A giant leap for engineering and computing

engineering building rendering
A rendering of the new College of Engineering & Computing building at MMC

–By Kenneth Setzer MA ’97

Like moving into a new home, constructing a major, new building is an exciting time for any university, providing potential for new programming, expansion of established initiatives, and a chance to imagine completely new possibilities. 

That’s why on September 9, 2021, FIU faculty, staff, students, board members, and government representatives happily braved the heat and sun to celebrate the groundbreaking for a cutting-edge new facility for the College of Engineering & Computing (CEC). 

FIU’s engineering and computing programs have needed to expand their footprint for quite a few years.  

You might consider FIU’s CEC a victim of its own success. Its programs and labs have proven so successful that the current facility – intended to support about 2,000 students – has stretched to accommodate about 7,000. Plus, the current Engineering Center (EC) is located a mile away from the “main” Modesto A. Maidique Campus, making collaboration difficult and requiring a time-consuming commute in dense Miami traffic for both students and faculty. 

FIU is No. 22 among the top 50 institutions for bachelor’s degrees awarded in electrical engineering. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked FIU’s electrical engineering program No. 46 among the best programs in the nation.

The undergraduate computer and information sciences program has seen a 43-percent increase in total enrollment and a nearly 120-percent increase in newly admitted students since 2017 – FIU is currently No. 6 among the top 50 universities in the nation in the number of undergraduate degrees awarded in computer science, the third largest producer of engineers in Florida, and 15th nationally in engineering undergraduate enrollment.

Though the EC will continue to support the college as it has for over 25 years, it will soon also have much-needed space to grow as select teaching and research move to the new facility. 

The new building, at the corner of SW 8th Street and 107th Avenue, will be a $48.4 million, 125,000-square-foot, six-story structure constructed in two phases. The LEED Certified Gold building will feature 20,000 square feet of interactive research and teaching space with best-in-class computing and prototyping equipment for advancements in the fields of cybersecurity, nanotechnology drug delivery, environmental resilience and more. 

Research and invention, both major elements contributing to FIU’s overall increasing stature, demand more and updated space. 

FIU is ranked 20th among U.S. public universities and 42nd among all universities in the world for utility patent production; in 2020-2021, FIU had $237 million in research expenditures – all factors in keeping FIU a Carnegie-designated R1 research university. 

Some of the major engineering research areas include medical devices and systems; energy storage and smart power grids; wireless communication and antenna and satellite systems; materials and manufacturing; and construction, sustainability and infrastructure resilience. 

Its novel research doesn’t only keep FIU highly ranked – it quite literally yields inventions to improve lives, creates new jobs, and brings much-needed dollars to the university through licensing new technology. With over half of CEC faculty involved in biomedical research, the new facility will allow more faculty collaboration with colleagues in medicine, nursing, public health, business and in new areas of technological growth. 

Demand for computer and information sciences graduates and faculty continues to grow as Miami emerges as a new tech hub. The recently named Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences (part of CEC), thanks to a gift from the Knight Foundation, will also be represented in the new building to meet this demand. Some of the major areas of computing research at FIU include information technology, data management and storage, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. 

Thanks to state legislative funding, private philanthropy and part of the $10 million Knight Foundation gift, the soon-to-be hub for engineering, computing, and tech collaboration and education will allow FIU to graduate an additional 500 engineers per year from an ultra-modern facility with collaborative, active learning classrooms, makerspaces and chances to engage in advanced research; it will create hundreds of new jobs for South Florida; and it will increase FIU’s research expenditures by a projected $30 million a year – an all-around win to take FIU and Miami to greater heights. 

“With more than 50 percent of the faculty in our college carrying out biomedical-related research, the added collaborative research space in the new building will propel our leadership in this important area of technology development and in building a stronger workforce and economy for the state and the nation as a whole,” said John L. Volakis, dean of the College of Engineering & Computing.