Dean Cammy Abernathy welcomed new students at the Engineering Convocation on August 17, 2017. The following are excerpts from her speech.
Welcome Class of 2021! We are so happy to welcome you to one of the best colleges of engineering in the world. Gator Engineering began 107 years ago, with five faculty, 48 students in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering. The first graduating class consisted of five men. Tuition to attend UF in the fall of 1910 was $120 per year — including room and board. And perhaps hardest of all to fathom, even though there was a football team, there was as yet no football stadium known as The Swamp!
A few things have changed since then. Unlike your counterparts from 107 years ago, you won’t be wearing suits and ties to class; you’re not all men; there are definitely more than 48 of you; and you will most likely spend some time in The Swamp watching football.
However, some things have remained the same. Like those from the past, you too are now at the beginning of a breathtaking journey. I assure you, you cannot possibly determine where you will be at the end of your journey from what you see now. If you stay the course, you are about to experience a transformation… a transformation of your abilities and your possibilities… of what you can do for yourself, and what you can do for humanity.
You can look at just about every major technology system deployed in the last 50 years and find the work of a Gator Engineer that made it happen. From the Apollo missions to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to the NVIDIA GPU, Gator Engineers have been on the team that made it happen.
The namesake of our college, Dr. Herbert Wertheim is a great example. He was a student in our electrical engineering program in the 60’s before he went on to develop the first dyes to enable tinting of plastic lenses. His work eventually led to technology to prevent eye damage from UV radiation and treat neural diseases like Parkinson’s. Like many of his fellow UF alums, his work has improved the lives of millions. And you should understand, you can do the same! You really can.
Graduating from this college will give you the education, the skills and the opportunities to really make a positive difference in our world. And when you see for the first time, something that you designed – an app, a new drug, a building – that sense of having done something worthwhile that is advancing society is an experience you will never forget.
So I am often asked, “What can a student do to maximize their chances of finishing an engineering degree program?” The number one ingredient to getting an engineering degree is……each other. Look around you, there’s the secret to success in this program. Students who form a network with each other, students that have similar goals – and by that, I mean students who are focused on building, designing, creating and solving. Those students tend to be the most successful in engineering, not just in school but in their careers afterwards as well.
The experience of working as a team, competing as a team, and sometimes failing as a team is exactly what happens when you go to work. If you go through your entire UF experience without struggling with something, then you are selling yourself short, because that means you are not reaching your potential. So, do not let the fear of failure prevent you from seeing what you are made of and if you do fail at something, pick yourself up and get back in the game, because that’s how you get better.
We talk about our college as being an extended family. Families sometimes fuss at each other a bit, they don’t always agree, but strong families stick together, they help each other, they’re kind to one another. Families are built day by day through small acts of kindness, through mutual respect, willingness to not only understand but embrace those traits and experiences and beliefs that make each of us a unique human being.
This is the first day of your life with your new extended family, your first opportunity to get to know all of your new Gator cousins. And believe me they want to welcome you to the family – so begin to form that network that I told you was so important.
And remember, it’s great to be a Florida Gator – but it’s even better to be a Gator Engineer!