On April 5, the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and the College of Design, Construction and Planning (DCP) received a $300,000 gift from Autodesk Inc., an American multinational corporation based in San Francisco that provides software products and services for the architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, media, education and entertainment industries.
The designation of $150,000 for each college will support student success and it aims to bring the research disciplines into alignment for advanced industrialized construction, where generative design converges with make processes.
University of Florida Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) alumnus Steve Blum, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Autodesk, led the signing of the memorandum of understanding alongside Forrest Masters, Ph.D., interim dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, and Chimay Anumba, Ph.D., DCP dean.
The formal signing of the agreement was followed by a strategic working session to discuss the future of this collaboration between the colleges and Autodesk.
Blum (UF BSEE ’87) joined Autodesk in 2003, and he oversees the teams responsible for sales, marketing, customer success, digital platforms and customer experience. The company’s mission is to help clients achieve their business outcomes using design and make technologies.
“[Autodesk] wants to partner with institutions that are highly innovative but are also able to offer this unique combination of one of the best engineering colleges in the world along with one of the best programs for construction and planning,” Blum said. “There’s a huge talent shortage in the marketplace, and we’ve been invested in getting students educated — for free — using world-class software for a long time. We want these schools to enable their students to learn as much as they can so they can leverage that skill in this technological workforce.”
As part of the agreement, Autodesk designated $50,000 to the existing non-endowed fund in Engineering known as the “First Year Solid Modeling and Design” to support a first-year course in human-centered design.
Autodesk has found particular value in experiential, hands-on maker space courses that incorporate Autodesk’s Fusion 360 platform, having directed a $100,000 gift to “Automation in Production Engineering” in November 2022 — a course taught by Katie Basinger-Ellis, Ph.D., undergraduate coordinator and instructional assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Sean Niemi, Ph.D., instructional assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE).
“Experiential learning opportunities are critical to the development of manufacturing for the engineering students we teach, the state of Florida, and the nation at large,” Dr. Basinger-Ellis said. “Autodesk’s enthusiastic support to create these types of opportunities — where students make the things they envision — is instrumental to the next generation’s success.”
The remaining $100,000 of Autodesk’s support for the College of Engineering will enrich the “Experiential Learning Fund” to bolster undergraduate courses and research in advanced manufacturing and production like Dr. Basinger-Ellis and Dr. Niemi’s aforementioned computer numerical controlled (CNC) machining course, which was recognized as an ACE Hub for the America’s Cutting Edge program.
Having recently acquired EAGLE, a PCB (printed circuit board) design company that has integrated Fusion 360, Autodesk anticipates greater industry partnership with UF, ideally tailored for ECE and MAE students who have used the digital prototyping software platform as part of their curriculum.
Amy Marks (UF BSPR ’92), vice president for Industrialized Construction, Strategy and Evangelism for Autodesk, is a highly respected champion for the use of optimized prefabrication across many building types, including high-tech, healthcare, hospitality, data centers, residential and commercial buildings. She credited the pioneering vision of these colleges at UF for training students who are ideal candidates for this investment by Autodesk.
“We know that top-shelf talent is coming out of the University of Florida, especially in these areas that are always thinking about what’s coming next,” Marks said.
Graduate students at DCP will receive $100,000 to help support their research on digital twins and advanced technology. The remaining $50,000 will be allocated to creating certificate programs using Autodesk technologies.
“We are very pleased to strengthen our long-term partnership with Autodesk,” Dr. Anumba said. “The gift will enable us to enhance our portfolio of courses for DCP graduate and undergraduate students and to contribute to modernizing the construction project delivery process.”
Dr. Masters said Autodesk’s programmatic support for the College of Engineering will additionally help serve as a bridge between students’ initial introduction to engineering study as freshmen through to the completion of an engineering degree. “This generous gift will help students at all stages of their academic journey, cultivating interest in engineering from their first few semesters to the completion of their senior capstone project,” he said.