BY WENDY M. DODD   |   PHOTOS BY BOB THOMPSON, THOMPSON BRAND IMAGES

Schools all over the nation are now back in session; grade schools smell like freshly sharpened pencils again, middle schools are graced with a new batch of pre-teens, high schools have welcomed in their graduating class, and at colleges everywhere the frat parties have begun again. Except at Florida Polytechnic University, where there are no fraternal or sorority organizations. Instead, FLORIDA POLY focuses exclusively on STEM. The approach to learning called STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and has become known for the creativity it helps to unleash within the students. In fact, it has been said, “creativity is the secret sauce to STEM” (edutopia.org). FLORIDA POLY prepares it’s students for careers in which critical thinking, problem solving skills, hands-on engineering and team work are at the forefront, and memorizing antiquated facts and figures on the back burner.

FLORIDA POLY opened it’s doors to students in 2014, making it Florida’s newest public university. FLORIDA POLY is designated to be a state-wide impact university, and their legislative mandate states that STEM and economic development are at the core of FLORIDA POLY. What that means for students is class sizes around 20 students and faculty offices located in the commons area, as well as access to specialized courses as underclassmen instead of waiting until their third year. Students have more access to their instructors, opening up dialogue and project opportunities not commonly found among traditional universities.

One such opportunity for students at FLORIDA POLY will soon materialize at SunTrax. Created as a partnership between Florida Poly and the Florida Department of Transportation, SunTrax will be a 400 acre facility opening within the next two years. The outer, 2.5 mile ring will test toll lane technology, while the 200-acre infield will be open for testing different technologies like autonomous vehicles. This will be quite a unique facility and significant from a national standpoint as there are only a handful of these across the country.

FLORIDA POLY prides itself on innovation and creativity, as demonstrated in the architecture of their main building. Justin Heacock, Entrepreneurship Center Coordinator at Florida Poly, tells us, “an interesting bit of information on our campus is, the building we are currently in was designed by Santiago Calatrava, a world renowned architect.  It was completed in 2014 and just last year voted to be the 5th most beautiful building in the world by top architects. It is like the never-ending building; Santiago likes to add motion to his buildings, hence the louvers that cover the top part of the structure.

One unique thing about Calatrava is that he designs everything in white. He feels that color actually detracts from the architecture of a building; he lets the purity of the structure stand-alone. Another of his most well known designs is the 9/11 Memorial Transportation Hub in New York City.

One of the upsides to having a world-renowned building design like Santiago’s is that it screams ‘innovation’. This is a major plus when working to attract students like Hannah. When you’re in a square, brick building, it feels average and you’re likely to attract average students. We want to put forth our best, starting with the initial view of our campus. We want to continue this type of design throughout campus, that is our plan.”

On average, about 20 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees are awarded to women, and only about 13 percent of the engineering workforce is female. FLORIDA POLY has stats that mirror the national average, with roughly 85 percent of the students being male and 15 percent female. With 1,400 students enrolled each semester, FLORIDA POLY hosts the Women in STEM Summit every year to meet with roughly three to four hundred female colleagues in various professions, to discuss how to improve and raise interest with female students. Their goal is to help encourage women not only to stay in this field once they graduate but also to increase interest early on for younger prospective female students.

Hannah Royce is one of the brightest students at FLORIDA POLY.  At just 20 years old she holds a high school diploma, an associates degree and job offers from three of the nations most coveted engineering employers. Resident Magazine sat down with Hannah to learn more about what it’s like to be a female student at a STEM school, and what her future goals are.

RM (Resident Magazine): Tell us about yourself, Hannah.

HR (Hannah Royce): I am currently a mechanical engineering major at Florida Poly. I grew up in Palmetto, Florida and from a young age I always knew I’d excel in a mathematics related career. My mom was a math teacher, so that sparked my interest early on. In the beginning I considered becoming a teacher. However later, I decided I’d rather go into something where I was doing different things daily…something that involved problem solving and issues that were directly impacting the world today.

