Living Up to its Last Name

by Sue DeWerff

In 1958, Florida Institute of Technology opened with a goal to provide higher education in technology disciplines for professionals working in the space program. More than 50 years later, the university continues to take advantage of both the location and resources abundant here on the Space Coast and has collaborated with community and international businesses to provide a high-tech learning institution that is currently ranked one of the best nationwide.

“As I often say, Florida Tech is not only ‘in’ Melbourne, it is ‘of’ Melbourne. From our early days as a night school for missilemen at the Cape, to our current mission as a Tier 1 Best National Research University, we take our local connections seriously. I instituted a ‘buy local goods and services’ directive when I arrived here at FIT, feeling strongly that we should partner with local businesses first. Education and research innovation are fundamentally linked, and FlT provides the centerpiece for that work in our community,” said Dr. Anthony Catanese, Florida Tech president.

A Seedbed for the Future

In 2010, Florida Tech’s Research, Science and Technology Park capped recent research and expansion ventures that likely will see the college ranked even higher on the list of technology schools in the future. Now integrated within the Melbourne International Airport, the Florida Tech Research Park (FTRP) represents the largest park of its kind located at a FAA-approved airport. This self-sustaining, unique innovation center provides solutions for the region’s constituents and additional research opportunities and employment for the university’s graduates.

“In the coming years, with the growth of this park, as well as the expanding research initiatives on campus, I envision our community linkages strengthening to the benefit of all,” added Catanese.

In the past decade, FIT has undergone major improvements to its facilities that have enhanced the research components of nearly all aspects of education and have seen a major resurgence in the number of proposals for funded research.

Building the Bridge to Industry

The current value of research and sponsored projects is more than $94 million. The past year’s expenditures through March were $19 million, up more than $4 million from the previous year.

“This is a significant increase we can be very proud of,” said Wes Sumner, university spokesperson. “We are fortunate to have had contributions from the private sector here in Brevard for many years, and because of outreach programs designed to continue to build areas of research collaboration between university and industry, we have been able to enhance our ability to attract more funding from state and federal agencies.”

Completed in 2009, the Harris Center for Science and Engineering now provides 29,000 sq. ft. for computer science, aquaculture and biology research programs, and is home to the nationally recognized Harris Institute for Assured Information. The institute, an interdisciplinary center focusing on high-risk disruptive work aimed at carrying out cutting-edge research in computer security, has enabled scientists from both FIT and Harris Corp. to create new paradigms in virtual security.

“This joint venture has provided the university an asset that will give us the opportunity to accomplish several things,” said Associate Professor of Computer Science Richard Ford, in a recent Discovery: Florida Tech article.

“Those performing research now have a physical space in an isolated environment that is disconnected from the university’s network and we have financial support for scholarships and fellowships from this $5 million gift from Harris Corp,” Ford continued. “Finally, and probably most notable, is the fact that FIT has gained a Harris Chair in information assurance that has enabled the school to raise their profile and ranking in important peer circles.”

Partnering for Progress

Opened in 2008, The Scott Center for Autism, a 22,000 sq. ft. facility, now provides the highest quality treatment, training, and applied research to enhance the quality of life for children with autism.

Graduate students in the Applied Behavior Analysis Master’s program who are directly supervised by PhD. level faculty are now “giving back to the community” as they work with children of military families from Patrick Air Force Base who are autistic. “As FIT continues to look forward to the future, joint research projects will be a key factor for growth,” said Sumner.

For the past five years, FIT has partnered with Siemens Power Generation Corp., a supplier of 40 percent of the world’s power. The North American research and development facility, based in Orlando, now has several employees working at FIT’s applied research lab who are currently testing ceramic coatings for gas turbine blades. The construction of a plasma spray booth provided by Siemens is scheduled to be launched in the next few months.

Brevard-based technology companies stepping up to partner with the college during the past few years, along with standout contributions from Harris Corp. and Northrup Grumman, include Melbourne-based Parabel, Inc., a company providing renewable technology and solutions to address global demand for new sources of food and fuels; Mainstream Engineering, a Rockledge research and development company; Rivian Automotive of Melbourne, the developer of a highly flexible vehicle platform for a range of ultra-efficient flexible cars; Lighting Sciences Group, located in Satellite Beach, a leader in the LED lighting revolution; and DRS Technologies, a manufacturer of integrated equipment for military and other agencies.

Making Brevard Better

A partnership with Brevard Public Schools, funded by the Florida Department of Education, will provide $1.6 million over three years for an initiative called FIT 4 UTeach. Training will begin this fall for the next crop of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) discipline teachers and hopes to provide training to qualified K-12 teachers for public and private elementary and high schools countywide.

Florida Tech and the Brevard Zoo continue to partner on a variety of initiatives, including endangered species conservation and a monthly Science Café series. Dr. Michael Grace, Associate Dean of the College of Science, has worked with the zoo for more than 10 years, serving on its conservation committee to raise tens of thousands of dollars each year for conservation efforts.

Undergrads as well as graduate students now take part in research activities that support local, state and national agencies as well as Brevard-based firms. Engineering and Science undergraduates have participated for the past several years in the annual Northrop Grumman Engineering and Science Student Design Showcase, a required culminating research project.

On the Horizon & Beyond

Florida Tech is currently divided into six colleges and offers degrees in a wide variety of science and engineering disciplines; it is one of just a handful of universities currently offering an aviation degree. As of August 2012, Florida Tech will be enrolling the first undergraduates pursuing a degree in Biomedical Engineering, an inaugural discipline in the College of Science and Engineering. The B.S. degree will involve developing devices and procedures that solve medical and health-related problems by combining the knowledge of biology and medicine with engineering principles in the areas of electrical, chemical, mechanical and materials engineering. The curriculum will require 134 credit hours which will provide graduates with a quantitative background in biomechanics, bioelectronics, and bio transport.

“A background in this field will be increasingly important because of the heavy utilization of biomedical technology in modern medical practice,” noted Fredric Ham, PhD., Dean of the College of Engineering. He will be working along with program chair, Professor Kunal Mitra, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering instructor, and twelve local physicians who have participated in “team teaching” a graduate course in physiology to introduce this new degree to the school.

“I am excited about this new Biomedical Engineering Program at Florida Tech. Graduates with this degree can look forward to a very rewarding career that will offer them the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Ham.

With all the new joint ventures and continuing research programs FIT has to offer, it is no wonder FIT has been rated a “Best Buy” by the nationally known Barron’s Guide as well.



Engineering, Science, Aeronautics, Psychology and Liberal Arts, Business



5,500 undergraduates, 3,500 graduate students

85 percent represent 50 states,15 percent are from 106 countries abroad


Male/Female Ratio – 54/46


1,700 undergraduates live on campus; Harris Village completed in 2008


More than 90 percent of the faculty holds a PhD. or terminal degree appropriate to their field(s) 224 full-time and 85 part-time instructors at Melbourne Campus


Total University Budget – approximately $179 million

$ from Tuition and Fees – 82 percent

$ from Gifts, Grants, and Contracts – 9 percent

Auxiliary Enterprises – 9 percent


$31,370 per year for Liberal Arts degrees

$34,430 per year for Science and Engineering degrees

Room and board on campus estimated at $9,930; books estimated at $1,200