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

Knight School students

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?

Dr. Jason Liu

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.

Dean John Volakis

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.

How does attracting top-flight educators and researchers to your faculty promote the success of KFSCIS and its students?

Volakis: The additional faculty, particularly top faculty, is going to add to the continuing growth and improvement of our rankings. Therefore, we are going to be able to continue to attract better and top students, and also be able to lower our student-faculty ratio. These two factors are making us more attractive to prospective students, and also it allows us, above all and beyond, to serve the community that we’re in and to make sure the students we educate stay in the area to continue school and to work here. So, we create an ecosystem that is beneficial to the economic growth of the area. With the Knight Foundation’s support, as well as the university’s investment, we will continue to do better and better, particularly in the technology area, which is central to the economic growth of the region.

Liu: It will also allow us to  place continued emphasis on strategic hires for the school and attracting the top leaders in the field to FIU.

How will these plans for the future of the school make a difference for KFSCIS alumni and add value to the FIU degrees they hold?

Volakis: The continuous improvement of our rankings, which has been phenomenal over the last few years, translates immediately to a better value of the degree that our alumni have. We have a responsibility to continue this improvement in our rankings, and we will. Not only is contributing to the economic growth a responsibility that we have to the region, but also, we need to make sure our alumni feel and see their degree continues to be worth more and more, and that they are very proud of our university. The investment from the Knight Foundation, and also the investment from the university, to the school as well as the entire College of Engineering & Computing, all translates to a much greater value to the degree our alumni have, and it provides the community with leaders of tomorrow.

Liu: I want to add that we love to see our alumni energized and taking part this rapid growing time at FIU. They are helping us and helping our students to find jobs and shaping their career paths in the computer sciences through mentoring, offering internships, hiring our students and giving back to FIU.

Volakis: The Knight Foundation’s generous partnership will prove to be a fruitful collaboration over many years. We invite our alumni working in the field as well as companies and industry leaders to explore ways they, too, can partner with us for student success. Please get involved in FIU – whether it be mentoring or providing internships to our students, donating to student scholarships and experiential learning activities, or joining our educational advisory committees – and do so early on, to help us guide the education we are providing and graduate career-ready students.