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EXCEL’s Final Steps Toward Institutionalization (EXCEL series:post 7)

The special EXCEL Executive committee meeting was scheduled for December 2009. A lot of preparation went into this meeting to make it happen. The UCF Foundation representative and the Dean of Undergraduate Studies at UCF coordinated closely with the EXCEL Directors to invite specific targeted industry representatives to this meeting. These were industry representatives that have supported UCF in the past and according to the UCF Foundation’s representative estimates were ready to contribute to UCF again. The EXCEL Directors worked with the UCF Marketing Department on the development of a short video (EXCEL video) that captured, in its short time span, the essence of EXCEL and the importance of offering research experiences to students during the early (sophomore) years of their college experience. The intent was, at this meeting, to ask the industry representatives to eventually support some of the EXCEL sophomore research experiences. Furthermore, the EXCEL Directors worked very closely with the UCF Foundation representative and the Dean of Undergraduate Studies to prepare an effective power-point presentation for this meeting. The intent of this presentation was to plant the seed with industry participants for future EXCEL sponsorship. The power-point presentation started with testimonials from nationally prominent educators and political figures that emphasized the STEM crisis and reaffirmed the fact that programs like EXCEL are in high demand if the US is going to increase the number and the quality of scientists and engineers graduating from US universities. Then, it provided a brief overview of the EXCEL goal, objectives and outcomes, stressing the importance of the strong learning community of all stakeholders that EXCEL created and nurtured (Factor 1: Faculty support), and emphasizing both compelling and statistically significant results of the experimental student group’s (EXCEL) successes (Factor 2: Assessment), compared to the control group (all the other students with the same demographics who were not part of the EXCEL cohort). It concluded with the message “what can you do?” to support EXCEL. It is important to note that the Provost suggested that he fund parts of EXCEL that are difficult to get external support (like faculty salaries) and we ask industry to support EXCEL initiatives that are more tangible to them.  In particular, EXCEL asked for the annual support of fifty sophomore research experiences, each valued at $3,000. In the meeting, the EXCEL video was presented first, the power-point presentation was delivered afterwards, and then the floor was open for questions and answers. Towards the conclusion of the meeting the UCF Provost presented a challenge to the industry participants to match the annual support (EXCEL’s institutionalization) that UCF was providing to the EXCEL program (Factor 3: Admin Support). The overall consensus after the meeting was that some of the industry participants would respond to the Provost’s challenge. The success of the December 2009 EXCEL Executive committee meeting can be attributed to the three factors (factors 1, 2 and 3), whose fulfillment is important for the institutionalization and sustainability of any STEP grant.

In spring 2010, following the UCF Provost’s announcement about EXCEL’s institutionalization in the December 2009 meeting, the UCF Foundation representative started a concentrated effort to encourage the companies who attended the December 2009 meeting to contribute their funds towards EXCEL’s sustainability efforts. Her efforts expanded beyond the list of the companies that were present at the December 2009 meeting. In the first months of spring 2010, the UCF Foundation representative was able to obtain the first commitment for support by Progress Energy. Progress Energy is one of the industry partners that the College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) at UCF is working with closely towards the creation of an Innovation Institute. The purpose of the CECS Innovation Institute is to better prepare future UCF scientists and engineers to successfully compete in a globalized society. Progress Energy committed $15,000 of their funds towards the support of EXCEL sophomore research experiences; the requirement was that EXCEL students had to work on renewable and sustainable energy topics. Factors 1 (Faculty support), 2 (Evaluation) and 3 (Admin Support), as discussed in earlier first blogs, were once more instrumental in garnering this support. Of the three companies that participated in the December 2009 EXCEL Executive committee meeting only one expressed a strong interest to continuing the discussions for EXCEL’s support. This company was SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) in Florida. The negotiations with the other two companies were delayed for a more opportune future time.  Beyond these initial funding negotiations, the 2009 EXCEL Executive committee meeting laid the foundation for future success, as you will learn about in my next blog.

The December 2009 EXCEL Executive committee meeting accelerated a number of other EXCEL pursuits towards sustainability of EXCEL. EXCEL, under the support of the UCF Dean of Undergraduate Studies, became one of the Undergraduate Studies Office units, reporting to the Dean. This provided EXCEL the legitimacy and credibility that it needed to solidify its successful institutionalization within the university. Furthermore, it provided an opportunity for EXCEL to actively collaborate with a number of other units within the Undergraduate Studies Office, such as the Office of Undergraduate Research, the RAMP (Research and Mentorship Program) and McNair Office, and the Experiential Learning Office. Finally, it provided EXCEL with a direct access to the Dean of Undergraduate Studies who reports directly to the UCF Provost.  Establishing EXCEL as one of the Undergraduate Office units solidified its institutionalization into the UCF; however, to sustain and grow our program we knew we would need to find outside support.  My next and final blogs describe how we did it.