In July 1983, FAU welcomed the first woman to head a public university in Florida history, Dr. Helen Popovich. For the 18-month period preceding her appointment, she had been the acting president of Winona State University in Minnesota.
One far-reaching change implemented at FAU during her presidency was the addition of freshman and sophomore classes to the student body in 1984. South Florida’s rapidly expanding population had generated strong demand for a four-year university, and FAU answered the call. The university simultaneously maintained its cooperative relationship with all of the community colleges in its service region, tailoring “2+2” degree programs that allowed community college graduates to move on to university studies without facing transitional obstacles.
Dr. Popovich placed special emphasis on adding more minorities to the university’s faculty, staff and student body, and she succeeded in pushing those numbers upward. During her six years in office, the enrollment of African American and Hispanic students increased, and the faculty and administration became more diverse. She also supported the appointment of more women to faculty and administrative positions, and she encouraged creation of the Women’s Studies certificate program.
FAU’s ability to serve Broward County students in their home community took a significant step forward with the opening of the Reuben O’D. Askew University Tower in downtown Fort Lauderdale in 1987. This nine-story classroom and office building, named after a former Florida governor who later joined the faculty for a short period of time, housed programs in business and public administration.
Graduate programs and research activity also advanced during Dr. Popovich’s administration. In 1989, her last year in office, FAU reached the important milestone of $10 million in sponsored research.
When Dr. Popovich left FAU to accept the presidency of Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, enrollment stood at 11,743 and alumni had increased to 41,152.