Innovation and Clear Vision

McCay Sets the Stage for FIT’s Future

By: Shawna Serig Kelsch

In the first year since Dr. T. Dwayne McCay has taken the reins as president of the Florida Institute of Technology (Florida Tech), a few things have become very clear.

First, the daily management of an accredited research university with 10,000 full- and part-time students and 1,200 faculty and staff is anchored in the one-on-one relationships McCay spent cultivating for 13 years as executive vice president and provost.

“I’m so glad that those relationships, those friendships, have remained constant and genuine,” he said. “This is my family and I’m fortunate to receive feedback and input [from trusted] colleagues and peers.”

Second, but no less important, is that the university must continue to build on and leverage its standing as a top research and academic institution, while focusing on three key goals:

  1. Preparing graduates for a lifetime of career success
  2. Conducting applied research for the benefit of mankind
  3. Developing good global citizens that can live and work anywhere in the world.

To foster these goals, McCay points to the necessity of teaching and encouraging critical thinking among students.

“Critical thinking means something different to most anyone you ask. But at this university, we mandate that our faculty demonstrate how they’ve taught students to think critically in their academic setting.”

This is especially important when you are working with students (such as those in the U.S.) who’ve spent much of their academic life learning through rote methodology.

Research shows that students who can tap into critical thinking skills raise vital questions and problems; gather and assess relevant information, using abstract ideas for interpretation; formulate well-reasoned conclusions and solutions; are able to consider alternative thought systems; and are able to communicate effectively to figure out solutions to complex problems

NOT JUST WORKFORCE PREPARATION, BUT CAREER AND LIFE PREPARATION
To prepare students for the workforce, McCay says that the university approach is more focused on a lifetime of success for the student, not just the first job post graduation.

Programs at the university are heavily concentrated in the STEM fields, with multiple undergraduate and graduate degree offerings. Moving forward, McCay said that the focus will expand.


PILLARS OF EXCELLENCE

“Our focus areas of research and education will center on the following five Pillars of Excellence,” he said. These pillars were identified and developed after McCay and staff reviewed input from faculty, students and industry:

HARDWARE & SOFTWARE CYBERSECURITY:
Research into hardware-based authentication, cyber countermeasures and related areas for clients, including
the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security.

AEROSPACE & SPACE SYSTEMS:

International Space Station experiments, pilotless 4 aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, jet engines with improved performance all are examples of areas where Florida Tech researchers are advancing knowledge.

AUTISM TREATMENT & RESEARCH:
Central Florida families have experienced the service, 5 research and expertise available at Florida Tech’s Scott Center for Autism Treatment, but a new push that harnesses technology to overcome a host of hurdles,from geographic to financial, will ensure many more people will benefit. Utilizing telemedicine and telehealth, the Scott Center manages the AutismAdvisor.org website with more than 100 center-produced videos and resources on early diagnosis, therapy options, living skills tutorials and other topics. Future endeavors will continue to utilize technological approaches to expand the center’s reach and impact.

HUMAN-CENTERED DESIGN & MANUFACTURING:
Faculty affiliated with the School of Human-Centered Design, Innovation and Art, and the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design and across campus are contributing to the Industrial Revolution 2.0.

OCEAN, LAGOON, CLIMATE SCIENCE & ENGINEERING:
Scientists and engineers at Florida Tech are at the forefront of understanding why the viability and health of the Indian River Lagoon is in decline and, more importantly, figuring out ways to fix it.


SOLID FOUNDATION OF ACADEMIA AND ENGINEERING
McCay joined Florida Tech in 2003 after tenure at the University of Tennessee as vice president for research and information technology, and as the chief research officer and chief information officer. He earned a Ph.D. in engineering and mathematics from Auburn University. He has worked inside and outside the classroom, completed numerous important research projects for defense contractors and government organizations, and he and his wife, Mary Helen – a Ph.D. in metallurgical engineering – hold numerous patents, individually and collectively.

His keen understanding of both academic and administrative functions makes him accessible and approachable to students and staff, alike. And it’s clear that he is listening to what they have to say.

So, just as the students are taught to think critically, McCay and his administrators find that doing the same better helps them plan for the future growth of the university.

“Listening to incoming students is very interesting and instructive. We are learning so much from the millennial generation and are experimenting with new ways to teach them for better [educational] outcomes,” he said.

And for a research university, outcome is the name of the game.


T. Dwayne McCay, in addition to being President of FIT, is a renowned engineer and research scientist who was awarded 16 patents during his academic career and has recently been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) class of 2016. Election to NAI Fellow status is a high professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.

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