Nayda Torres, the first Hispanic woman to chair a UF/IFAS department, oversaw a number of changes during her 16 years at the helm of the department now known as Family, Youth and Community Sciences (FYCS).
Despite retiring in 2012, her presence is still felt throughout the department, says Michael Gutter, associate dean and state program leader for 4-H youth development, families and communities – a position that formed as a result of divvying her former duties.
“The passion that’s part of our faculty today – a lot of that came from Nayda,” said Gutter, who Torres hired in 2007 amidst a wave of additions that included several other future leaders. “We still talk about her today; all wonderful nostalgia. She would lead by example, by gentle wisdom, by compassion, and by offering simple advice right when you needed it. When I think of the influence she had, I have looked to find any way I could to emulate her leadership.”
Torres joined the University of Florida’s home economics department in 1985. She was eventually called to lead the department in an interim capacity a decade later.
During her interim appointment, it was announced – to her surprise, as well, she noted – that the department would merge with the 4-H unit. Torres said that the merge meant she became the only woman in department chair meetings.
In addition to facilitating the smooth transition of the merged departments, Torres also guided the process to identify its new name, thus becoming the first-ever chair of FYCS upon its renaming and her appointment as chair in 1996. She held the position until her retirement, and throughout her years in the role, according to Gutter, built the reputation of not only her department but also herself.
“I had to succeed Nayda Torres, of all people!” Gutter remarked. “UF/IFAS Extension Family and Consumer Sciences was so well-regarded across the region because of Nayda.”
The department grew exponentially during her years as chair, she said, especially in its teaching areas, which she credits to her faculty. These additions included the master’s program in Family, Youth and Community Sciences, as well as a nonprofit concentration.
“We’re just trying to make sure we don’t drop the ball,” Gutter said of building on the successes under Torres. “And we’re trying to score some more points, now that we saw how it was all done.”
Torres was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she earned her bachelor’s degree before attending Purdue University and The Ohio State University for her master’s and doctorate, respectively.
Throughout her career, Torres specialized in family resource management. She provided leadership for the federal grant that provided nutrition education for recipients of SNAP assistance. “I believe in the wellbeing of families,” she said.
But Gutter also notes that the department under Torres was a family all its own. He recalled an occasion when his young son visited his office and needed to be occupied during a portion of time.
“Nayda came and took him to her office – she insisted,” he said. “That really shaped for me how a boss should be. She loved our children. She was ‘Auntie Nayda.’ My children still remember her, and I know so many other faculty would say the same about their children.”
“We were professionals, and we were productive,” he added, “but we were truly a family, and she was the head.”
About this Series: The year 2020 commemorates the centennial year of the passage of the 19th Amendment, a crucial achievement in the women’s suffrage movement. This milestone reminds us of the collective spirit marshalled to enact this change. Throughout the year, UF/IFAS is highlighting female researchers, educators, staff members, students and innovators who embodied a similar trailblazing spirit during their engagement with the university. These trailblazers left an indelible mark on both the university and the state of Florida. The 19th Amendment states, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” although some women were still denied the right to vote until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. We hope this series inspires others to ignite their own trailblazing spirit and effect change in our world.