Attracting More STEM Students

Talk on the street is that a plan is being considered to lower tuition rates for students in the STEM disciplines as a way of encouraging more people to enter into the fields most likely to help us diversify and invigorate the Florida economy.

I don’t think a lower price for in-state tuition is likely to help. Students don’t choose majors based on price and in the STEM disciplines the issue isn’t that young people can’t afford to go to school to pursue careers in STEM, but rather that they do not have the academic preparation to successfully pursue these majors. The key here is to improve student preparation in primary and secondary school. That will be a slow process that starts in middle school and takes at least six years until those students are ready to enter college.

If it will take that long to “make” STEM ready Florida college students, perhaps we can “buy” those that are ready now from other states. In other words, a more effective short-term strategy would be to cut out-of-state tuition to in-state levels as a way of attracting more students to the STEM disciplines at Florida schools. The ratio of out-of-state to in-state tuition is high in Florida, higher than most states. Lowering it is one way to attract these students to Florida.

To maximize the attraction, I would combine this lower price with opportunities to intern with some of our unique community partnerships to make the STEM disciplines come alive. For UCF this should include opportunities to learn at the Cape, the attractions, and the simulation and training industry, things we have that others don’t. I would also work to pair STEM students with business students in courses and co-curricular experiences that focus on the new business start-up process. STEM students shouldn’t just aspire to be employees, we want them to think entrepreneurially and be the source of scalable business ideas. Pairing STEM students with business students in specialized programs will help make this happen.

Implementing this strategy is likely to be especially successful at the graduate level. People who enter specialized professional graduate programs are more likely to complete them and enter STEM-related enterprises than freshmen who tend to change majors with considerable frequency. Masters students are also more likely to develop scalable business ideas and become employers, especially if they learn to work with MBA students.

In-state tuition for out-of-state STEM students, the opportunity to work with one of our unique community partners, and interact with business students interested in creating STEM-related starts-ups should be a powerful attractor, especially when combined with beaches and sunshine. Once they are here, they are likely to stay. Everybody wins, especially Florida’s economy.

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Dear Santa

I know I am writing very late, but I wasn’t sure there would be a Christmas this year. Now that we have survived the History Channel’s interpretation of the Mayan calendar, I do have a few requests. Because I love all my children the same, I offer this list in no particular order:

Sean would like five new academically qualified accounting faculty. He would prefer that they be willing to teach thirty sections a year while publishing madly. Reaccreditation would be nice too.

Economics would like to fill the Crotty Chair, but realizes there are always opportunity costs. They would prefer that those costs be shifted onto someone you deem naughty, rather than nice.

Tony would like a trading floor. Does Milton Bradley make these?

Lap Daddy, a term of student endearment I just learned via twitter, would like less to do. This has nothing to do with his energy level and everything to do with the size of the challenge he sees before him.

Cameron would like this year’s winner of the Joust to strike it rich, give us lots of money and name the Entrepreneurship Center. Perhaps you could buy lots of button covers from Alex? They would make great stocking stuffers.

Rob, Pradeep and Steve want someone who can teach measurement, survey research and structural equation modeling to our Ph.D. students. They promise they won’t monopolize this person’s time with their own methodological issues (wink).

Lonny wants jobs for MBA students or chicken gumbo. Ah, chicken gumbo.

Jim would like to double the number of business students and faculty who participate in the honors in the major program. Alvin would think this is cool too. It is a two for one gift.

Taylor just wants something that requires less duct tape than Integrity. Eight thousand students agree with him. We have patched that system enough.

Tiffany would like a successful 50th Anniversary event complete with 350 attendees. She doesn’t need this until Feb. 15th, so no rush.

Foard just wants money. He would like our recurring budget restored to 2006 levels. If that isn’t possible, could we at least get our share of the $50 million UCF lost this year back? He is willing to accept tens and twenties.

If you have time after the holiday, the Marketing Department would like to invite you to give a lecture on your supply chain management system. I am sure we could provide you with a full house and you might enjoy the break from the cold. Tweet me some times that would work.

In the meantime, Anne Marie will have milk and cookies waiting for you.

Happy Holidays

P.S. if it is not too much trouble, could you also get President Hitt a stable conference for UCF athletics?

Where Did We Go Wrong?

On Thursday I attended the Honors program banquet for graduating seniors. I asked one of the students at my table what he was doing after graduation. He responded that he had just started looking for a job yesterday and planned to send out lots of resumes this week.

Then after graduation on Friday, I was walking back from the arena when I heard a graduate talking to his mother. What building is that, she asked? The young man replied: “I think it has Career Services and other weird stuff. I don’t go in there.” Pray for his mom.

If doing something about getting a job wasn’t important enough to you before you graduate, why would an employer believe you are going to be motivated enough to think ahead on their behalf once you are on the job?

