FLATE Moving Forward

In 2002, a small team from St. Pete College, Hillsborough Community College and the University of South Florida conjured up an idea to propose an NSF ATE Regional Center of Excellence for improving manufacturing education within 7 counties, the center being the Tampa Bay area. It would be called the “Greater Tampa Bay Regional Center for Manufacturing Education”, GTBRCM. The National Science Foundation awarded HCC, SPC, and USF $50,000 over 2 years as a planning grant to develop GTBRCM.

The expectation was that a solid and fundable proposal for the regional center be submitted in the fall of 2004. A small educator and manufacturer planning team was created and met regularly at Ven-Tel Plastics (now National Molding Medical Division) in Largo, Florida; hosted 2 big events at the 2 community colleges and surveyed regional manufacturers. By the end of the first year, it became clear to the team that the project should be expanded to encompass the whole state, so the GTBRCM concept transitioned into FL-ATE, and ultimately FLATE.

In 2004, the proposed project was submitted as a partnership effort from the three institutions with HCC serving as the accountable agent.  The grant was awarded, $2,000,000, and  the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center, FL-ATE (yes, in the early days, we carried a hyphen in FLATE) was open for “business”. A special thanks to Steve Meitzen and many thanks to that core team of believers that included Ed Venner, Drew Hoff, Bill Miller, Bob Carnahan, Eric Roe, Ken McMannaway, Brad Jenkins, Richard Gilbert, and the whole board of the Bay Area Manufacturers’ Association (BAMA).  Over the last 18 years, there are thousands of others to say thanks to today as we sunset our National Science Foundation Center and move our operations under FloridaMakes’s umbrella with additional support from the Florida Department of Education.

There is not enough print space or reader’s time to name and thank everyone who has contributed to and supported our successes as an NSF ATE Center. But I heartfully thank each and every one of you. This extended FLATE family includes people who intersect in all sorts of ways and places within the manufacturing ecosystem in Florida and across the nation. It includes educators, administrators, manufacturers, workforce and economic development professionals, local, state, and government officials, professional organization directors and membership, students, policy makers, and the many talented and dedicated staff that worked directly for FLATE over the years. We could not have had a better experience.

During our time as an NSF Center of Excellence, we have built a strong community of practice around manufacturing education in Florida and a large network of manufacturing educators across the
country. Most importantly, we recognize and thank the leadership in NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program for their support, belief, and ideas in our early (and somewhat immature) visions and dreams. Their insight contributed to FLATE being recognized in a number of local, regional, and national venues for excellence in manufacturing curriculum, outreach, and recruitment strategies, first-class educational resources and rigorous and relevant professional development.

In 2015, we initiated interactions with FloridaMakes on different project and activities. Along the way, we developed relationships to learn what both organizations do and how it’s done. From the very beginning, our joint vision has been to sustain FLATE’s work within FloridaMakes. As we now officially “make the move” to FloridaMakes, integrate our work with theirs, we plan to grow and strengthen Florida’s manufacturing ecosystem to increase its impact and relevance in our community.

What should you expect now? Actually, the transition will be a somewhat non-intrusive experience that is almost transparent for you. My e-mail and office phone number will change; contacts with the Florida Engineering Technology Forum will not. Current FLATE projects will continue with gusto and new ideas will be welcomed and explored with vigor! The FLATE Team knows, understands, and appreciates that all of you are FLATE. Thanks!  For us, the idea is to keep the operational changes transparent to you. However, we may have to skip next month’s FLATE Focus ( “see” you in August). Bye for now.

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