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The University of Florida. The Foundation for The Gator Nation

When we created The Gator Nation campaign in the summer of 2005 our goal was to raise the awareness of what it meant to be a Florida Gator. Outstanding academic programs, a thriving student life, world-class athletics, and Gainesville, the best college town in America.

Dr. Machen believed we could achieve Top 10 status and perhaps even higher if we could only tell the UF story on a national stage. He put his money where his mouth was and allowed us to introduce a campaign that changed the paradigm in higher education, The Gator Nation!

Aided by that campaign and the support of Gators around the world, UF has been named the Number 5 public university in the Nation. I couldn’t be prouder of my two-time alma mater and all the hard work that went into this accomplishment.

And just think, 16 years ago it was just a dream. Today there has never been a truer statement, The University of Florida is in Gainesville. The Gator Nation is everywhere!

Enjoy some of the early work that kicked off the campaign.

The Gator Nation Commercial introduced in September 2005


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Currall steps down from USF

The past 24 months have been unprecedented in higher education and Steve Currall did a masterful job steering USF through the challenges of Covid-19, consolidation, budget cuts, systemic racism and more. He was always willing to listen and he wasn’t afraid to act decisively. He’s going to be missed at the helm of USF, but I’m glad to hear he will remain with the university in a teaching and research capacity. Here’s wishing Steve and Cheyenne Currall only the very best. Go Bulls!


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How Marketing and Public Relations Can Save Universities

From time to time I’ll see something that raises my hackles and a recent column in The Chronicle of Higher Education did just that. And I’m not alone. Here’s my response with my friend and colleague Grant Heston to a recent ditty in The Chronicle:

By Grant J. Heston and Joe Hice

In his July 9 Chronicle essay “How Marketing and PR are Corrupting Universities,” Lee Vinsel describes how communications and marketing are “bullshit” to be banished from our colleges and universities.

Having held communications and marketing leadership roles with a half dozen colleges and universities in our careers, our response to the more than 2,000-word takedown of our profession is simple.

We agree completely. 

Spin, fabrications and deceptions — bullshit, in other words — have no place in higher ed or any industry. Fidelity to finding and sharing the truth about institutions is the foundation of the best communications and marketing work. 

Truth telling is our objective because telling our authentic, distinctive truth is how we build confidence in our institutions. In higher education, that means confidence for outstanding students and faculty to join us. For alumni and friends to give to us. For political, community and policy leaders to support us.

The reality is that the most recognizable higher education “brands” consistently attract the best students, staff and faculty; secure the most funding; gain the greatest accolades, and receive the most recognition in the press. All of which are critical factors in an institution’s health, growth and long-term success.

We believe the only enduring way to generate confidence is to tell the truth. Spinning a fiction may result in short-term success, but that success will be fleeting and ultimately self-defeating. Our constituencies are too savvy to settle for anything less than the truth.

Dr. Vinsel’s essay is particularly timely, as higher ed is suffering from a crisis of confidence. But burying our heads in the sand by not telling stories — shunning authentic, impactful communications and marketing work — is a bridge to nowhere. 

John Hitt, who spent 26 years as president of the University of Central Florida, often said “we like our story best when we tell it ourselves.” Colleges and universities must tell their stories, for today nothing less than the very future of the industry is at stake. 

A 2019 analysis by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows that the 40-year return on investment on a four-year degree earned at Virginia Commonwealth University is to $892,000 in today’s dollars. The national average is $864,000.

With that the case, how can an April poll from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a philanthropic foundation, find that nearly half of the parents surveyed said they did not want their children to go straight to a four-year college, even if financial barriers to enrollment were removed?  

More than ever, we need to combat the growing narrative that tells of higher ed’s irrelevancy. As an industry, and as individual institutions, we must focus on improving the stories we tell.

For decades, colleges and universities have promoted how an undergraduate degree impacts your career earnings. We’ve pushed value in terms of dollars; we need to talk more about the values a degree instills. 

