Building on South Florida’s momentum around technology and entrepreneurship, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has made a $10 million gift to FIU’s School of Computing and Information Sciences to develop technical talent at scale to meet the demands of industry and Miamians seeking to advance their tech skills.
The investment will catalyze the development of the local tech ecosystem by attracting top faculty researchers in areas such as artificial intelligence, smart robotics, bioinformatics, biodevices, and digital forensics, increase the number of FIU graduates entering these sectors, and strengthen collaboration with industry. In recognition of this gift, FIU will name the Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences in the College of Engineering & Computing (CEC).
“FIU is Miami. Together with the Knight Foundation and our local and state elected officials, we are seizing this opportunity,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “This partnership will help us leverage all that already exists at FIU, add important intellectual capital, work with industry and give our city and our state a key hub of talent and innovation.”
Already a top producer of minority graduates in science, technology, engineering and math and with nearly $200 million of annual research expenditures in this area, FIU is committed to making an additional investment of $106 million over the next decade in this advanced computation initiative, which includes the construction of a new multi-disciplinary engineering building on the corner of Southwest 8th Street and 107th Avenue on FIU’s main campus. With a $38.9 million appropriation from the Florida Legislature and $16 million in philanthropy and research funding, the approximately 90,000-square-foot facility is set to break ground this year.
The new engineering building will be equipped with makerspace labs, active learning classrooms and research laboratories in proximity to university talent, including the Academic Health Center. Of the Knight Foundation’s investment, $3.5 million will outfit 20,000 square feet of interactive research and teaching space with best-in-class computing and prototyping equipment.
“Miami is emerging as an international tech hub, both through the success of local startups and the recent influx of companies and investors. Demand for technical talent is rising, and we’re just at the beginning of the trajectory,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight president and CEO. “This investment will assure that there will be a deep pool of talent for Miami’s growing tech sector while creating opportunities for Miamians of all backgrounds.”
“FIU is invested in the people of Miami and providing them the tools to succeed in the local and global tech and innovation economy,” said Raul Moas, director of Knight’s Miami program.
“They are boosting the supply of exceptional talent — which when combined with accessible capital — help entrepreneurship and innovation thrive. In collaboration with FIU, Knight is also betting big on Miami’s greatest asset, its people, who increasingly seek to contribute to the city as tech entrepreneurs and venture builders.”
A Knight Foundation representative will be appointed to the school’s new leadership board, which is actively recruiting industry leaders committed to strengthening South Florida’s tech sector.
“Now more than ever, technology and innovation are propelling economic growth and crossing barriers to overcome global challenges,” said John. L. Volakis, dean of the College of Engineering & Computing at FIU. “These investments will ensure that the talent we cultivate, the interdisciplinary research we participate in and our industry collaborations drive the innovative solutions of tomorrow.”
Knight’s grant also will support the redesign of the engineering career advising programs, enhance the undergraduate curriculum and boost the school’s four-year graduation rate to accelerate the flow of talent to industry. FIU also regularly evaluates its degree offerings to meet industry needs. For example, in 2017, FIU launched the first bachelor’s degree in the Internet of Things (IoT). Since then, other new academic paths include a graduate degree in IoT as well as cybersecurity, data analytics and digital media. Through the Office of Micro-Credentials, students can access skills that reflect the rapidly changing landscape of the world of work. In addition, university-wide efforts around artificial intelligence, data analysis and emotional intelligence are underway.
The grant will support the community and national demand for increased research and top-flight professionals in the fields of engineering and computer sciences, thereby contributing to Miami’s tech and innovation economy. It includes the hiring of 20 new faculty members, which is projected to facilitate a 160 percent increase in sponsored research and attract 80 additional Ph.D. students. The school will integrate its activities with industry to ensure that its curriculum, research, graduates and other programs spur the field forward. This grant builds upon research efforts already underway. The FIU Center for Internet Augmented Research and Assessment was recently awarded $10.3 million from the National Science Foundation for network infrastructure and software projects that will help scientists around the world share more data faster.
“The Knight Foundation has a long-standing commitment to strategic, community-focused philanthropy that has transformational potential for Miami,” said Howard R. Lipman, CEO of the FIU Foundation, Inc. “This grant lets every community stakeholder know that an investment in our public university is an investment in this city, and it aligns with the student success and research preeminence pillars of our Next Horizon campaign.”
The Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences’ undergraduate student demographics reflect the local community, making it a local gateway to opportunity and a pipeline of talent for the state economy. FIU is a top 50 public university with multiple national rankings in tech and engineering education and an award-winning student organization focused on technology. Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE) hosts ShellHacks, the largest hackathon in Florida, which draws 1,300 students from around the world.
“This grant will allow us to build the Knight Foundation School into a top-ranked school in the state,” said Kenneth G. Furton, Provost and Executive Vice President of FIU.