“Florida Atlantic University (FAU) is the most diverse institution in the state’s higher-education system,” says the American university’s Provost, Dr Gary W Perry. “Since 2013, more than 50 per cent of the student intake has come from minority groups, a statistic of which the university is extremely proud. We provide considerable academic and financial support to all of our students, especially those from underrepresented groups. But, crucially, we are committed to championing both access and achievement.”
Serving counties in South Florida and along the state’s Treasure Coast, FAU has a dual mission: to balance access and inclusion with excellence in teaching and research. “We have committed to increasing our admission standards year on year for the past three years,” explains Dr Perry. “We have also become a major regional hub for research and economic development.” After an 8 per cent increase in its graduation rate over just two years, this 50-year-old institution is ranked as the best of Florida’s 12 public universities by the Florida Board of Governors, earning a Higher Education Leadership Award for most improved university in May 2016.
This success has not, however, made FAU complacent. As part of the university’s strategic plan, both students and academics are encouraged to pursue the goal of what Dr Perry describes as “unbridled ambition”. “The aim is to become the country’s fastest-growing public research university,” he explains. “That means never settling but continuing in the pursuit of our goals for the university.”
One area of expertise is in ocean science and engineering coupled with environmental sciences. FAU is ideally placed to offer these programmes, given its proximity to the Everglades and the Atlantic. The university has also focused on healthy aging, recruiting leaders in this field, including Professor James Galvin, an expert in dementia.
“We have been successful in recruiting students who have had opportunities at more prestigious universities,” says Dr Perry. Students particularly appreciate the practical components on courses such as this: maritime science students, for instance, might spend a lot of time on boats, while biology or psychology students might have the opportunity to study in the lab of a world-renowned neuroscientist.
Also key to FAU’s future direction is its pioneering work developing smart systems to solve 21st-century problems. Through its Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE), researchers are looking into the use of tiny sensors that can be embedded, for example, into roads to detect when they need repairing, or can measure water quality. Another of FAU’s fields of focus is its neuroscience programme, which it delivers in collaboration with two research organisations – the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience and Scripps Florida. The ambition is to expand the number of neuroscience honours students from 400 to 3,000.
With its reputation for innovative research, this university is now in the major league. Its bold commitment to achievement means students have the best chance of soaring to dizzy heights of success.