According to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, college graduates are more than twice as likely to volunteer in their communities than those without a degree. They also contribute nearly 3.5 times more money to charity and vote in presidential elections at rates more than 20 percent higher than those without a degree.

We also need to open our doors to all who want to earn a degree, then do all we can to support their efforts. Too often, higher education looks for the students in the same old places — but talent is not restricted to people with particular income levels or backgrounds. 

That’s why it’s so important to tell inclusive and diverse stories, as the University Innovation Alliance does, about enrolling and graduating students across the socioeconomic spectrum, first-generation students and students of color.

Stories are the foundation of how we interact with each other and the world around us. And there are few industries that boast more compelling stories than higher education.  

From medical school graduates who meet patient needs in unusual ways to understanding the origins of our galaxy to research that predicts 21st century life expectancies, our stories inform, inspire and delight.

Truthful storytelling can help lead higher education out of the darkness and into a future that is relevant and impactful.

That’s how Marketing and PR can save universities. And that’s no bullshit. 

Grant J. Heston is vice president for University Relations for Virginia Commonwealth University and the VCU Health System. He has held communications and marketing leadership roles at the University of Central Florida and Florida Southern College. 

Joe Hice is the founding partner of Well Strategics Communications, a full-service marketing andcommunications consultancy. He has held communications and marketing leadership roles at the University of Florida, University of South Florida and North Carolina State University as well as in the corporate sector with Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Segway LLC and Bombardier Sea-Doo.

Passion Rules!


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To Atlanta and beyond . . .

Just finished our second trip to areas north of Atlanta and back in the new electric car. I tell ya, it gets better every trip. We’ve scoped out just about every Supercharger Station between here and there and know where to stop and where not to stop. Despite the convenience of Superchargers every few hours of travel, some are better than others . . . and faster.

We nixed Ocala forever after our selected charger failed to connect. Then there’s the getting in and out part. Too much trouble when most of the stations are literally right off the Interstate. And no real good area to walk the dogs (three of ’em with us don’t ya know.) We even found a bad charger in Valdosta this trip. So yes, they are being used and we never had to wait for a charge.

Yes, the sleep most of the time although Redford (L) is more nervous. Grits doesn’t even notice we’re on the road.

When it wasn’t pouring down rain on the way back, I spent the drive dreaming about the new Tesla Model S Plaid. I just read the review by Motor Trend and it sounds amazing. Here’s a short clip. And if you don’t understand just how fast 0 – 60 in 1.98 seconds is, well.

When the final “launch control ready” message is displayed, firmly press your noggin against the headrest (trust us), release the brake, and hang on.

“The Model S Plaid zips down the quarter mile in a staggeringly quick 9.25 seconds at 152.6 mph. The run from 0 to 60 mph happens just 1.98 seconds after the brutally hard launch. The Plaid covers distance so quickly, it’s difficult to even register what’s happening. The yoke gets light in your hands, your neck muscles strain as your helmeted head digs into the headrest, and your surroundings blur into mere shapes and colors as a quarter mile of pavement vanishes underneath you.”

The biggest drawback I can see, or hear, is the growl of a high performance engine. Or rather, the lack of the growl of a high performance engine. Even though the new Model S Plaid has more than 1,000 hp on tap, it’s silent. As in electric car silent.

Be that as it may, the sensation you get when you are accelerating hard is impossible to explain. Even our Model Y screams from 0 – 60 in less than four seconds. I’ve never driven anything that quick and it’s a rush. I can’t imagine what it would be like to do 0 – 60 in less than two seconds (that’s a lie, I can imagine it.)

Perhaps we don’t need that second car for the few times both of us need to be somewhere different. We just need a car that’s quick enough to get us to both places at the same time!

One of Many

Passion Rules!