Engineering is always changing; you can go into any field or any place you want to from there really. I was originally going to sign up for industrial engineering but switched to mechanical in order to focus more on the building aspect. After I graduate I plan to continue on to complete my masters in industrial engineering. My end goal would be to work with somewhere like Homeland Defense, and have an impact on our local community.

Mechanical engineering is a pretty big field. From my experience, we look at a problem and we design something that can solve that problem. Whether it’s technological, structural, or something else. Personally, I design products by creating drawings for machines at West Pharmaceuticals. Those drawings are sent to other companies we work with for manufacturing. Many of my designs are to help increase efficiency and to reduce the amount of waste produced.

RM: What was life like growing up, and how do you think it prepared you for an engineering career?

HR: My dad is an elementary school principal at Gocio Elementary in Sarasota.  My mom is a math teacher at a half home school-half high school, called Providence Community School. That is where I attended from 3rd to 10th before transferring to the State College of Florida for my 11th and 12th grade years. I also have a sister, Haley, she’ll be 17 soon and her interests are in chemical and materials engineering.

I think that because both of our parents are in education, they’ve always pushed us to learn more and to actively seek out education. My mom’s interest in math may have played a part in my sister and I developing a passion for engineering and a similar outlook toward education. When I started out in the work force, I was originally offered positions at three different companies. I was first offered an interview at Raytheon, and then I was contacted by Lockheed Martin just after I’d signed with West Pharmaceutical Services.

The summer before I graduated high school, I’d worked for a family friend at their small business, a civil engineering firm.  When West Pharmaceuticals contacted me for an interview, I was ready to accept the job, I had already known a current employee who gave me a tour of the plant and was familiar with their work. Just a short time after accepting the position with West Pharma, I received a call from Raytheon offering me a position. Then Lockheed Martin also called and offered me a position that I had never even applied for. I was ecstatic.

Growing up, I don’t think many of my friends were as driven as I was. Even when I was little, I would be working on school work and they would be playing. I would cry to my mom that all my friends wanted to do was play. My parents were very supportive and always pushed us to do my best, they taught us to form good relationships and always keep working to better ourselves.

RM: You are already designing for a major company at 20 years old, how many years of schooling have you had so far in the engineering field?

HR: I actually completed my Associate of Arts (AA) in general education in high school, attending the State College of Florida collegiate school. Since I already knew I would be going into engineering, I made sure to complete those necessary math, science, physics, etc courses during my junior and senior years to complete my degree, graduating last year. When I transferred to Florida Polytechnic, I began taking classes more specific to my field and in December 2018 I will graduate with my BA in Mechanical Engineering.

Florida Poly does a great job at preparing students for the engineering field. We do a huge amount of work, which is nice because I’ve always felt that is much more important than focusing on book work as most universities do. Our class sizes are much smaller here, this allows us to know who we’ll be working with. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, from there we can communicate better to solve problems.

RM: You mentioned you’d like to work for Homeland Security; how do you see yourself impacting the world?

HR: Currently, I want to stay in the US versus traveling overseas. I have so many areas I’d be interested to work in, one is border control and the flow of people in and out of the US. I would like to work to help improve that process using LEAN, technology and engineering. It was really just an idea I had. It seems like something that a lot of people could really benefit from. Helping people is my goal.

I’m also interested in working with either Raytheon or Lockheed Martin and developing products through them. I’d heard of a project where they were building an underwater turbine for energy production that really sparked my interest. Anything engineering related really. I just love everything this field has to offer and the ability it gives us to help make the world a better place for ourselves and others.

RM: Tell us about one of the hands-on projects you’ve done that you’ve really enjoyed?

HR: We were given just an engine and had to design the rest of the boat from recycled materials. It could be a rowboat, or any other source of power. The ultimate goal was to see which would go the fastest and the furthest with the engineering choices made. As a team we did our research, we worked together and weighed our options.

A big class for me was my CAD class, which includes a 3D modeling course. I’ve used this knowledge the most in my current internship. The course teaches you how to use the software, how to draw your product or whatever you are building. Then you put it into a 2D form which is transferred to a company to manufacture.