Tweetback Thursday: Our Role in Community Service

The last Tweetback Thursday of the semester comes from our own Lonny Butcher who asks: “What role does/should the CBA play in service to the Central FL community? What has the Dean seen so far, what would he like it to be?”

Provocative question, Lonny. I don’t have a complete answer yet, but let me share some thoughts. As everyone on campus knows, President Hitt has a vision for UCF to become America’s Leading Partnership University. This is not a marketing slogan: it is a full blown effort. Helen Donegan and her staff have done a wonderful job fostering and coordinating the University’s diverse links to the wider community. They, especially Helen and EMBA alum Maritza Martinez, have opened many doors for me. And, wherever I go and wherever I speak, whether it be at a chamber meeting, civic group, or charitable organization, there is always a UCF representative there offering their time and talent through service on the community partner’s governing board. It is very impressive indeed.

As for the college, we emphasize community involvement and social entrepreneurship through our Cornerstone experience and reach out to the community through a number of our Centers, especially our Small Business Development Center and Institute for Economic Competitiveness. I am also aware of the individual efforts of many of our faculty to devote their talents and expertise to help a wide-variety of community projects and organizations.

What we lack in the college is “a branded community service effort.” We do not have a coherent approach to how we engage the community, nor do we have a strong sense of how this should relate to our wider strategic objectives and identity. Imitiation being the highest form of flattery, I have taken a page from President Hitt’s book and have brought on Tiffany Hughes from our Executive Development Center to serve as our Director of Corporate and Community Relations. Tiffany and I have been meeting with community leaders from around the state for the better part of three months now to try to gain a sense of how we might best position the College to be a valuable resource in the community and partner with various organizations for our mutual benefit. At the risk of engaging in “deanspeak”: a key source of differentiation for the College is place. We must leverage the unique resources of the central Florida region to brand ourselves. This will require us to develop true partnerships: things that will add value for both parties and change the college as these partnerships evolve.

Where will this all go? Not sure, but I hope to have more to say about our strategic direction and the role of community partnership early in 2013. As always, I would be VERY interested in hearing from members of the College as well as the community on how we could best accomplish this goal.

The Reboot Button

I spent most of last week in south Florida. We have many alums in the greater Miami area and lots of high school students (and their helicopter parents) wanting to come to UCF. One of our south Florida alums is Mitch Less, a partner at Grant Thornton. Mitch is accountant to the Miami Marlins, Southern Wine and Spirits, and the World, to name just a few. He opened many doors for us and hosted a dinner with a small group of committed alums. Most importantly, he is an avid baseball fan: but I digress.

I travel a fair bit for my job and my meetings with alums and friends of the college have a variety of purposes. One is to invite industry experts to speak in our classes and mentor our students. Another is to develop employment opportunities for our graduates and provide talent for our partner firms. I am also looking to secure the financial and human resources necessary to develop signature programs for the college as well as provide platforms upon which our alums can network and further their careers. Finally I am always in search of ideas on how we can differentiate our students in ways that will appeal to our stakeholders and enhance the school’s reputation. This inevitably leads to a discussion of what students need in order to succeed in today’s business world.

What struck me on our four-day trip to south Florida was that despite the diversity of business models employed by our alums and hosts, there is a great deal of consensus on what students need to succeed. People make money and contribute to our economy in a diversity of ways. Only a few of these models get much attention in business school. So for example alumnus Steve Felkowitz and his partner UCF parent Martin Sutker, run a global sourcing company named Atico that designs everything from gift wrap, novelties, and holiday decorations, to small appliances and lawn furniture. Manufacturers from around the world then produce the products for retailers who place orders with Atico and sell the items under private labels. If you have bought any general merchandise in CVS or Walgreens, you have bought something from Atico. Steve and Martin add value and make money by understanding market trends, employing analysts and designers, and having a vast network of manufacturers who can create products on demand for retailers looking for the next hot item at the lowest possible cost.

If Steve and Martin represent the “old economy”, alum Zach Hoffman represents the new. Zach freely admits that he doesn’t understand the physical business world, but his company Exults Inc., understands the virtual version of commerce. His grasp of the internet, search engine optimization, social media and mobile platforms is leading to a rapidly expanding client base and new regional offices in the northeast and west coast. Zach lives in an entirely different world than Steve, but both survive and thrive because of their ability to recognize opportunity, stay ahead of the curve and adapt to evolving conditions.

