Five schools join databases as IT research center for region
By Jaime Levy
Five local universities are joining forces - and databases - to help develop an information technology research base in the tri-county region.
Representatives of Barry, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Nova Southeastern universities and the University of Miami said they have been meeting regularly since signing an agreement in the spring to work together on certain projects and share research & development efforts.
The group - known as the InternetCoast Research Consortium - is compiling a database of all research efforts and professors at each of the schools that should be completed by the end of the year, said consortium spokesman Leslie Croland, a member of the InternetCoast's board and economic advisory council. Also, consortium organizers are speaking with developers about acquiring office space that will allow members to meet face-to-face.
By working together, Mr. Croland said, the universities will be able to raise more money to finance projects.
"Putting together the research done by the five universities has never been done," said Mr. Croland, a partner in the Fort Lauderdale office of Edwards & Angell law firm. "We have significant research being done by each one of the universities in different fields.
"The universities have decided that it is to their benefit - as well as the benefit of the tri-county region and the state - to combine efforts on certain projects and be able to raise additional dollars."
The consortium will be lobbying the state government for funding - "as much as we can get," Mr. Croland said.
But a similar push for $500,000 in state money was vetoed by the governor in the 1999-2000 budget. The earlier attempt was aimed at developing an Interstate 95 corridor - a way of geographically linking research institutions and private enterprises that had already been developed along Interstate 4. Although the proposal, submitted by Florida Atlantic University and FIU, was denied, the goal is essentially realized in the research consortium.
Still, Mr. Croland said, he did not expect to acquire state funding this year.
Funding issues aside, M. Lewis Temares, UM's vice president of information technology and dean of the college of engineering, said his school's ongoing research in areas such as digital watermarking, robotics and aerospace would be bolstered by the merging of minds at the different institutions.
"We think we will aid general society by utilizing the intelligence of a variety of people in a central core so they can share knowledge and lead to further gains in society, patents and ideas," Mr. Temares said. "We have not coordinated as a group of educators so that we can garner the power of all of us in a sizable fashion. So it's a selling point."
Because South Florida already has the infrastructure to become a technological hub, Mr. Croland said, strengthening the area's research sector is the next step.
"You can't just build infrastructure and they will come," he said. "Look at the areas that are hotbeds for IT - Silicon Valley, the Boston area, Virginia. They have world-class research being done in those areas."
Florida Atlantic President Anthony Cantanese said he agreed. He said the relationship between businesses and universities is mutually beneficial.
"IBM came to Boca Raton in part to be near the intellectual capital of FAU," Mr. Cantanese said. "That spirit continues today for the myriad small and large IT companies that are growing here. In turn, FAU continues its leadership role in IT. This brings us better faculty and students and improves overall quality.
"Universities will be the engines of economic development for South Florida in the 21st Century," he said. "That engine will drive the technology and information that will make our economy more diverse and resistant to cyclical swings and traumatic after-effects."
Especially with the technology sector's recent bust and the generally faltering economy, it is important for the consortium to make its moves now, Mr. Croland said.
"When the markets do turn, when the economy turns, we're positioned to take advantage of the upturn," he said. "In this situation, sitting still is the worst thing we can do."