Connecting UF With the Community


By: Caitlyn Finnegan

Every day brings a new opportunity for Susan Crowley to help impact the community, but there’s one memory that stands out.

In 2010, Keith Robinson, a University of Florida graduate who was working with Teach for America in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, contacted her about a chance to visit the campus to get his seventh-grade class “interested in—and excited about—attending college.”

Crowley, the assistant vice president of community relations at UF, was happy to help. She contacted the major academic and athletic departments to set up tours while Robinson raised $20,000 to bring 20 of his best students to Gainesville. A few months later, the students donned scrubs to meet with Shands doctors, held baby alligators and even spoke with Tim Tebow over Skype.

“That’s the thing I like the most about my job; it’s never the same day-to-day schedule,” Crowley says. “My job is to react to what’s needed in the community. What I do to fulfill that can change every day based on the need or current situation.”


Town-Gown Connection

Crowley has been an active member in the Gainesville community for decades, having served on the executive boards of nonprofit organizations and volunteering for countless causes. Her extensive experience and ability to create a stronger town-gown relationship is what prompted Vice President of University Relations Jane Adams to select her as the right candidate to fill the newly formed community relations position in 2007.

Since then, Crowley has made it her mission to make university resources as accessible as possible. One of her priorities was the completion of the Community Outreach Database to help connect people with services available from each of UF’s colleges.

“The university can be a daunting place. One of the things we hope to be is a starting point for people,” Crowley says.

The database, which has listings for everything from medical care to pro bono legal work, gives those in need valuable connections to university expertise. The project benefits not only the immediate community, but people from a broader area. Recently, a nearby town solved some drainage issues with the help of a UF faculty member it reached through the database.


Wearing Many Hats

One of Crowley’s priorities is working with community leaders on economic development. Some days she sits through local government meetings to offer university input. Other days, she can be found coordinating community assistance through state outreach programs.

“To build relationships, you have to get out in the community and interact with people,” Crowley says. “You can’t sit in an office.”

One of Crowley’s responsibilities is hosting the monthly Eye Opener Discovery Breakfast, at which university staff and local professionals network and listen to a speaker.

With city and university efforts now more and more in sync, economic local development has flourished. Crowley and the university relations team help coordinate projects ranging from development of UF’s Eastside Campus off Waldo Road to Innovation Square.

When Shands revealed plans to shut down Shands at AGH, Crowley was heavily involved in communicating with the community about the coming changes and about new facilities that would help offset the loss of AGH. Throughout the process, she worked closely with Pat Rayos, the director of the affiliated congregations non-profit ACTION Network, and other community leaders.

“For many folks, AGH was their primary health center from birth to death, and the thought of having it closed raised several concerns,” Rayos says. “Susan helped us collaborate with Shands administration about what the community needed and she genuinely cared about making sure this area continued to receive quality health care.”


The Great Unifier

Crowley’s ability to craft strong relationships stems from years of experience as a leader in the community. She started volunteering for local causes as a member of her UF sorority chapter while she studied for a degree in English.

After she graduated, she spent time helping with the Alachua County Health Care Board, the Healthy Community Initiative, the Rotary Club of Gainesville and the Junior League of Gainesville.

When the stay-at-home mom of 15 years faced the death of her husband and the need to support her three children, she pulled from her years of volunteer experience and community connections to help her through the life-changing transition.

She began working with the Alachua County Medical Society, where she rose to executive vice president. In her 11 years there, she handled responsibilities such as directing programs to promote public health and traveling to Tallahassee to lobby for health care reform. Then, in 2007, she got the call to serve the university in the new community relations position.

Now she draws on her leadership experience to help programs that shape the future, such as health clinics for the homeless and a competition that helps develop business plans for small businesses.

“Compared with other universities, we have a huge campus, especially when you include Shands and our other health facilities,” Crowley says. “We need to continue to put our wide reach to good use.”

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