Students in almost any field can benefit from an experience with the Center for Public Service. The university told us that the Center “is a community of students, scholars and citizens who share a commitment to training the next generation of public and private sector leaders for Florida, the United States and the international community.” The center provides UF students with research opportunities, internships, and a lecture series.
The Graham Civic Scholars program help students develop an understanding of public policy issues and develop “practical skills needed to be aware and active participants in our communities,” according to the university. Each year the program selects a topic that its fifty scholars will pursue. Scholars help to develop and organize the programs activities, complete service learning activities and research projects, and conduct “in-depth interviews as part of their investigation,” of the year’s topic, according to the university. Past topics have included food insecurity and the aging infrastructure in Florida. Scholars are assigned different tasks within the organization; for example, in the spring of 2015 ten students were “selected to plan and implement a service learning project,” and three were given “financial support to write a senior thesis or public policy proposal on the issue” of food insecurity. This is a great opportunity for students to take charge in the implementation and design of projects, developing great leadership and problem solving skills.
The Center for Public Service also offers a number of different internship opportunities that engage students with local government and civic service, while providing them with important contacts and future job prospects. The Local Government Internship Program places students in city or county manager’s offices across the state. Students gain valuable on-the-job training in “ business/finance, engineering, landscape design, and public administration. Interns will receive on-the-job training to help them move forward on their career path and attain valuable work experience in the competitive economy.” In the Florida Cooperative Extension Service and Graham Center Public Service Internship Program, students create educational programing in collaboration with county extension faculty. Programing areas include agriculture, water resource, environmental quality, and economic development. This is a perfect experience for any student interested in community development, sustainability, or environmental studies as these fields often interact with government personnel.
Other programs on campus shepherd student research and entrepreneurialism from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they find they need new office space. The Innovation Academy is, according to the university, “the nation’s first live/learn entrepreneurial based academic community.” This dedicated UF undergraduate program allows students to collaborate with other entrepreneurial-minded students, develop their own products and ideas, meet business leaders and venture capitalists, and participate in co-op learning during the fall. During spring and summer semesters, students take classes and get to interact with the Innovation Square startup community. In the fall, instead of taking classes students can find co-op employment, complete internships, study abroad, or use their time in any other way that customizes their education.
Students in the Innovation Academy can choose from a wide array of UF programs and majors that have been carefully curated to align with the academy’s mission. Students are provided with a sample program plan that suggests what classes they should take and when, and it also provides them with details about the kinds of careers that program could prepare them for. This allows students to focus and specialize their educational pathways toward a specific career from the start. For example, one program plan for the College of Agricultural Life Sciences provides students with career paths in entomology and nematology that include biosecurity, ecotourism, and plant protection. In each program students are provided with a step-by-step guide that takes them from freshman to senior year. There are equally detailed plans and career options for students in the diverse fields in six different colleges, such as information systems, accounting, journalism, political science, and mathematics.
Students also pursue a minor in innovation that helps them develop practical skills in their field. The minor focuses on ways that students can enhance their careers through interdisciplinary and creative approaches to problem-solving. In a pair of interlinked classes, “Creativity and Context” and “Creativity Practicum,” students learn “theoretical groundwork and evolution of psychologically-based research on dimensions of the creative person, process, product and press,” according to the university. They then get practical experience and develop “problem-solving strategies through completion of an innovative project.” By the end, students have developed, refined and tested a prototype creation in their chosen field. Students then present their work to the academy and guests from the business community, including patent attorneys and venture capitalists.
University of Florida tells us that Gators have “an altruistic drive to change the world for the better.” To support these proactive students the University itself has made “a comprehensive commitment to innovation and entrepreneurialism that is championed throughout our sixteen colleges and more than 150 research centers and institutes.” And students agree: “The University of Florida is all about innovation and working to better the lives of all Americans.” “We’ve created and developed the novel Innovation Square,” the university says, “an adjacent campus with facilities for startup companies whose technologies emanated from laboratories at the university.” The university is building Infinity Hall, an undergraduate living/learning community and residence hall near the Square, themed around entrepreneurism, in addition to a learning center for both undergraduate and graduate students. Innovation Square is part of the UF culture of “preparing students to be innovative leaders in and outside of their profession,” while “challenging students to innovate and solve the world’s greatest problems all while having an immense amount of fun,” students say.
The Hub is a 48,000-square-foot facility on the Innovation Square campus with whose “main objective is to enable companies accepted into the program to devote their limited resources to technology and market development, rather than [the] operational infrastructure,” that takes a long tenured business savvy to get right, and often stymies new technologies and business ventures that are otherwise sound. These budding business leaders don’t have to worry about securing office technology and facilities—the Hub provides office space for UF entrepreneurs and their startups to share. They also have access to the kinds of fully equipped, modern labs that they are used to finding on campus. Student researchers in the Hub also gain “access to venture capital firms” ready to give them advice about the market prospects, feasibility, and funding structures and—most importantly—to provide them with the capital they need to get their ideas off the ground. Residents also find pro-bono service providers are provided in the form of legal advice, accounting, and help with product design. While the best of schools offer these kinds of services through different entrepreneurial initiatives and programs on campus and through alumni networks, the University of Florida has them all in one place, which has the unexpected advantage of getting many of UF’s entrepreneurial students together. To maximize the exposure these groups have to one another, the Hub arranges “programs and events to enhance collision and collaboration between tenants.”