Women in leadership - Taking the reins
Profiles of nine women leaders who are taking leadership roles in their fields.
Immediate past chair University of Central Florida Board of Trustees Orlando
Seay has helped make Central Florida a hub for simulation and training.
Two years ago, amid controversy over the University of Central Florida’s spending practices, Beverly Seay oversaw the search for a new UCF president.
A year earlier, the state’s auditor general had uncovered the misappropriation of $38 million by school administrators for construction of an academic building under longtime UCF President John Hitt. The scandal had ensnared Hitt’s successor, Dale Whittaker, who resigned after only eight months in the job. Meanwhile, Thad Seymour, then interim president, decided not to seek the permanent position.
Seay, a UCF trustee who chaired the board from July 2019 through June 2021, helped persuade Alexander Cartwright, then chancellor of the University of Missouri, to pursue the UCF presidency.
“We had pegged Alex early on, but he was a hard one to get,” she says. “In the 11th hour, we pulled him over the line.”
In March 2020, the board named Cartwright UCF’s sixth president, tasking him with restoring legislators’ trust in UCF while also steering the state’s largest university through COVID-19. “He walked into a situation where a lot of people needed to retire,” she says. “Change was needed, and still is.”
Over the course of her career, Seay helped develop Orlando into a global hub for computer modeling and simulation.
Born in 1953, she grew up in Hyde Park, N.Y., the daughter of an IBM engineer, and has two degrees from the University of Michigan — a bachelor’s in mathematics and a master’s in computers, information and control engineering.
As a computer engineer, she had plenty of job opportunities, she says. Once she got into management, however, she found that her gender was an issue for some of her male colleagues. “Running the business side, that’s where I saw the glass ceiling. The behavior and attitude toward women, that was all dealing with the business-people, not so much the engineers,” she says. “People think it would be the other way around, but that wasn’t my experience.”
In 1988, Seay was hired by Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC). The company moved her to Orlando to build its modeling and simulation business at the Central Florida Research Park. During the next two decades, she grew the business into an industry leader with annual sales of more than $640 million and 2,500 employees.
These days, she is working for the Department of Defense National Security Innovation Network to bring innovative solutions to the military. In addition, she helps her two daughters, who also are engineers in Central Florida, juggle work and family. “My plan was always to retire early and help my daughters” raise their children, she says. “On Mondays and Wednesdays, I go play nanny.”
Seay aims to encourage more girls and women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. She has donated to UCF’s Girls Excel in Math and Science and Women in Science and Engineering mentoring programs and has endowed a scholarship in computer science with the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“I’m watching it right now because I have granddaughters who are in the eighth and ninth grades. My daughters never would have gone into computing if I weren’t their mother and hadn’t guided them into it, and then they wouldn’t have gotten their master’s in engineering if I hadn’t guided them,” she says. “You’ve really got to get them at a young age.”