Column: FAMU marches toward innovation, improvement

Somewhere along the way many have forgotten the meaning and value of Florida A&M University — but certainly not all. This disconnect appears to have occurred long before the recent hazing incidents and the operational issues that have propelled FAMU into the media spotlight.

We are proud that FAMU is noted for our spirited and engaged students and the rhythmic sounds of our music ensembles, but these are but a few attributes that characterize this institution.

While our band marched boldly in the public eye with dazzling performances for many years, in the past few years our faculty and students have secured 21 patents from pharmaceutical research that will fight HIV/AIDS, cancer, Parkinson's disease, opportunistic infections, depression, schizophrenia and skin disorders.

In addition, FAMU researchers are actively engaged in developing new drug delivery systems and advancing nanomedicine, defense systems, cyber security, renewable energy, marine and coastal ecosystems, and plasma physics, to mention a few.

While the overtones of FAMU have seemingly been defined by the precise cadences of snare drums and flawless tones of trumpets, trombones and tubas, the underscore has been of a FAMU that has marched to the often inaudible cheers of those who have worked so hard to establish this institution as a leading public research university.

Here are just a few things they cheered about.

In 1985, FAMU's College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences established the Pharmaceutical Research Center to strengthen biomedical and behavioral research into new drug discovery and biotechnology to specifically fight diseases that disproportionately affect minority and elderly populations.

The research that we have produced has yielded $11 for every $1 spent, according to the Leadership Board for Applied Research and Public Services and The Washington Economics Group Inc.

And it is that kind of return on investment that the state of Florida expects along with the economic impacts that follow.

That is why in 1978, the Florida Legislature created the Center for Viticulture Sciences and Small Fruit Research at FAMU.

Nearly 35 years later, the viticulture center creates outreach programs for grape farmers and wine manufacturers, explores new agricultural biotechnology, and creates new products to bring to the marketplace. The center has helped vineyard acreage in the state increase by more than 16 percent and has increased production and sale of Florida wines by about 35 percent. Recently, scientists in FAMU's College of Agriculture and Food Sciences developed a new disease-resistant Muscadine grape known as Majesty, which has superior berry size and more palatable taste. This grape, which can thrive in the hot and humid climate of North Florida, could provide an economic boom for the region.

While many may know FAMU by the high-flying Marching 100, few know that FAMU researchers have discovered a new lightweight, fuel-efficient material for use in assembling aircraft. And while they may know the Rattler football team for those hard-charging linebackers, how many know that this incredibly durable material has garnered the attention of the National Football League, which might consider this material in producing protective headgear?

These are just a few examples of the innovation coming out of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University — innovation that can impact Florida's economy and improve the quality of life of all Americans.

Yet we are listening acutely to the loud noises from our recent past and working on bettering our institution. Like every university or organization, we must take stock of our challenges in order to avoid these same problems in the future and continue to improve.

Over the past six months, we have engaged in deep introspection and have identified areas not covered in the headlines that need improvement and have either addressed the issues or developed corrective action plans. We have given top priority to the concerns highlighted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and are preparing for the association's September 2013 visit to assess our progress.

An example of our progress and continuous improvement is that 2011-2012 marks the sixth consecutive year that the state auditor general has given the university a clean audit for our stewardship of public dollars. It is our job to make sure that we continue this progress — not just for our benefit at FAMU but to proclaim loudly to all of our constituents that FAMU continues to be a sound investment in the future of Florida and the nation.

Larry Robinson is the interim president of Florida A&M University. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Column: FAMU marches toward innovation, improvement 04/27/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 26, 2013 7:08pm]

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