By: Valentina Palm/Staff Writer
Students, faculty, and administrators visited Tallahassee on Tuesday, March 19, to lobby Senators and Representatives for over $35 million in state funds.
On FIU day, President Mark B. Rosenberg and the Board of Trustees advocated for more funding from the state.
This year, FIU is again seeking financing for the construction of a new engineering building and the Targeted STEM initiative. Requests also included support for the creation of a water quality sensor system, an FIU Decision Lab, and the Pediatric Cancer Initiative.
“Students made a huge difference because they are the reason the University exists and they are the real faces of FIU,” said Rosenberg to Student Media. “So, when legislators see students they know it’s real and they like to hear students because it gives legislators added meaning as to why they are doing what they are doing.”
For the third consecutive year, a $20 million request was made for the construction of a new engineering building. The total project is valued at $150 million and was funded $5 million in 2017, and $12 million in 2018.
The 225,000 sq ft building will be located at the Modesto Maidique campus. It will grant space for 75 faculty members and 1,400 students, according to the FIU Governmental Relations website.
Sabrina Rosell, the president of the Student Government Council at the MMC campus said the construction of more spaces for engineering students is overdue.
“Our legislators need to know our students are studying in the hallways, they don’t have space to study, they don’t have enough research labs to conduct all the research they do,” said Rossell. “When our building was first purchased it was meant to accommodate 2,500 students. Our engineering school has about 6,500 students now.”
Rosell said the new building would ensure academic success and because of student advocacy, the University is aware of the needs of the engineering school.
“There are already some funds set aside for it, so it is a priority for the University. This is not a luxury item, this isn’t us needing a new fancy building, this is us meeting the demands of our students,” said Rosell.
The STEM initiative requesting a $4,995,334 appropriation will also benefit engineering and computer science students. The amount will make possible an Engineering Education Research Department and classroom “best program-of-study practices.”
$3 million would go towards the employment of 10 research faculty members, the participation of 20 faculty in the Faculty Institute, 300 undergraduate learning assistants, 12 graduate student fellowships, three postdoctoral researchers and five program operation staffers.
Daniel de Leon, SGC-MMC engineering senator, said the Engineering School has focused on hiring new faculty, but because of low funds, it has to decide between funding faculty and staff or student organizations.
“We desperately need it. We are underfunded and it clearly shows in our classrooms and in the programs we have right now,” said de Leon. “Professors can’t have more than one section because every classroom in the building is already taken. Having a building that offers these spaces means students are more prone to graduate on time.”
Contract lobbyist Jon Johnson said student experiences and stories are key motivators for lawmakers to support legislation.
“In Tallahassee, nothing moves the needle with elected decision makers like a personal story and those of us that are paid to advocate for students can only speak about a second-hand experience,” said Sims. “Students are first hand experiencing the school, and telling their stories from the heart – that is going to capture the attention of lawmakers.”
Jefferson Noel, the president of the Student Government Council at the Biscayne Bay Campus, advocated for the Early Warning System for Preserving Florida’s Water Quality & Economic Prosperity bill.
The $4,390,000 request would enable the University and the Institute of Water and Environment to establish a sensor system to monitor algal blooms and red tides in Florida waters.
“Our students have a waterside property, so if the water is contaminated, it is bad for them,” said Noel. “We also do a lot of research in the area and have mangroves conducive to the health of the environment, so if those get contaminated, it’s bad for the campus and for the community.”
The inception of an FIU Decision Lab is a University initiative seeking $5 million in state funds for renovations on existing campus spaces and technology. Funds would go to FIU Startup or the Office of Research for Economic Development for the lab’s installation.
“Policymakers, business leaders and people in our community will be able to test out options for problems and offer different solutions and in a cost-effective way,” said Ariadna Natteri, SGC-MMC’s at large senator. “Students are going to be able to see the data and problems that we are experiencing in the community and will be able to solve them.”
Lastly, the FIU Medical School requested $985,021 for the Pediatric Cancer Research initiative. This project will make possible the creation of Florida’s first Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment certified lab. Funds will enable the purchase of robotic technology to increase child cancer testing that correctly matches patients to the best treatment for each case.
“We are going to be leaders in research and we are literally being champions for the community. I think that is the big message: that in FIU we aren’t champions only for our students but also for the entire community,” said Rosell.
The FIU delegation met with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley. Students met several state legislators but had the opportunity to sit down with State Senator Anitere Flores, an FIU alumna sponsoring three of the legislations.
“It was amazing to see our legislators be so attentive to our needs and to student voices. I think it made a world of difference to come up and having students in the meetings,” said Rosell.