Another big project was building a bridge using just popsicle sticks and glue. Each group had to design a bridge to hold the most force from the top. We learned about angles and the importance of structure, and how to incorporate that.

RM: How else would you say your courses have prepared you for the goals you have?

HR: Since we are such a small university, the professors interact very closely with the students. Just recently I received an email from one of our professors about working with him on a grant funded research project. We will be working together to understand exactly how engineering students learn the best, based on different teaching methods. We’ll be studying which type of teaching, specifically in the 3D curriculum, will best prepare students for life after graduation. We’ll be focusing on which areas are the most beneficial or if certain areas are beneficial at all. I’m really excited to get started on that and working closely with our professors is a major plus for me.

There is a lot of room for growth, and a lot of room to be different. Florida Poly doesn’t put you into a mold and teach you the way they want to teach you. Here they allow you to grow at your own pace; they allow you to choose the projects that best suit who you are and your goals.

RM: Has being a female at Florida Poly affected your studies, considering the majority of the students are male?

HR: It really hasn’t mattered to me much. When I was at the State College of Florida, many of my math and science classes had mostly male students so making the transfer to Florida Poly wasn’t too much of a stretch. I will say, when you do get a chance to work with other girls in this field we tend to stick together. We contact each other throughout the summer and I’d say we are closer.

Most of the girls I know are focused in nanotechnology they work on a scale of less than the width of a human hair. Right now, they’re working on an x-ray diffractometer. By definition nanotechnology is manipulation of matter on an atomic molecular and supramolecular scale.

Going back to the diffractometer, I actually took that class. As a freshman, I was able to go into the lab, lab and learned how to use four different pieces of equipment. Using the diffractometer we were able to study how light bounces off the grains of a sample under a microscope. We also did weekly labs where we analyzed the material based on what we saw in our data.

RM: Hannah, do you live here on campus? Tell us more on that and the kinds of activities on campus.

HR: I lived in a single dorm with three other girls. We shared a common area with two bathrooms. It was amazing. My hobbies are pretty much fishing and reading.

I enjoy taking my hammock out and lying near the trees to relax. We have a gorgeous campus to enjoy, whether you like running or just going for a walk. The campus has beautiful bridges and lakes as well for fishing (just catch and release per policy) or just sightseeing.

We also have a multitude of different clubs and resume building organizations, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The Astrospace Club is pretty popular. They do stargazing trips to the starlight preserves and other space related projects and we hold games in the common area of campus. Lakeland is only about 15 minutes away as well, meaning students will have just about everything they need available.

RM: What kind of salary are you looking for once you graduate?

HR: I believe around $80,000 to start.

RM: How would your friends describe you?

HR: Weird. (Laughing) Kind of crazy and a little weird. Focused, and loyal I guess. I’m trying to think of funny ones but…  I do see myself as a typical 20 year old, just more driven. I enjoy hanging out with my friends, boating and fishing.  Fishing is really my favorite past time.

Recently we had a little reunion with our friends from high school, all of my friends have been really successful in their own fields like business and nursing, but I was the only engineering major. We have a very diverse group of friends. Coming to Florida Poly I’ve really learned to appreciate the similarities we share, it gives us the opportunity to have that extra help if needed. We can bounce our ideas off each other and work it out together, and I really enjoy that.

The uniqueness of Florida Poly is that students come here for a specific reason, and it’s not for Friday night football or weekend parties. Students choose Florida Poly because they are driven; they have the knowledge and the dedication to make a difference in the world around them. For example, one student has built thirteen Iron Man-like suits beginning in the 5th grade. A current freshman student is designing a virtual reality game currently ranked within the top 20 in the world.

With the ever advancing field of engineering, Florida Polytechnic University is looking for individuals with an inherent curiosity about the world, students that will challenge everything and see the world differently; individuals that are future focused and interested in making the world a better place. Hannah may not know exactly what type of career she wants, but she has a pretty firm idea and that idea begins with an engineering education.

Florida Poly offers mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science and engineering, data analytics, health informatics as well as various concentrations, like nanotechnologyy and cyber gaming.  The projects FLORIDA POLY students work on are problems affecting the real world and real people today.