[HuffPost] UCF Student Open Forum: Where’s the Innovation?

[Originally appeared on the Huffington Post]

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would have been. Hosted by the University of Central Florida’s executives, there was something I immediately noticed that made me mad when I glanced around the room. There were more university administrators attending than students. This definitely needs to change if students want to see progress.

Excuses.

Cost and budget cuts were recurring themes in the answers of the university executives. Colleges and universities are clearly going through hard times and honestly, I don’t think it will get any better in the near future. Education is going through what I like to call a “modernization phase.” It’s been the same for the last century and it’s substandard at best in the 21st century. Higher education institutions need to adapt or fail. Almost every excuse I’ve heard regarding money could have been solved using student innovation.

For example, one student rightfully complained about the way UCF’s transportation services informs students about bus pickup and dropoff times. The app that is supposed to update bus times “hardly ever works.” The man in charge of the bus technology was in the crowd and put forth excuses that the application is in trial mode and that the bus service and technology are in a transition period that will last until 2014. He said that it would cost too much to build the app when it would be scrapped anyway when 2014 rolled around. That’s more than a year from now and it doesn’t even offer a solution for the student who uses UCF’s transportation services every day.

Innovation.

Instead of making excuses for the problem and avoiding the question, an innovative solution would be to organize a weekend app-building competition where the best working app would be used by UCF’s transportation services. Invite all of the entrepreneurship, computer science students, and design. It won’t take a year — just a weekend. Hackathons are famous for creating innovative solutions a short time. But why stop at one weekend? Why not hold one every month to better the websites and applications (myucfcomes to mind) of the university? Only when you give students the chance to surprise will they exceed your expectations.

This is just one innovative solution. I thought of it on my drive home.

My Question.

As you know, there is a huge difference between what we learn in college and what we do in the real world. I have two questions: What are the unemployment numbers of UCF graduates and what will UCF do to make higher education more applicable to the real world?

Provost and Executive Vice President Tony Waldrop and Vice Presidents Maribeth Ehasz and Bill Merck responded.

Provost Waldrop discussed the many partnerships that UCF has with local and national companies saying that the companies agree with the current curriculum. I do agree that UCF has exceeded my expectations for what a college can offer in terms of career connections. But the divide between what we learn in class and what is expected from us in the real world is still wide. The learning in class should be more relevant and geared toward success in the real world.

Vice President Merck discussed the importance of a well-rounded education and said that while classes like humanities may not seem useful now, they will be later in life. From my experience studying (on my own) seemingly unrelated subjects from product design to marketing to Biocentrism, I have to agree that a well-rounded education has allowed me to connect the dots between different fields. As a result, this insight has helped me more than a few times in my work experience. However, we cannot deny that the best thing to learn is how to think and learn for oneself.

Vice President Ehasz encouraged me to visit the Career Services and Experiential Learning department to learn more about the internship and job opportunities that UCF offers. However, I have already visited the department and submitted an introductory application which only looked at credit hours, graduation date and GPA. Being a first semester college student, my application was declined. Past work experience and personal projects were never even considered. She admitted that it was a problem that it needed to be fixed. Dr. Ehasz later met up with me after the forum to give me her card and told me to email her so that she can take a look at it later and fix the freshman dilemma.

Other Things.

A rather passionate student attacked President Hitt for implementing four straight year 15 percent tuition increase when his salary and benefits rank in the top 10 of university presidents. He cited a dismissed Orlando Sentinel article then later cited UCF’s own records of the President’s salary and benefits. Dr. Hitt didn’t have much to say.

I honestly forgot who said this but it went along the lines of “we need to increase tuition to maintain a quality education.” Again, this sounds like an excuse for a lack of innovation.

The forum was scheduled on the worst day possible, election day. The forum lasted from 11:30 until 1 p.m. Average wait time to vote at UCF was four hours. This could have been a factor in the low student turnout to the forum.

President Hitt looked uninterested — just being honest here. He checked his watch more than a few times and just looked bored at times. Maybe it’s just me?

There needs to be less excuses and more innovation. President and Vice Presidents of UCF, if you are reading this, I am willing to work with your team to come up with innovative solutions for the future of UCF.

UCF President and Vice Presidents, I hope you’re listening, please accept my offer to help better the university. Shoot me an email at imtiazmaj@gmail.com

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