With a ribbon-cutting and an open house with executives from South Florida’s largest technology companies and promising startups, Florida International University inaugurated its $3 million Tech Station on Wednesday.
The new 8,000-square-foot College of Engineering and Computing facility, 16 months in the making, includes high-tech classrooms, team rooms, advisory centers for mentoring, research and computer labs, a maker garage, event spaces for community events, workshops and hackathons, brightly colored co-working areas and a café.
The classrooms, where big data, cybersecurity, cloud computing and other subjects will be taught, include mobile desks and in-the-round instruction, and they are complemented with smaller team rooms decked out with 70-inch screens where four people can hook up their laptops and collaborate on projects, said Steve Luis, director of technology and business relations for the School of Computing and Information Sciences. He spearheaded the Tech Station project, located in the first floor of Parking Lot 6.
“We know that this community and state need our talent,” FIU President Mark Rosenberg said in remarks at the event, attended by more than 150 community members, FIU faculty and students. “We also know FIU graduates have the highest starting salaries of any university in the state. Let’s keep the momentum going.”
Much of the talk during a panel discussion involving executives from IBM, Citrix, Ultimate Software, Game Changer Tec, Alta Systems, Refresh Miami and Rokk3r Labs was about how corporations can collaborate with universities to help turn out talented students not only for big companies located here, but who also will create their own companies as part of South Florida’s startup ecosystem.
“Citrix, quite frankly, has had to import a lot of our talent. We have to look here first — the talent is right here,” said Chris Fleck, vice president of emerging solutions for Citrix. “We think there is more we can do to step this up.” Fort Lauderdale-based Citrix recently bought a South Florida startup, Virtu.al, and Fleck reminded the crowd of the power of an ecosystem – Citrix’s first 10 employees came from IBM.
Also announced on Wednesday was Ultimate Software’s $1 million donation to help fund Tech Station. Part of the funding will go to expand the existing Ultimate Software Academy, which trains high school teachers and students. “We want to scale this out with Miami-Dade Public Schools to bring in as many teachers and students as we can for advanced training, workshops and programs,” Luis said, adding that the “Innovation Garage” maker space will host hackathons, coding clubs and programs like Girls Who Code.
Ultimate Software, homegrown and based in Weston and now with 2,600 employees, began an internship program with FIU in 2007 and has hired more than 100 FIU engineers into full-time jobs, said Adam Rogers, Ultimate’s chief technology officer. He said the college listens to suggestions and is quick to improve the curriculumn.
Rogers said the partnership goes beyond the financial contribution. “We think the bigger contribution is embedding ourselves with [FIU’s] faculty and students for years to come.”
Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.