Gator Nation News

Make Room for Barbie! A Chat with the New UFAA President

Raised in Palm Beach, Barbie Pressly Tilman says that as the UFAA’s new president, she looks forward to connecting alumni with the university and helping them grow their personal and professional networks.

Barbie Pressly Tilman dishes on her leadership role models, balancing parenthood and service to UF, and a lifechanging encounter at a Florida-Georgia watch party.

Hey, Gator Nation. There’s a new Barbie in town.

No, we don’t mean the new movie of that title starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. We’re referring to warm and personable Barbie Pressly Tilman (BSR ‘00), the new University of Florida Alumni Association president, who took over the reins July 1.

UFAA presidents James Gadsby (2022-23) and Barbie Tilman (2023-24). Photo courtesy James Gadsby

The long-time Tampa resident has served on UFAA’s board of directors since 2012 and was honored, along with her extended family, with a Lifetime Volunteers Award at the UF Academy of Golden Gators ceremony, in early 2023. While she has had years of experience advancing UF and the alumni association, she admits that taking over for previous UFAA president James E. Gadsby (BSBA ‘91) is a whole new level of engagement.

“James has just been exceptional leader,” she said in a recent interview. “His philosophy is to lead with love, and I’m so inspired by that and by the other UFAA presidents, like Mark Criser (BA ’92, MA ’94, JD ’97) and Brian Burgoon (BA ’94, JD ’97), who’ve come before me.”

As a student at UF’s College of Health and Human Performance in the 1990s, Barbie majored in event planning and was highly involved in extracurriculars. In addition to playing intramural tennis (she comes from a family of SEC and national collegiate champions), Barbie belonged to Florida Blue Key, Savant and Delta Delta Delta sorority and served as a Florida Cicerone, among other roles.

Degree in hand, she ran her own wedding planning business for years before turning her attention to raising three daughters with husband Matt Tilman (BSEE ’97, MBA ’05). The family can frequently be spotted at Gator sporting events and at UFAA tailgates.

Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Congratulations on your new role.

Thanks. I’m excited and humbled as well. If I do just half of what the great alumni association presidents did before me, with their grace, I will consider it a successful year.

What are your goals as president?

I’m really looking forward to working with the university toward our common goal of strengthening the Gator Nation. I hope to connect meaningfully with as many alumni and students as possible to help them engage with the incredible networking and growth opportunities that UF offers.

How did your immediate family respond when they learned you were going to helm the association?

My husband and daughters are so proud and supportive of me. I was lucky to join the UFAA board of directors when I was pregnant with my third child [Lila], which was almost 11 years ago. Back then, Matt had his hands full at home with the other two, so for the first year and a half, I’d take her in a little car seat to the board member meetings, and we would call her the “baby board member.”

It’s funny to think back on that and to realize that now I’m rolling into the role as president. With this new chapter, my family gets to see me as a leader not just inside the home, but outside it as well.

The Tilman family cheers on the Gators in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, fall 2022. Photo courtesy BPT

Both sides of your family have a long history with UF, going back to 1910s when your grandfather, Uriel Blount (BSCE ’15), earned a degree in engineering. How important was that UF heritage to you growing up?

Very important. I grew up in Palm Beach, and early on, like my siblings, I was bred to be a Gator. Both of my parents went to the University of Florida, as did several aunts and uncles. One of my favorite memories was driving up to Gainesville as a kid and going to Gator games.

Then you matriculated to UF at the perfect time for a fan of Gators football, the 1990s.

Yes, I was fortunate to have been at the university for the fun-and-gun offense and the great Spurrier years [1990-2001].

Tell us about your leadership roles as a UF student.

As a member of Delta Delta Delta, Barbie (right) became a recruitment sponsor in her junior year. She’s shown here with her college roommate, Ashley McGuigan Simmens, at UF Fall Rush 1997. Photo courtesy Barbie Pressly Tilman (BPT)

One of the first things I did when I came to the University of Florida was to join a sorority. During recruitment, they had these older students, called Rho Chi’s back then … who were there to help guide you through a process that could be stressful. And I just admired these women, they were so kind and welcoming, and I admired their leadership. So, in my junior year, I thought I’d like to do the same thing for other young women, and I became a Rho Chi. I think they’re called Phi Chi’s now.

A similar thing happened with the Cicerones. Back in high school when I did my UF college tour, I remember thinking, “Wow, who are these people who get to give these tours and welcome these students to the best university in the land? Maybe, I’ll do that one day if I’m lucky enough to get in here.” So, I applied in my junior year at UF to be a Cicerone and was accepted. I absolutely loved giving those college tours and connecting with students.

Speaking of connecting, how did you meet your husband, Matt?

He’s a Gator — shocker! — but he was a few years ahead of me, so we didn’t meet at college. We met in 2007. I was living in Tampa at the time, and he had recently moved there. A mutual friend of ours organized a party to watch the Florida-Georgia game, and there was an open seat right next to Matt, so I took it. We watched the game together and hit it off. A year and a half later, we were married.

The only thing stronger than Barbie’s love for the Gator Nation is her devotion to her family. They’re shown here at a Mother’s Day brunch in Tampa this past May. From left to right: Barbie, daughters Lucy, Kathryn and Lila, and husband Matt. Photo courtesy BPT

Where was the party?

At a place in South Tampa called Wings Gone Wild. There were pitchers of beer and TV screens everywhere, people cheering. To Gator fans, that’s as romantic as it gets!

Last question: Why should UF alums join the alumni association?

It’s about staying connected to the Gator Nation, making it your network for life. There are so many Gators throughout not just the country, but the world. Being a member puts you in touch with all those alumni. Not only does it help you with connections for your career, but, as I like to reflect on, it keeps you connected to the person you were back then, to all the memories you made at the University of Florida. Those experiences helped mold the person you are today. Staying connected to your roots will help you keep on growing, with the best college network behind you.