The French writer Guy de Maupassant said: “It is the lives we encounter that make life worth living.”
There is perhaps no better way to describe the meaningful work of higher education. While questions continue to swirl about the relevance and value of a college degree in our rapidly changing world, it is easy to forget that at the heart of our nation’s universities and colleges are people. Our mission, values and purpose is changing — and sometimes saving — people’s lives.
During the recent launch of Next Horizon — FIU’s campaign to raise $750 million (of which we have raised $480 million) to support student success and research preeminence — I was reminded of Maupassant’s quote and the many remarkable, determined and inspiring people I’ve encountered at FIU during the past four decades.
Like student Dorysped Mancebo, who lost her vision when she was 14. One summer, she was visiting her aunt in South Florida when she heard that FIU was opening a law school. Since that day, she’s wanted to be a Panther. With the Dr. Fareed Haj Scholarship Endowment, she has been able to focus on her studies. In May, she will graduate with two degrees . She then plans to attend our College of Law, which has the top bar passage rate in the state.
Then there is Price Destinobles. When he was 13, his mother was incarcerated. Through FIU’s Fostering Panther Pride (FPP) program — which helps homeless and former foster care youth — Price received the support he needed to succeed and excel academically. He graduated in three years and is currently working on a master’s degree in hospitality management. Price once said about FPP: “I honestly try not to even think about what my life would be like without it.” Fortunately, he never had to, because so many community leaders have stepped up to support this life-saving program with nearly $1.3 million in private funds.
And, of course, there are our outstanding alumni, like presidential inaugural poet and double alumnus Richard Blanco. He grew up in Westchester with Cuban-exile parents and rode his bicycle around our campus when there were just three buildings. He’s helping FIU reach our Next Horizon through the Richard Blanco Fellowship for Creative Writing. To mark the public launch of our campaign, he also wrote a special poem — “Next Horizon” — with the reminder that: “And so we rise — with all the instinct and drive of the sun, because there is always another horizon, and another, and another to reach and keep lighting up with our light.”
It’s true: FIU does rise, and always will, because of people like Dorysped, Price and Richard.
From the very beginning, FIU has been here for the people in this community. We were built by people who believed Miami deserved a great world-class university.
Today, FIU provides economic mobility for thousands of families. Our nearly 225,000 FIU graduates are nurses, teachers, elected officials, lawyers, engineers and more.
We have accelerated the growth of our research enterprise, and in 2015 — and again in 2018 — FIU was granted the highest possible research designation: Carnegie Research I. Less than 3 percent of the universities in the United States can claim this designation. This past year, our faculty received a record number of patents and continue to work on unique programs such as the Wall of Wind, capable of recreating Category 5 hurricane conditions, and Aquarius, an underwater lab where NASA scientists and our researchers keep an eye on the health of the ecosystem.
We are developing solutions for our community and the world in areas including disaster mitigation, forensics, child mental health and preservation of natural resources. FIU is now among the top 100 public universities in the nation.
Without FIU, there would be tremendous gaps in the talent that leads and runs our community. For me and so many others at FIU, our work is about the wonderful people who surround us and inspire us to do better. Next Horizon is rooted in our history and belief in this institution and in our community. FIU is of this community and for this community of ambitious people with ambitious goals.
I challenge our community to join FIU in rising “with all the instinct and drive of the sun” to continue supporting the next generation of leaders.
Mark B. Rosenberg is president of FIU.