Shoes shined, dress ironed and cap secured, the gold ribbon supporting her Innovation Academy medallion gleaming against her graduation robe, Sarah Harper stood ready Aug. 5 to walk across the stage and into her future.
After spending four years at the academy, a program UF launched in 2012 as a community of students at work on more than 30 majors united by ideals of teamwork, creativity and entrepreneurship, Harper is heading for Paris and an internship as a communications consultant with the United Nations Environmental Programme.
The 22-year-old political science major, one of 330 students who represent the academy’s first graduating class, credits IA, and her role as a founding member of the IA Ambassador and Innovation Leadership Programs, for her success.
“IA helped me find my place at UF,” Harper said.
Another member of IA’s inaugural class, Rey Pierre, an information systems and technology major, also attributes his success to the program.
“I look forward to being able to show how grateful I am for these four years,” he said. “When I make it big, I will most definitely come back.”
Pierre said his experience as an IA Ambassador and the opportunity to start his own campus organization have prepared him to achieve his goal of earning a master’s degree at UF and pursuing an entrepreneurial venture.
Successes like Harper’s and Pierre’s have been the academy’s driving force over the past four years, said Ayesha Mian, IA assistant director.
“The program is far better than it was when we started, and it’s all because of our students,” she said.
Hailed as one of the nation’s most forward-looking undergraduate programs, IA allows students to attend classes during the spring and summer semesters and pursue study abroad programs and internship opportunities in the fall semester.
Feedback from the inaugural class has enabled IA to expand programs for academic coursework, build a speaker series and create an annual event called Catalyst that encourages students to showcase inventions conceived in their first year in the program.
Students’ efforts also have led to added majors and opportunities within IA, including the ability to hold campus leadership positions.
To celebrate their accomplishments, students and families were invited to the first summer “Summit” event. Eligible graduates, including Harper and Pierre, were honored and awarded the Innovation Minor Medallion.
For Mian, the graduation of the inaugural class is validation of UF’s forward thinking.
“This is not just a pilot program,” she said. “Our students are revolutionizing industries. I know that they’re going to be significant contributors to society and to improving processes around the world.”
For information about the Innovation Academy, visit http://innovationacademy.ufl.edu/.