders in their respective fields—the Scott Center for Autism Treatment and the Harris Institute for Information Assurance
- Instituted a “buy local” policy for university goods and services
- Engendered a campus culture of public service, creating the Civic Engagement Initiative
- University named to the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for six consecutive years
- Maintained involvement as a local, state and national leader in education, having served as president or chairman of: the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF), the Sunshine State Athletics Conference, the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities, and the Florida Campus Compact
Catanese Administration Timeline
- Dr. Anthony James Catanese becomes the fourth president of the university. Dr. Catanese joins Florida Tech after a dozen successful years as the president of Florida Atlantic University. A well-regarded urban planner, Dr. Catanese also holds the position of professor in the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business. He is a prolific writer, having authored 13 books, 65 journal articles and over 100 research reports.
- Construction is completed on seven new residence halls, which are named for each of the seven fallen astronauts of the Shuttle Columbia and dedicated to their memory.
- University launches Panther Pride Florida Tech license plate.
- Online master’s degree in information technology launches through Bisk Education.
- F.W. Olin Physical Sciences Center opens.
- Buehler Trust donates $1.5 million to fund a training and research center at Melbourne International Airport.
- Ruth Funk donates $1.25 million to create a textiles museum.
- Kicked off $50 million capital campaign.
- Online Undergraduate and MBA degree programs launch through Bisk Education.
- Groundbreaking for Scott Center for Autism Treatment, Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts and Harris Center for Science and Engineering.
- Construction begins on the Emil Buehler Center for Aviation Training and Research at Melbourne International Airport.
- The Ortega reflecting telescope, the largest research telescope in Florida, is installed.
- College of Business becomes Nathan M. Bisk College of Business.
- Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts opens.
- Emil Buehler Center for Aviation Training and Research established at Melbourne International Airport.
- Golden Anniversary Campaign concludes, nearly $60 million raised.
- Scott Center for Autism Treatment opens.
- Harris Center for Science and Engineering and, within it, Harris Institute for Information Assurance, opens.
- Florida Tech Research Park established at Melbourne International Airport.
- Football Program initiated.
- University named FAA Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.
- Panther Dining Hall opens.
- Brevard Art Museum merges with university; $1 million gift establishes it as Foosaner Art Museum.
- Panther Aquatic Center completed.
- Florida Tech and NASA host International Space University Space Studies Program, first hosted 25 years ago at MIT.
- Catanese marks 10 years as president.
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