Ask companies in technical fields for their top hiring priority, and many are likely to say something like “finding employees who will get the job done now, but also make us better in the future.”
The Florida EPIC (Entrepreneurial, Policy, Innovation and Commerce) Program at Jacksonville University was created with just that in mind.
The initiative is designed to attract and develop students who will be highly qualified upon graduation and ready to work in the sought-after fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), plus health sciences, global trade, aviation, business analytics and sustainability – fields with potential to bring a high number of jobs and businesses to Florida.
The State of Florida was so convinced of the need for such graduates that JU was able to secure a $12 million public investment last year – the largest state funding in the University’s 81-year history – to help launch EPIC. Additional grants and contract awards in the millions of dollars and future commitments mean the University is well-positioned to meet its goals.
“The Florida EPIC Program at Jacksonville University focuses heavily on developing academic programs to meet Florida’s workforce needs,” said Terri Davlantes, Executive Director of EPIC. “This education initiative is focused on specialized fields that create job opportunities, improve the quality of the workforce in our region and make our areas attractive to talented students from around the world to study, live and work in Florida.”
Already, the combined number of undergraduate and graduate degrees granted in STEM and healthcare science majors since EPIC began in 2014 is more than 1,000, and JU anticipates producing an equal number of baccalaureate and graduate degree graduates in these disciplines for 2015-16.
A key aspect of EPIC is the focus on inter-disciplinary training. In today’s rapidly changing marketplace, the need is growing for workers who might bring with them not only a specialization in a non-technical degree area – for example, communications, or design, or education — but who also offer highly refined skills in one or more STEM-related fields
“This new program is helping establish JU as a recognized leader in trans-disciplinary education,” said JU President Tim Cost. “Through EPIC, JU students will graduate with skills that allow them to work collaboratively in inter-disciplinary teams and to learn from each other, traits that will always remain highly valued in the marketplace. The program is truly symbolic of our transformative efforts to offer excellent programs, facilities and personnel.”
Using the operating and capital funding provided by Florida’s Legislature in 2014, Jacksonville University has already made substantial progress. The overwhelming majority of the funds is directly supporting faculty teaching in relevant academic programs.
- Adding 21 programs and degrees in areas identified by employers as being in highest demand, such as in health sciences, with 5 masters of science in nursing degrees, 3 doctorate of nurse practitioner programs and a bachelor of science degree; in business, with two bachelor’s degrees, 2 new concentrations in the Davis College of Business’ MBA degree program and a new concentration in marketing at the undergrad level; and in science and engineering, with 2 new bachelor’s degrees in engineering and 1 in computing science.
- Cutting-edge new laboratories built, and existing ones refreshed, in health sciences and science and engineering, at a cost of more than $2 million.
- Creation and enhancement of inter-disciplinary learning spaces throughout campus, investing more than $1 million, as well as building a high-tech broadcast media studio.
- Establishment of new business partnerships with other universities, local and state business interests, government and non-profit organizations, venture capitalists, and the military.
- Substantial upgrades of campus infrastructure for accelerated programming, with investment in new key personnel, capital projects, updated software and economic impact studies, at a cost of more than $6.5 million.
Another way the University is accomplishing the vision of the EPIC Program is through the newly created Collaborate JU, in which students and professors from multiple disciplines join forces with industry experts to solve challenging problems. Through these experiences, students become engaged, active participants in their education and are better prepared to enter the workforce.
Some of the Collaborate JU projects under way include Biomechanical Assessment of Athletes, Coral Reef Restoration, Mobile Water Quality Monitoring and Oyster Reef Assessment. These experiences allow students to develop hands-on skills valued by employers and create networking contacts with Florida employers that will encourage them to remain in Florida’s labor pool upon graduation.
“All of our efforts are focused on one thing: investing in a 21st-century workforce,” Cost said.
This article was written for and originally appeared in AdvantageBiz Magazine.