Florida Polytechnic University opens first building for admissions
Florida’s 12th public university is months away from teaching its first class of students, but Wednesday its first building was opened in Lakeland. Florida Polytechnic now has a sterile-looking building open for prospective students to speak with admission counselors. Scott Rhodes, executive director of enrollment services, says the goal is to enroll 500 students by the start of the school’s inaugural semester next August.
“It’s a 5,000 square foot facility. We have ten full time staff that are working here. We’re open from 9-6 to service students and families and the public that want to come out and see the site. Eventually we’ll be able to bring school buses down here and have large groups once the building is open.”
Inside the building behind what looks like two garage doors covered in windows is a to scale model of what the campus will look like when it is completed. But prospective students and their families can also take a tour of the construction site where buildings are already starting to emerge. That includes the campus’s main feature – the Innovation, Science and Technology building that looks a little like a space ship. Ava Parker is Florida Polytechnic’s Chief Operating Officer and was the first person to land a job at the state’s newest university.
“Our target population for our university is 5,000 students. So, we’re looking to build a more smaller, more focused university. We’ve given ourselves, like, ten years to get there. But I think that the reputation that we’re looking to build will come within five years and I believe that really because of the industry partnerships. I think when students start to see that we’re focused on jobs, that we’re talking to the industry, that we’re building something special, they’re going to want to be here.”
Parker says the school has already enrolled more than 200 students.
“We have recruiters who’ve gone out across the state of Florida and visited every high school in the state of Florida. We’ve visited all the state colleges. We’ve participated in numerous college fairs both in person and virtually. We’ve sent out over 40,000 brochures out to potential students who seem to have an aptitude for the programs that we’re providing.”
The new university was heavily pushed by former Lake Wales state Senator JD Alexander. Alexander, a Republican, called on the immediate creation of an independent university instead of an existing USF campus dedicated to the same science, technology, engineering and math focus Florida Poly will have. The reason: Florida should have a school competitive with the likes of Georgia Tech and MIT. But critics were worried the move was too rushed at a time when university budgets were being slashed by millions. Despite controversy over the unaccredited school, Florida Poly officials like Parker are moving forward with their $30 million state budget and goals to attract 500 students before classes begin next fall.
“We could one, reach our statutory goals. Two, we could have smaller classrooms to ensure that students receive the type of attention to ensure success and three, with the type of lab environment that we’re creating we thought that was a good number to ensure that students would have adequate time in the labs to ensure they would have the skills that are going to help them with employment.”
The school will start out with a small set of bachelors and masters programs focusing on engineering and technology and innovation. But Parker says as demand grows, more programs will be offered.
“One thing that we’ve done that’s very unique is that while we have those traditional degree programs, we have specializations or concentrations that are really forward thinking and technologically advanced. So, we’ll have big data analytics or cloud virtualization or nanotechnology. Those programs, those concentrations, will give our students an opportunity to really have the most advanced technology at their fingertips when they graduate.”
There are 11 faculty members working on curriculum for the school already and by the time the first class opens its doors there will be about 50 full and part time faculty members. Rob MacCuspie was the first to be hired as the director of the school’s nanotechnology and multifunctional materials program.
“You can use these things for cancer therapies, you can use it to make stronger aircraft components, you can use it to build robots. There’s a whole host of new applications that nanotechnology enables.”
MacCuspie worked in the private sector before being hired by Florida Polytechnic. He admits it’ll be a little weird being called “Dr.,” but is looking forward to getting started with students.
“So, the school’s mission is STEM education and applied learning and applied research and what I’m trying to do is work with our industry partners in the community to bring some of these nanotechnology questions that the companies have to the students so they can help solve them while they’re learning about these concepts.”
Members of the media were invited to the Florida Polytechnic campus to tour the new building and other construction sites.