Dean John Volakis and Dr. Jason Liu discuss impact of Knight Foundation’s recent investment in computing and information sciences education at FIU

Last week, the College of Engineering & Computing (CEC) announced its newly named Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences (KFSCIS), in recognition of a $10 million investment by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in the school and FIU’s tech ecosystem.

The Knight Foundation’s gift, which is accompanied by an additional $106 million investment in the school by FIU over ten years, will boost FIU’s role in the Miami tech movement. The initiative will help the school hire new faculty in diverse and trending areas of expertise; graduate workforce-ready students in modern and innovative tech specialties; and ramp up the College’s already growing and cutting-edge research output and industry collaborations.

CEC Dean John Volakis and Dr. Jason Liu, interim director of the KFSCIS, share how this partnership with Knight Foundation will impact the future of the school and college:

The Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences is a top producer of minority graduates in STEM fields. How will the Knight Foundation’s support expand student success and career readiness initiatives at the school? How will this help FIU foster a healthy pipeline of new professionals ready to succeed in a growing and evolving tech workforce?

Liu: First, the Knight Foundation’s donation is going to help improve our graduation rate. With the addition of 20 new faculty, it’s going to help significantly improve the student-faculty ratio, and also it will add expertise in very important computer science areas that match very well with the job market trends – namely artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and data science. There’s also support for additional career advising to help us get students into their career paths. In terms of a healthy pipeline, the Knight Foundation’s support will help us move toward making SCIS a powerhouse for graduating workforce-ready students in computer science- and information technology-related fields. Additionally, having those added connections with the industry as well as South Florida’s municipal organizations that new faculty will bring to SCIS will help us guide students in their career choices and meet the demand from the local community and the industry.

Volakis: Already we are beyond 45% for a four-year graduation rate, and the Knight Foundation’s support will push us closer to 60% four-year graduation rate. With the growth in faculty, KFSCIS will provide expanded and modern teaching and hands-on learning capabilities that the industry wants and help them become more entrepreneurial to align with the growing entrepreneurship trend in the industry, in particular in Miami. Therefore, our students are going to be more attractive than ever to the industry now and the future industry.

With the addition of 20 new faculty members to your roster, how will this gift impact current and future interdisciplinary research endeavors and industry collaborations at KFSCIS?

Volakis: The College of Engineering & Computing has had a phenomenal growth both in terms of students as well as its research enterprise in the last three to five years. Its research has grown significantly already – we have reached a level of $45M in research awards last year alone – and we expect this rise in research, enterprise and entrepreneurship to continue in the years to come. This investment from the Knight Foundation, and the addition of faculty, is going to strengthen our growth. We project that the additional 20 faculty should increase our research output by another 160% at the Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences.

Liu: I think having the Knight Foundation’s support with the 20 additional faculty members – who are mostly going to be in the areas of machine learning, AI, data science, and related areas such as biomed – these really are creating key relationships in many important research areas the university is focusing on, for example, in sustainability and environmental science, in extreme events – areas inside the college and across the university. It will enable more fruitful, multidisciplinary collaborations to come.

Read more at FIU Give News.

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