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Another long-distance drive in Electric Car

So we’re heading out again in the new car for Woodstock, GA and points north. Round trip is more than 1,200 miles when all the side trips are included. I think we’ll try a couple of different Super Charger stops this trip to see what’s available on the electric highway. Our range is about 300 miles at “highway speeds” and Super Chargers are every 100 to 150 miles so we have options.

So far we’ve stopped in Gainesville, Lake City, Tifton, Macon and ATL. I think Ocala and Valdosta are definitely on the agenda.

While we’ve loved being a one-car family, we have started looking for a second car in case both of us need to be somewhere at the same time and don’t want to take an Uber. Looked at this little beauty last weekend; a 1964 VW Beetle in fantastic condition.

The original economy car and the most modern economy car in the same garage? Might work. But we’re just starting to look around and will continue the search when we get back.

So for now on to ATL.

One of Many

Passion Rules!


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Driving the new electric VW ID.4

We’ve been driving the Tesla Model Y for about two months now and I’ve grown quite fond of the car. Fast, nimble, able to haul more mulch than a weekend can handle and highway range of 300 miles at 75 mph. Plus an incredible network of Supercharger Stations everywhere we’ve been. When I was given the chance to test drive another electric car I couldn’t resist.

The VW ID.4

The VW ID.4 is all new and should compete with the Tesla. It is a mid-sized SUV just like our car and has a big price advantage; around $40,000 before the $7,500 federal rebate available to new buyers. Range estimates are 260 miles, but EPA mileage estimates rarely live up to the claims.

The VW is nicely appointed and is much more similar to a “regular” car than the Tesla. It lacks the wiz bang technology and I found the cockpit busy and hard to understand. Yes, you would get used to all the stems and stalks in the VW but after driving the Tesla it all seems so unnecessary.

It’s not fair to compare the drive between the VW and the Tesla because the VW we drove had a single electric motor vs our two. Acceleration was good, but certainly a far cry from the Tesla. Because of it’s more typical chassis and frame design it did feel more car-like and honestly, over bumpy roads, the ride was very good. The Tesla drives like an old Porsche, taught with good road feel, but hard as a rock. The 20-inch wheels and low profile tires certainly exacerbate the bumps.

We bought an electric car because we wanted a change and the Tesla has certainly delivered. We charge overnight in our garage and stop at Superchargers when we’re on the road. But for those who aren’t ready for such a change, the VW ID.4 may be a good choice. It looks and drives like a regular car … yeah, it’s kind of bland. I’d hold out for the dual motor option which should be available early next year, though it will be about $14,000 more expensive. The acceleration and range should be more in line with the Tesla Model Y.

The VW uses the Electrify America charging network and you can find charging stations everywhere. Most do not charge as fast as the Supercharger Stations Tesla has placed along every major highway and for me, that’s a big negative. It’s one thing to make two stops for 20 minutes each on the way to Atlanta in the Model Y vs two stops for 45 minutes each in the VW.

The Model Y can charge at a rate of up to 250kW when connected to the Supercharger, while the Volkswagen is limited to half that, at 125kW. VW says the battery can fill from five to 80 percent in about 38 minutes. However, charging at any of the Electrify America stations is free for the first three years if you buy a new VW ID.4. If all of your driving is around town, and if you have an Electrify America station nearby, that’s hard to beat. Can you say Drive Free!

So, If you are thinking electric, you need to check out the new VW. It’s certainly going to have an impact on the market and worth a look.

One of Many

Passion Rules!


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The Big Haul … or how many bags of mulch can you fit into a Tesla Model Y

The yard has been looking a little ratty around the edges lately and the wife decided we needed to put new mulch down. Now the yard is pretty big, almost 180 feet across in the back and close to the same on the side. Then there is the garden and plantings in the front. Pretty big job.

Now that we are down to just one car, a Tesla Model Y, I was curious to find out just how much our little SUV would carry. The kid at Lowe’s who helped me load the car pretty much summed it up, “This thing carries a lot more than some of the other SUV’s we see in here. I’m impressed.”

