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Technology-public policy link discussed at JU PPI event

By Courtney Jimenez

JU Communications senior

As technical advances sweep across the world and affect more and more people, how that technology is shared and used is becoming increasingly important.

That’s where technology and public policy intersect.

Prof. Cammy R. Abernathy, Dean of the University of Florida College of Engineering. Photo by Courtney Jimenez/JU

Those were points put forward by Prof. Cammy R. Abernathy, Dean of the University of Florida College of Engineering, during a talk to the JU Public Policy Institute Board of Advisors Thursday, Feb. 6.

“If we’re going to educate engineers, we won’t be able to educate them the way we have in the past,” said Abernathy, whose speech was also attended by Jacksonville University Master in Public Policy (MPP) faculty and students.

Policy decisions have become crucial because as the world population rises, and people’s standard of living improves, they demand more and more innovation, she said.

However, ensuring that the technology they already have keeps advancing is equally or more important than simply delivering them more “gadgets,” Abernathy said.

That means engineers can’t just think about mechanics, automation and equipment, but also about strategy, outcomes and public policy in order to help lead change.

“What skills would an engineer have to possess to be part of the world today?” she asked.

Abernathy said the answer lies in educators helping them master four vital areas of expertise.

“Communication, ethics, creativity and innovation are words that need to be associated with our engineers when they are ready to graduate, so they can hit the ground running as soon as they leave,” she said.

That will help make them better leaders, which is important. For example, Abernathy said many of the political leaders in Asia had engineering degrees.

“There are no substitutes for bringing great leaders in front of your students,” Abernathy said. “One of the things the leaders teach is that if you never fail, you’re not dreaming big enough; you’re not taking big enough risks.”

She emphasized how important it is not just for those studying political science and economics but for engineers and other technical professionals to be educated in public policy.

Rick Mullaney, JU PPI’s founding director, said he agreed with Abernathy that educators must be proactive in building leaders for tomorrow’s economy.

What is critical is “combining both the subject matter expertise  and the leadership skills the students’ need for their futures,” he said.

The next JU PPI event is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, when the Institute hosts Gary Chartrand, Chair of the Florida State Board of Education and Executive Chairman of Acosta Sales and Marketing, and Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, to discuss “Education Policy: Why it Matters” at a free forum in the JU Davis College of Business. The event is open to the public, with a reception at 6 p.m. and forum at 7 p.m.

For more on the JU PPI, visit www.ju.edu/ppi, call (904) 256-7342 or e-mail rmullan1@ju.edu.