Medallion Program highlights the importance of multidisciplinary innovation

Margarita Tonkinson, Dean Brian Schriner and Rick Tonkinson at a fall 2019 FIU football game, image courtesy of CARTA News

By Jonathan Fields / Staff Writer

Choosing a path of study in college often can be difficult. New developments in technology are often compounded by changing business requirements and economic uncertainty, making it difficult for recent graduates to navigate the rapidly changing job market.

In order to help bridge this gap, FIU’s College of Communications, Architecture and the Arts, has announced a new program that will pair students with industry leaders.

“Our mission is to ensure that the students that trust us with their education are career-ready by the time they leave college,” said CARTA Dean, Brian Schriner.

The program, which is called CARTA Medallion, is made possible by an endowment from the Tonkinson Foundation, run by Miami finance guru and philanthropist Rick Tonkinson, along with his wife Margarita and son Steven.

Tonkinson Financial’s headquarters on U.S. Route 1 in Coconut Grove is nicknamed “the peacock house” for the colorful mural surrounding the large, circular, portal-style window on the front. Rick Tonkinson’s son, Steven, had suggested this as a way to “bring a little bit of Wynwood to the grove.”

Originally a single family home, Tonkinson hopes his cozy, convenient offices will make the school teachers, firefighters, and other municipal workers he has as clients feel welcome.

“We’re the opposite of the big guys on Brickell Avenue with the $20 valet parking, and 5 million dollar minimums,” said Tonkinson, “we don’t have a minimum here to open an account.”

Nevertheless, Tonkinson Financial recently made #16 on a Forbes magazine top 20 list of Miami area wealth advisors.

According to Tonkinson, who also serves as the chairman of the board at CARTA, the Medallion program was  inspired by FIU’s Torch Awards, which honors FIU alumni who have “made a positive impact on their professions, the community and the university”. 

However, unlike the Torch Awards, the CARTA Medallion will not be limited only to FIU grads.

“What’s really incredible is how motivated the staff and faculty members have been to submit people who they think should be the recipient of the award,” said Tonkinson.

Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary learning are incredibly important principles at CARTA. This multidisciplinary approach will be an important quality that the college is considering when selecting a recipient.

“What we want to do is blur the lines between disciples,” said Dean Schriner. “We want our journalists to be using the latest innovative technologies but that doesn’t mean that we take away from their ability to tell stories, and understand good writing and ethics.”

The college has recently launched, and will soon be expanding, the Ratcliffe Art and Design incubator, as well as the Immersive Studio for Altered Reality (ISTAR), a lab for augmented reality and virtual reality storytelling that will be opening at Biscayne Bay Campus later this year.

Additionally, following the opening of RDF, FIU’s award-winning robotics and fabrication facility,  the CARTA School of Architecture + Design is also now one of the first architecture schools in the country to add a robotics program as part of their core curriculum, and is one of the five U.S. architecture schools, including Harvard’s, that offers a doctorate program for design.

The many conversations that transpire between senior FIU faculty and donors may not be the first thing many undergraduate students think about when entering the university. 

However, these types of fundraising efforts appear to be critical in providing the programs and offerings that allow higher education to change with the times, ensuring that graduates will have the skills they need when entering the job market.

“These guys are visionaries,” said Tonkison, speaking on the leadership of President Rosenberg and Dean Schriner, “you can’t help but want to help these guys because they are so vital, so engaged and into the success of FIU.”

In addition to the Tonkinson Foundation’s support, CARTA has recieved generous contributions from many other major donors, including the Ratcliffe Foundation and the Knight Foundation.

“I know several of the major donors at FIU and they say the same thing,” said Tonkinson, “there are hundreds of organizations where they could go to put their money, but they’re going to want put it where it’s fun and exciting but also they are going want to go where they get things done—that’s FIU, if you come to us we get things done.”

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