FIU’s new $3 million Tech Station at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus is raising the bar for educational institutions, reflecting the kind of creative workspace that promotes learning and a spirit of innovation.
The College of Engineering & Computing made the $3 million investment in the 8,000 square-foot facility in recognition of its potential impact on students and the local economy. It is designed for majors within the college’s School of Computing & Information Sciences.
“This is essential for a technology ecosystem to thrive and for companies in South Florida to compete worldwide,” said Interim Dean Ranu Jung. As the top supplier of talent for the burgeoning tech industry in greater Miami—and one of the largest computing programs in the country—FIU understands the need to attract ever greater numbers of diverse young people to the field.
“Under the leadership of Dr. Ram Iyengar, the School of Computing & Information Sciences is flourishing. It is at the forefront for supporting student access and success through summer research experiences for undergraduates, hackathons and workshops like Girls Who Code, guiding our students to be innovators and entrepreneurs,” Jung said.
FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg heralded the value of the new space at its ribbon cutting. “It’s critical that our students be prepared for the best jobs possible, and Tech Station can be a major force in preparing students for the workforce,” he said.
“The facility was paid for by both an Information Technology Performance Funding grant and a Targeted Educational Attainment (TEAm) grant, funded by the Florida Legislature with the intention of producing more graduates for careers in the state’s highest-need areas.”
Tech Station will help them learn about the tech industry in a dynamic way. Located on the ground level of Parking Garage 6, it features high-tech classrooms, “team rooms” in which students can work on group projects, advising centers, research and computer labs, a maker garage in which students can wrestle with hardware and open spaces for public events and workshops. Floor-to-ceiling windows, bright colors and a café offering empanadas reminds visitors that this is not your father’s darkly light back corner of the IT department.
“We’re trying to break a mold. We’re trying to get students to think differently about what an educational environment looks like and what the experience is,” Director of Technology Steve Luis said. That has meant establishing a comfortable, innovative atmosphere that makes students feel at home.
Movable seating, for example, promotes group work while also allowing for privacy when needed. Team rooms offer cushioned seats and multiple white boards that help students channel their creativity and interact with others.
“Everybody can share their code or whatever they’re working on,” sophomore computer science major Fernando Mendez said. “They can share it on screens without having to have a special type of computer or device. It makes it easier for students to get together and collaborate.”
That mirrors the kind of creative workspace that companies have begun offering their employees.
“The software design lab has a Google feel when you’re working,” Mendez said. “Google is known for having really laid-back, relaxed environment, and Tech Station creates that environment.”
Such productive casualness shows up in the lab’s popular Japanese-inspired feature: a low table and ground seating that allows students to sit cross-legged while working on laptops.
The university has also built four active learning classrooms within Tech Station. They are designed to emphasize hands-on activities and collaborative problem solving, with professors acting as mentors rather than teachers in the traditional sense.
“This is the largest collection of contiguous active learning classrooms in one location on our campus,” Luis said. “This is the future. It puts us on the map in terms of how we want our students to receive education and what kind of an environment we expect our students to work in. It’s a game changer for that.”
Engagement and partnerships
An important aspect of Tech Station’s initiatives are partnerships with several companies whose employees will mentor students. The connection to employers is something students like Fernando Campo are thinking about.
“If a company wants to see what we can offer them, now we have a place and a platform to showcase our work at the Ultimate Software Innovation Showcase in Tech Station.”
Ultimate Software, sponsor of the showcase, has been a strong supporter of school and has hired more than 100 FIU alumni.
“Since we started, we’ve grown four hundred employees and we could not have done it without the talent in South Florida, but more specifically, we could have not done it without the work with FIU. That is the absolute truth,” said Adam Rogers, Ultimate Software’s chief of technology officer.
Many other companies likewise have partnered with the School of Computing & Information Sciences.
“I’m very proud that the industry is involved. It’s clear that the business community believes in our students,” Rosenberg said. “Part of helping students be prepared for the workforce means exposing them to future employers.”
Academic Advising Center
And getting students to timely graduation and gainful employment remains a goal that the new facility will encourage. The school’s academic advising center is housed in Tech Station, where the school’s STEM coordinator is actively working with students to help them find internships and jobs. Bringing all services together within the happening Tech Station inspires students to study, get involved and stay the course. Luis saw first-hand how touring the space got freshman excited during orientation week.
“It’s a lasting impression,” Luis said. “When they leave, we want them to leave feeling, ‘Wow, what an experience’.”