Introducing the UWF Innovation Campus Network
June 19, 2017 | Martha D. Saunders, Ph.D.
Stephen Hawking is often quoted as saying, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” Since opening our doors in 1967, UWF has not only adapted, but thrived, amid changing governance structures, economies, societal demands and even the weather. We’ve moved from a little school in a pine forest to a forward-thinking, innovative brain trust. It’s time now for us to step up our game and realize our full potential
As a spirited community of learners, we’re taking to heart our mayor’s frequent admonition that he wants to live in a “smart town.” We propose to leverage our current assets in Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach and beyond to create a transformative university-community partnership model. We’re calling our new project The UWF Innovation Campus Network because it will serve to connect our students, our communities and area industry toward mutually beneficial goals.
The UWF Innovation Campus Network will launch students into occupations and careers in areas that promote economic recovery, diversification and enhancement. That awesome goal will be accomplished by building multidisciplinary innovative knowledge clusters focused on high-demand programs of emphasis in STEM, medical disciplines, early learning and tourism/hospitality. One area of great excitement is our Gulf of Mexico knowledge cluster. It potentially will focus on economics, marine ecology, marine archaeology and history, hospitality and tourism, logistics and environmental impacts to coastal communities.
The innovative knowledge clusters will have the energy of a start-up in a collegiate environment with accelerated learning and real-world challenges. Each will include living and learning environments, disciplinary labs, K12 outreach, research labs, industry partners, projects with impact and leading experts.
All will take place in a vibrant campus environment where students live and learn. Participants involved in the UWF Innovation Campus Network will be embedded in partnerships with community organizations and industry. This may occur in the form of capstone projects for undergraduates or complete graduate programs.
Mile Zero of the UWF Innovation Campus Network will be developed in downtown Pensacola because students will be able to access many of the features in Northwest Florida that make it a place like no other. Pensacola’s downtown area will serve as a living laboratory. The university and its myriad assets will be woven into the very fabric of the city. For example, our proposed doctoral program in Robotics and Intelligent Systems would have students working with researchers at IHMC almost immediately upon entering the program—and living nearby.
We anticipate this project will create a strong sense of place and talent development. The impact on the local economy could be significant. Students in these programs will enter (and perhaps create) high-wage jobs. The programs offered will be selected from the SUS Board of Governors’ Programs of Strategic Emphasis and will meet the needs of Northwest Florida. Key partnerships with city, county and state agencies will further enhance key assets of the region.
And so, confident that education is the answer to almost every important question facing our region, we foresee a future where people arriving in this area will know they are in a university town because they can see it, hear it, feel it and experience it. The UWF Innovation Campus Network will be leading us smartly there.