Two small colleges in one Florida town–Lakeland–are as dissimilar as the U.S. Naval Academy and St. John’s College in Annapolis: Florida Polytechnic University and Florida Southern College. Florida Polytechnic opened in 2012, becoming the twelfth institution in the Florida public university system; Florida Southern is a private, loosely Methodist-affiliated, liberal arts college established in 1883, the oldest private college in Florida.
Florida Polytechnic University
As its name implies, Florida Polytechnic focuses completely on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), and its architecture and infrastructure reflect this focus. You can glimpse the ultramodern white exoskeleton of the Innovation, Science, and Technology (IST) Building driving Route 4 about an hour west of Orlando. IST houses the all-digital, book-less library as well as classrooms and offices. They’re nearing completion on a 95,000 square-foot Applied Research Center that will house labs, research, some offices, and a few classes.
The two dorms on campus, four and six years old, can hold 750 students, a little over half the total enrollment. The model dorm room was spacious: two rooms, each with two beds and storage units, two sinks beside a closet for a washer and dryer, and one room with a door for both toilet and shower. Being the mother of a daughter who has already gone through college, I thought the bathroom situation was a poor set-up. Four people to a room, and only one can use the toilet or shower at a time? That’s when I asked what the male-female ratio was. Unsurprisingly, it’s 80 percent male.
The Florida Poly Phoenix don’t have a football or basketball team, though esports are part of the culture and they’re launching a men’s lacrosse team. Intramural swimming is popular and accessible, with two pools on campus. New this year, the “scatter band” gives musicians a creative outlet even if they don’t march or perform at big athletic events.
The 1400 undergraduate and graduate students at Poly, about 92 percent Floridians, study STEM exclusively. The school added 25 professors for fall 2021. Florida publics continued to require standardized tests for last year’s applicants, and the incoming freshman class of 2020 had an average SAT of 1330/ACT of 30, with a 4.43 weighted GPA (the formula for this was not explained at the session I attended). Admissions officers look closely at math and science courses on the transcript.
Instead of majors and minors, Poly designates the bachelor’s program and concentration. Students must complete the math-heavy general education credits in the first year before pursuing the bachelor’s, though most leave one humanities course for junior year and one for senior year. All take an Introduction to STEM course so that they’ll know what it means to declare an area in which they’ll earn a B.S. Though it’s not possible to earn dual degrees, one can have dual concentrations.
ABET-accredited bachelor’s programs at Poly include Business Analytics & Data Science, Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. Undergoing review: Cybersecurity Engineering, Engineering Mathematics, Engineering Physics, and Environmental Engineering. Students who earn a degree in one of the reviewed programs will get an accredited designation retroactively.
Florida Polytechnic University has much to offer to students who want to focus on STEM education and don’t mind being on a campus that hasn’t had time to develop long traditions. That newness is both a drawback and a draw–while they don’t have a huge football stadium or a legendary basketball coach, they do have central air conditioning in modern buildings (no moldy dorm rooms) and a half dozen futuristics labs, from robotics to nanotechnology to cyber gaming. It has a low price, even for out-of-state students (about $16K in-state, $33K out-of-state, including room and board), and allows stacking of scholarships. For someone who wants a strong STEM education, Florida Poly can fill the bill.