In five short years, Florida Polytechnic University, Florida’s 12th university has grown from a 170-acre field of green grass and palm trees to an international college with 1,424 students who are already making a difference in the world.
“We accomplished so much in our first four years, from achieving regional accreditation to graduating our first four-year class last May,” said Dr. Randy K. Avent, president of Florida Polytechnic University. “Now we are beginning to mature as an institution and that’s exciting.”
Students from 24 countries on five continents helped the college kick off the start of the fifth academic year Aug. 22, attending classes in the centerpiece 162,000-square-foot Innovation Science & Technology building designed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.
Florida Poly was established at 4700 Research Way in Lakeland in 2012 as the state’s first university dedicated solely to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Its goal is to provide students with challenging collegiate courses while also providing high-tech, real-world experience.
It continues to partner with local businesses to do just that:
- The university announced in July 2018 a new program in which its students will help solve problems, create new apps and design advanced software as interns at Draken International, the Lakeland-based company that supplies adversary air support to train military pilots.
- It also works closely with Saddle Creek Logistics Services, which has donated more than $1 million to the university. Saddle Creek offers internships to Florida Poly students, one of whom recently turned that experience into a full-time job with the Lakeland company.
- And it has a partnership with the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, which is developing SunTrax, so its students can learn the engineering skills and programming language needed to build autonomous vehicles. Suntrax, sitting on 400 acres on the opposite side of the Polk Parkway from Florida Poly, is being built to test new technology, from driverless vehicles to toll booths.
Florida Poly’s partnerships with local industries are deep and many, ensuring the university and its students will continue to be the driving force behind Central Florida’s economic engine.
“As we continue to grow, our focus within the next five years will be to strengthen our academic programs and to establish Florida Poly’s role in the state’s high-tech economic development,” Avent said.
In addition to its offerings, Florida Poly is home to the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute, which was founded in 1978 as the Florida Institute on Phosphate Research. Having moved beyond just phosphate research, the institute also specializes in other areas, such as energy and mining non-phosphate minerals.
Two years after the state Legislature created Florida Polytechnic, thanks to the leadership of then-state Sen. J.D. Alexander of Lake Wales, the university opened its doors to students on Aug. 25, 2014. It lacked accreditation, so its foundation offered full-ride scholarships to students the first year.
Now accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, the university employs 71 full-time faculty and 150 staff members. It offers more than 270 courses in six undergraduate and two graduate programs, along with 19 areas of concentration. The number of undergraduate students reached 1,427 in the fall of 2017, and graduate students reached 17.
The university houses six buildings on its 170-acre main campus, including two dorms, a Wellness Center and the Student Development Center. It has plenty of room to grow — the university owns two additional parcels that total 360 acres.
As Florida Poly grows, so does its on-campus offerings. Einstein Bros. Bagels and Tu Taco have both opened to provide students with more dining options.
This fall’s academic class includes students from Germany, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, China and India, among others, delighting Mustapha Achoubane, associate director of international students. “The presence of international students on our campus creates a significant contribution to the excellence that we pursue as an institution. They bring a diversity of cultural backgrounds and perspectives that enrich the university experience for all students.”
As international as the students are, so is the variety of clubs and student organizations they may join. Some of the 40 clubs on campus include the Diversity Club, the Society of Women Engineers, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Jedi Academy.
“Nothing beats having our students back on campus,” Avent said. “All of us at Florida Poly … look forward to helping each (student) achieve success.”