Robinson touts value of Florida A&M to Economic Club of Florida

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FAMU President Larry Robinson (Photo: Jordan Culver/Democrat)

Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson on Tuesday said recent investments in the university by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Thermo Fisher are examples of the university’s strategic plan to create partnerships.

Robinson, the university’s 12th president, was the featured speaker during a virtual address before the Economic Club of Florida, the influential business and civic forum focused on economic issues affecting business, government and education.

His topic: “The Importance and Impact of Florida A&M University and HBCUs,” or historically Black colleges and universities. 

Robinson spoke of the achievements not only of Florida A&M University, but the significant role of other Black institutions across the country and their contributions to advancing the black middle class.

Noting FAMU’s strategic effort in forging outside partnerships that will enhance the university’s profile and the success of its students, Robinson urged club members to join that mission.

Robinson spoke of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic and how it has forced FAMU to be resilient and purposeful in meeting the needs of the changing academic landscape.

“This is a seminal moment in the history of Florida A&M University. It is a time when these events have caused major disruptions and challenges for our families and communities and sown seeds of uncertainty in the minds of some,” Robinson said in the virtual presentation.

He said the pandemic forced the university to adapt quickly to remote instruction and elevate its own goals in this area.

“If anything, COVID-19 has accelerated our movement toward a future involving more technology in higher education and has clarified, in my mind, the need to have a society in which those discontinuities and disparities that have long existed in access to technology, education and training, use and employment are eliminated,” Robinson said.

“Like educational institutions across the nation and perhaps the world, at Florida A&M University we made an amazing transformation from a once predominate mode of in-person educational delivery, to 100% remote instruction in less than two weeks during the spring semester.”

Robinson spoke of FAMU’s achievements in national rankings, including:

  • Being the highest ranked public HBCU for the second consecutive year by U.S News & World Report 2021 Best Colleges ranking of Top Public Universities. The university placed No. 117, up from No. 123 a year ago.
  • FAMU-FSU College of Engineering being ranked by U.S. News & World Report at No. 69 among the 206 Best Undergraduate Engineering school offering doctorate degrees.
  • FAMU-FSU College of Engineering faculty members being part of a new Florida International University led consortium of universities, private and public partners, who received a $4.9 million grant from the Department of Energy to increase diversity in the STEM workforce.

Regarding corporate partnerships, Robinson noted:

  • The $1.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to hire staff for its own COVID-19 testing site.
  • Thermo Fisher’s $2.5 million donation of equipment for COVID-19 Laboratory and COVID-19 test kits.
  • FAMU receiving $1 million as part of Bank of America’s jobs initiative partnership to help students of color complete the education and training to enter the workforce. 
  • Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits $115,000 Endowed Scholarship as part of its social justice efforts.
  • The $10 million commitment from the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency for improvements at Bragg Memorial Stadium.

Regarding FAMU and HBCUs in general, Robinson said, “The common thread of these institutions is their evolution over more than one hundred years to help build the Black middle class.”

He said HBCUs award approximately 22 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by African Americans” despite only representing 3-4% of higher education institutions in the nation.

At FAMU, about 41% of baccalaureate degrees and 51% of graduate degrees are conferred in STEM and Health for the 2018-2019 academic year at FAMU. Not only are these institutions graduating Black students, they are producing graduates in areas of high demand.

Despite these achievements, he said “this is a critical time for HBCUs, as there are brewing debates around the nation, in both academic and political spheres, about their relevance and sustainability.” 

Robinson said developing strong sustainability plans “are critical for our future. Today, I believe by partnering with organizations like The Economic Club of Florida, to help eliminate the disparities on the other side of the tracks, we will continue to be successful.”

More: FAMU receives $1.5 million from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to expand COVID-19 testing

More: Florida A&M partners with Thermo Fisher to expand COVID-19 testing operations

More: Money pulled from FSU convention center to fund FAMU stadium renovations

Contact senior writer Byron Dobson at bdobson@tallahassee.com or on Twitter @byrondobson.

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