The United States ranks 16th in the world in the number of science and engineering degrees awarded per capita. Building a strong tradition in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often referred to as STEM disciplines, the University of West Florida is taking bold action to develop the talent in these disciplines which are critical to the future of Northwest Florida and our nation. From breaking ground on a new, innovative facility designed to bring the sciences together, to creating a home featuring energy-efficient, sustainable design techniques, UWF is doing the math and designing facilities and a curriculum that will allow students to learn, grow and experience science in a new way.
Breaking Ground for Innovation
“If we’re going to meet the national shortage of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, we have to engage students differently,” said UWF President John Cavanaugh at the March 11 ground-breaking ceremony for UWF’s new Science and Engineering Building. “We have to do our part to address a shortage of engineers, scientists and mathematicians in the country. In this building, the brightest minds will come together to create a sustainable, innovative environment, not only for Northwest Florida, but for the rest of the world.”
The Science and Engineering Building will be a haven for learning, with functional spaces throughout the building including open labs, technical support and advising areas that will create a type of ‘one-stop shop’ for students across all programs. Gaming labs, amphitheatre-type classrooms, solar paneling to provide electricity for student projects, an Internet café, a 92-seat auditorium and a virtual reality center are just some of the features in the design for this four-story building, which will be composed of a rectangular and circular component adjoined by a glass atrium.
“It has become very common to pull the sciences and the engineering disciplines into a common hallway, so to speak,” said Leonard ter Haar, director for the School of Science and Engineering. “The discoveries happen when you have hallway conversations.”
Another building which will make history for UWF is the B.E.S.T House, which will be used as an energy-efficient demonstration house to teach students ways to conserve resources and preserve the environment. Representing Build, Educate, Sustain, Technology, the home will model technologies featuring passive solar collectors to advanced insulation systems. Besides being a home for student courses, it will be a place for continuing education and learning tours for K through 12 students. The house will be used as an educational tool and resource for Northwest Florida to demonstrate the benefits of “going green” built on campus by Philip Russell Homebuilders. Don Evans with The Evans Group (Orlando) and Spencer Maxwell Bullock Architects will provide design services.
“The B.E.S.T. House provides a way that we can link our Building Construction and Electrical Engineering Technology students to real-world experiences and innovative building designs and techniques,” said Karen Rasmussen, professor and chair, Engineering and Computer Technology.
UWF will continue to foster interest in science and engineering by hosting regional science fairs, competing nationally in robotics competitions, and offering educational programs, such as Math Matters.
Teaching the Future that Math Matters
Math Matters, was initiated by Lakshmi Prayaga; Leo ter Haar, computer science; and Karen Rasmussen, engineering and computer technology; after receiving an award of $1,172,893 for a collaborative project with the Escambia County School District. The program, which teaches seventh and eighth graders the importance of mathematics in their everyday lives, utilizes a virtual instructional program that provides career counseling, algebraic tutorial content and practical application of reading skills within a digital gaming environment. The program was designed to increase students’ academic skills and increase awareness of how these skills relate to career opportunities.
“If you can't do math, you're not going to be successful in today's world,” said UWF President John Cavanaugh. “Math really does matter, and we are proud to partner with the school district to continue developing future UWF students.”
Moving from Endangered to Abundant
Many UWF students gain potential career experience through the electrical and computer engineering department’s robotics laboratory, which has produced national award-winning teams including the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) team and the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) aircraft team. Students gain skills designing and building robots and have numerous opportunities to compete side-by-side with students from other top-ranked colleges from around the United States. Students involved in the team have access to advanced equipment through the engineering department and have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and network with potential business looking to hire tomorrow’s engineers.
“I had a phone call from a company last week that said we have 400 job openings and we’re looking for your robotics students,” said UWF Robotics Laboratory manager David Algeo. “The difference with robotics is that it’s run like an engineering company. Students have deadlines, have to do reports, management and they have to apply everything they’ve used in the classroom into practical working problems. The experience they receive is why they’re so valuable to employers and why they’ll continue to look to UWF for these talents.”
UWF is pioneering innovation. UWF is one of the first universities to wire its campus via fiber optics. Now wireless, UWF’s success in bringing ultra high-speed bandwidth to Northwest Florida with the LambdaRail High Speed Network will eventually impact the way the military, health care industry and business community operate. Challenging students, faculty and staff to explore further, UWF will continue to pursue new ideas to ensure that the universe of science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates moves from endangered to abundant.