Perhaps this is why Steve, Martin, and Zach (as well as several others we met) hit on common themes for developing qualities in students that will lead to their success: a forward-looking orientation that recognizes trends; a willingness to take risks, communicating a compelling vision succinctly to others, networking with purpose, and cultivating both a persistence and adaptability in executing your business. It isn’t enough to focus on today they noted, you have to know how to reinvent your company to be able to compete for tomorrow. Steve put this colorfully when he commented that too many people from today’s video game generation were sacrificing perspective in the pursuit of persistence: “They want to beat that game really badly and continually hit the reboot button in an effort to reset the game and win, but rarely do they step back to ask themselves why they failed last time and alter their strategy.” When he said this I immediately thought of my meeting with the Miami Marlins and what Michel would say…. hmm, but then I digress…

Anger is the Enemy of Instruction -Phil Jackson, Zen Master

TweetBack Thursday comes a day early this week compliments of Richard Caldwell. Richard is the man who is responsible for our testing center and he knows a storm is coming. He asks that I sound the alarm and tell students to plan ahead so that they can weather this storm relatively stress free.

The storm: This finals period more than eighteen thousand exams will close in the Keon Testing Center. Yes, you read that right. The exact number is 18,164. It is a staggering number and you can see how many tests close each day by clicking here. Note the number of exams that close on Friday and Saturday: it is more than half the total.

Richard wants me to encourage you to avoid the inevitable lines by taking your exams early. Only eight percent of exams are taken on the first day they are available. In contrast, a whopping seventy-two percent are taken on the last day. This means that at least 3200 exams will be taken on Friday and 4300 on Saturday by people who waited until the last day. That looks like this:

Finals 2009

Finals 2009

Even with this compelling photo, I know my plea will fail. What we have here is a big free-rider problem. All of you hope I will convince others to go earlier so you can wait to the last minute, walk right in and take your exam. Which means the vast majority of you will go the last day, walk to the end of a very long line and get frustrated by how slowly it moves. Frustration will turn to anger. Anger, as Phil Jackson notes, is the enemy of instruction. It clouds judgment, reduces focus, and leads to suboptimal performance. Listen to the Zen Master: he has lots of championship rings to back him up.

The long term solution is to save you all from yourselves by smoothing out the number of exams that close each day so that they don’t all pile up like they do this semester. Geez in my day tests were given once. The school scheduled it and it was your responsibility to show up. Test times weren’t optional. This procedure ensured that room space was allocated efficiently and students knew exactly when they would take the test with no waiting. I vote we do that. For large sections we could give students different times based on their student identification numbers or first letter of their last name.

Until I get my way, you can still procrastinate and reduce your stress in two ways. One is to schedule your exam time using the COBA Pass. Disney charges extra for their fast pass, we give you this option for free: THIS IS A NO-BRAINER- USE IT. If you are too lazy or undisciplined to schedule your exam time, show up before 11 am to take your test. I am told there is never a line then.

If Phil Jackson can’t convince you, how about UCLA’s John Wooden (yes he is way before your time go ahead and google him): failing to plan is planning to fail. You have spent a lot of time, energy and money to get this far, don’t let a failure to plan your exam time stress you out as you wait in a long line to take your test.

Hope’s Reality

Higher education is about hope. Parents save to send their children to college in the hope they will have better futures. States support their institutions of higher learning in the hope of creating engaged citizens and stronger economies. Donors give money to universities in the hope of transforming lives. Scholars do research and teach students in the hope of inventing a better world.

Friday night I had the opportunity to witness hope in action when I helped judge the finals in the college’s Cornerstone Competition. Cornerstone is a social entrepreneurship course that includes a service learning project. Each year about 2500 students complete 400 projects that represent about $1 million in economic impact. This year, Cornerstone was recognized by the Florida Campus Compact, winning the campus-community partnership award for its work with Boys Town. Cornerstone is a great example of Dr. Hitt’s vision for UCF to be America’s leading partnership university. It has also inspired UCF’s David Brim to create a unique social entrepreneurship app called Bright Impact. But most of all, Cornerstone is at the heart of the College’s enculturation process, instilling entrepreneurial thinking, creativity, teamwork, communication skills, ethics and an appreciation for diversity in our students.

The competition celebrates the Cornerstone projects, and thanks to the generous support of UCF alums Jim and Debbie Balaschak, who also helped judge the finals, provides a cash prize to the group that best exemplifies the values of Cornerstone. About twenty teams participated in Friday’s competition, with four groups presenting in the last round.

This year’s winning team was Hope’s Reality. The group raised enough money to give one very sick little boy the opportunity to turn his hope of a Disney cruise into reality. The team didn’t win because they raised the most money (they didn’t). They didn’t have the most careful presentation of how their project linked to course learning objectives. Nor did they overcome the greatest obstacles. They won because they were best able to leverage the emotional resources created by telling their story of pursuing one little boy’s dream and making it reality. It moved the judges and showed they really cared about their project. Harnessing the power of hope to achieve goals is what social entrepreneurs do. Nicely done.