25 Bags of mulch with room to spare

Yep, 25 bags in the back and a new wheelbarrow in the front seat. And we didn’t even use the front or rear storage areas. Honestly, the car is still so new I forgot all about them until I got home. Could have easily fit another five bags in there. Two trips and there were 50 bags in the garage waiting to beautify the yard.

Not sure how much mulch weighs, but the car was still fast as hell with a full load. Granted, we’re only about two miles away from the store and really, how fast can you go when the speed limit is 40 🙂

25 Bags of mulch

So the new Tesla continues to impress. I’ve been a gas and oil guy my whole life and battery power takes some getting used to, but in a good way. Fill up at home when you’re around town, fast with instant acceleration, and glued to the road like a sports car. The future of automobiles?

More to come.

Passion Rules!


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1,200 Miles in the Tesla

We finished our first long-distance ride in the new car last week and I’ve got to admit, it was more enjoyable than I expected. I’m not the type who likes to stop when I’m driving, even if it means 10 hours straight on the highway. You can’t do that in the new car with a maximum range of about 300 miles.

My dad always said you should stop every two or three hours to stretch and walk around the car a little. You’ll arrive more rested and alert, he said. Well, he was right. We stopped three times on the way from Tampa to Woodstock, GA. The longest stop was about 20 minutes, but the breaks were nice. The Tesla Superchargers were easy to find (Macon is a little out of the way) and we never had to wait. On the way up, we followed a family driving a Tesla Model X all the way and we learned something from them; pack your own meals and bring a chair.

Dog is my co-pilot

Since we were traveling with two little dogs that would have been good advice before we left, but alas, we had to stay with Grits and Redford at each stop which meant we couldn’t go into any restaurants or points of interest. There is a DOG setting on the car that keeps the AC running when you’re away from the car so we may try that on the next trip.

Electricity on the way up cost about $20 and we covered 500 miles. Same with the trip back. Initially I watched my speed and stayed around 70 mph most of the way. After our first stop old habits eventually won out and I pushed the car about 10% above the posted speed limit. No range problems whatsoever and the ride was great. I used the “push to pass” power a couple of times to overtake slower drivers and was blown away by the instant acceleration.

We drove around quite a bit in Atlanta and found the destination charger at the Botanical Garden unoccupied so we added 100 miles to our range…for free. We’re planning a drive to Virginia in December and will be sure to stop at places with charger stations to speed things along and save some money.

Atlanta Botanical Gardens

The dogs probably enjoyed the trip more than we did because they were able to explore three stops each way.

Now that we’re back we will charge the car at the house and I plan a trip to Lowes for mulch soon. Fifty bags or so, plus a new lawn cart. We’ll see how the car does hauling that load.

Destination Woodstock

So for now life is getting back to normal, but stay tuned.

All for now.

Passion Rules!


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And the adventure begins

Friday was my last day at the University of South Florida, so what’s the natural response to what has been a most challenging year? Sell both cars and buy a new electric vehicle. Let the adventure begin!

Indeed, we’re about to embark on the next phase of our lives with the two dogs. Not sure if it will be retirement or just a much needed period of rest and relaxation. Time will tell. Our first adventure, taking Grits McGee and Redford (our two Papillons) on a road trip to Woodstock, Georgia to see the Grandchildren. In an electric car. Yikes.

I’ve been talking about electric for quite a while and decided why not now. When I say talking about electric that means doing my traditional due diligence and studying the market obsessively looking for that buy of the century. Found it at Brandon Ford, the largest Ford dealer in the country. Where else would you find a used Tesla with low miles and the performance option, right!

So off we go.

There was a time when I was blogging almost everyday (I did for my first 100 days at NC State University – an awesome place, by the way) but I’ve fallen off the wagon. With the new car and a new look at the life ahead, we’ll see if I can get back to a more regular routine.

Stay tuned.

Passion Rules!