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Creating the New Platform for Life in the 21st Century

| 1/25/2019

Interview with Cammy R. Abernathy, Ph.D., Dean of the University of Florida Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering

Q: How would you describe the classroom of the future?
Dr. Abernathy: Imagine a classroom where Alexa-like smart devices accurately read students’ rate of progress, where virtual reality, augmented reality and the educator form a ‘cyber-physical loop’ so that teachers teach better and students learn better in a more precise and personalized manner.

Q: Why is this new method of teaching important for Florida?
Dr. Abernathy: We now find ourselves in a period of unparalleled technological development, a Fourth Industrial Revolution, that is transforming and disrupting higher education — along with the workplace of tomorrow. UF — as a comprehensive, top 10 public university — is at the forefront of this revolution, adapting and applying these technological advances for the greater good of our students, as well as local and global communities. The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering’s educational focus is coalescing around a new platform for life in the 21st century — a cyber-physical merger that can improve our lives.

Q: What is the College’s role in creating this New Platform?
Dr. Abernathy: The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering is taking the lead and collaborating with other UF colleges to leverage the use of technological tools such as augmented reality, connected sensor and data networks (also known as ‘the Internet of Things’), 3D printing, and the processing of the data generated by these devices via machine learning and artificial intelligence. By using these tools to teach, we can enhance each student’s potential to excel in their careers.

Meeting Society’s Needs Today and Tomorrow

The National Science Foundation Center for Big Learning, hosted by the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, works with industry partners to meet the challenges and maximize the potential of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Students study complex data analytics and machine learning, and use system thinking to incorporate societal impacts and predict outcomes.

The Warren B. Nelms Institute for the Connected World, a multidisciplinary organization within the College, explores research and education in all aspects of the interoperability between things, processes, people, and data to address major world challenges, including health, energy, transportation, and manufacturing.

The Florida Institute for Cybersecurity Research, funded by government and industry, fights hardware and software intrusions that could potentially harm individuals and the economy. Engineering students in the Departments of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer & Information Science & Engineering learn about “ethical hacking” and identifying social engineering that targets at-risk populations, such as the elderly.

Leading this transfer of knowledge to students are the College’s world-renowned faculty researchers committed to educating this next generation of digitally literate “New Engineers” destined to fill the talent pipeline in Florida’s burgeoning high-tech economy.

A New Way of Teaching and Working: Classrooms at the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering are being transformed into living laboratories where students are studying and preparing for their future life in Florida and the world.

  • The I-Classroom makes it possible for UF faculty to experiment with incorporating new technologies into their curricula. The resulting technological innovations could ultimately result in new start-up businesses that grow our economy. Through experiential learning, students will have the opportunity to use these new technologies as a means of enhancing their skills and abilities to collaborate and innovate.
  • The new Herbert Wertheim Laboratory for Engineering Excellence (opening Spring 2020) is a state-of-the-art research and educational environment, bringing together interdisciplinary faculty, undergraduates and graduate students in collaborative “collision spaces” where they can interact and study. This building makes a bold statement for engineering and technology and will make a direct contribution to bolster Florida’s high tech, diverse workforce. It will serve as a research powerhouse focused on solving pressing global societal challenges.
  • A new data science and information technology building will create a cutting-edge headquarters for the Digital Transformation Initiative, providing the foundation for profound research advancements with real-world impacts and a support platform for enhancing digital literacy. This facility will bring together powerhouse researchers from multiple units for creative collaboration in an environment designed and outfitted to bring their ideas to fruition. The facility will house experiential labs for virtual reality, AI, cybersecurity and the Internet of Things, as well as programs dedicated to translating research into real world innovations.
  • The I-Coast Initiative pursues education, research, and monitoring of Florida’s coastline as a local and global solution for environmental change. Sensors attached to biological, robotic and fixed platforms are guided by satellite remote-sensing data. If the sensors detect early signs of infrastructure failure, contaminant release, or environmental and physiological change, relevant environmental management agencies can quickly respond. I-Coast will improve our understanding of the drivers of coastal health risk systems.

Reaching Engineers of All Ages and in All Places: New programs instituted by the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering are helping new engineers achieve their full potential:

  • The College’s Institute for Excellence in Engineering Education (IE3) will foster experiential and inquiry-based learning.
  • The Florida Engineering Experiment Station (FLEX) is expanding existing partnerships with State College of Florida and Santa Fe College to prepare more students for a wider spectrum of future jobs and improve access to UF engineering programs.
  • With a U.S. Department of Education grant, members of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering faculty are helping kindergarten- through-ninth grade STEM educators teach data gathering and analysis more effectively and equitably, especially in underserved areas and populations.
  • The College’s on-campus and distance-learning programs are reaching formerly hard-to-reach and -teach metro and rural students. By reaching more veterans, women, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation, low-income, or differently- abled students, the College is leading the charge to change the social structure of engineering education and empowering New Citizen-Engineers to change the future.

To learn more about how the University of Florida Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering is building the platform for 21st Century life, visit us at

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