UF one of 10 schools named in White House STEM initiative

March 27, 2015

The University of Florida is one of 10 institutions selected to be part of a White House initiative aimed at keeping students enrolled in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.

During its 5th annual science fair earlier this week, the White House announced its $240 million pledge to further boost STEM initiatives around the country. Included was a description of the new University Innovation Freshman (#uifresh) campaign that will aim to improve retention rates among STEM students in their first year of college.

According to a report published by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology, 60 percent of students who arrive at college intending to major in STEM subjects will change their majors, often in their first year. The #uifresh campaign is run by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, or Epicenter. The campaign, funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell, aims to halt and reverse this trend and encourage more students to complete STEM degrees.

“The University of Florida is one of the largest producers of STEM degrees in the nation, and this initiative will help us become an even bigger contributor at the national level,” Provost Joe Glover said.

Cammy Abernathy, dean of the UF College of Engineering, said the initiative will ultimately help the entire nation.

“Getting students involved in hands-on, experiential learning environments early in their college careers not only boosts their commitments to STEM disciplines, it shapes them into more creative thinkers,” she said. “We provide these experiences at the college, and we’re finding that the end result is a more vibrant and innovative workforce, one that is ready to tackle the biggest challenges that face us.”

As part of the initiative, University Innovation Fellows will work with the UF Engineering Innovation Institute to develop and deliver modules in design thinking, creativity and innovation that will attract more students into STEM disciplines. These modules will be featured in a UF Core general education curriculum that will encourage students to see problems as opportunities, and help them identify and connect with their innovation community for support. Under consideration is a section that would focus on taking a human-centered approach to rebuilding coastal communities for optimum recovery and resiliency.

“Our freshmen are incredibly bright,” said Erik Sander, director of the UF Engineering Innovation Institute. “This partnership with the University Innovation Fellows program will engage them right off the bat with the real-world context of how extreme events impact communities. And it will empower them to know what they personally can do about it.”

Two UF engineering students were selected last month to be University Innovation Fellows: Daniel Kleinman and Natalie DeVarona.

“You can do anything with a STEM education,” said Kleinman. “I study mechanical engineering and when I started out, I wanted to work with alternative energy. Now, as I’m preparing to graduate, I’m looking at a career in ocean exploration technology. There are so many STEM career options to explore – as long as you just stick with it.”