President’s office announces $5.4 million for strategic funding awardees

University of Florida College of the Arts students enjoying their perceptual drawing course outdoors on campus.

University of Florida College of the Arts students participate in perceptual drawing course outdoors on campus.

An AI-enabled digital imaging platform for treating cancer, a software tool for leveraging the capabilities of UF’s HiPerGator supercomputer, an initiative to improve healthcare in Jacksonville and statewide, and a program to enhance funding for the arts are among seven new projects receiving strategic funding at the University of Florida, President Ben Sasse announced today. The funding initiative is designed to advance the student experience and interdisciplinary scholarship. 

“These proposals will help take UF to the next level. Each of these bold initiatives will enhance the future of Florida and the world,” Sasse said. “We’re committed to being both elite and practical. I couldn’t be prouder of the way our incredible units at UF are putting this strategic funding to good use. We want to tackle big challenges and these projects are the kind of ambitious, interdisciplinary, and collaborative work that only a large, comprehensive, land-grant university like ours can do.” 

After UF received $130 million in new funding from the Florida Legislature this year, Sasse established that, for the first time, more than half of the funds would be used for strategic purposes. A total of $24 million was directly delivered to deans to report back on their strategic uses of funds, and another $50 million was made available across all colleges and administrative units to submit proposals for how the money could best be spent. UF received more than 250 submissions.  

In October, the first round of awardees received $9.2 million in funding. The second round of awards is being announced in three tranches on November 13, December 4, and December 18.  
Receiving a total of $5,352,990, the following winners were selected based on their impact on student experience and research productivity: 

The awardees have expressed gratitude for the funding, which will bring visibility to their groundbreaking visions and initiatives. 

“We are thrilled to receive these strategic funds that will enhance our great faculty entomology programs for the benefit of Florida’s citizens,” Robert Gilbert, the UF/IFAS dean for research, said about the Innovation Hub for Urban Pest Management project.  

Forrest Masters, the interim dean for the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, echoed this thankful sentiment, championing the Leveraging the Power of Large Language Models initiative. 

“We're thrilled to harness the power of large language models and the formidable computing power of our NVIDIA AI supercomputer to help our students become better programmers,” Masters said.   

For Onye Ozuzu, the dean of the College of the Arts, the funding presents an opportunity to showcase and expand on the unit’s exponential growth through the Arts Impact Engine.

“President Sasse’s call for strategic innovation, along with the resources to support the strengths of our faculty and students, is a perfectly placed boost at the exact moment that the College of the Arts is ready for it,” Ozuzu said. “Our potential is brimming.”    

There is also powerful potential for the AI-Enabled Digital Imaging Platform, designed to help treat and diagnose cancer. 

“This endeavor will allow us to reimagine the research enterprise to transform the practice of veterinary medicine,” said Dana Zimmel, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “It will position our college as a national leader in the use of AI to advance research in animal health.” 

Dr. Michael S. Okun, the director of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, looks forward to the investment in the Research & Technology Innovation Incubator.   

“This will be transformative for the University of Florida and for the nation. We must rise to meet the growing challenges of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, ALS, Alzheimer’s, Dystonia, concussion, and many others, and the Fixel Institute is the ideal place to do this and to do it now,” Okun said. “There is urgency to collect the best minds and to create next-generation solutions. Fixel and Gator Nation are poised to lead the way.”    

Dr. Kelly D. Foote, co-director of the Fixel Institute, shared Okun’s enthusiasm.   

“Imagine a collaborative research space designed to bring together clinicians, engineers, scientists, industry partners, and patients from every college and every clinic on the University of Florida campus,” Foote said. “It will be a mind-blowing collection of talent and will drive the most innovative solutions to impact this generation and the next – paying forward practical, accessible, and affordable solutions for neurodegenerative diseases and beyond.”  

A third group of submissions, identified as potentially worthy of funding, is currently undergoing a preliminary feasibility study. Proposals to support UF’s partnerships with businesses, use longitudinal data to support K-12 students, and expand the university’s prowess in space science are among the projects that will move forward with the study.

UF News November 13, 2023