On Thursday, June 25 the HSU Educational Foundation hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony in tandem with the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours event to unveil the new HSU Innovation Institute, a facility centered in the Fort Walton Beach Commerce and Technology Park, designed to inspire innovation among both the youth and professional community.
HSU Educational Foundation founder and local tech entrepreneur Dr. Paul Hsu wasted no time on his 2019 commitment to make a visionary concept a reality in the development of a modern, Silicon Valley-esque setting with the $1 million renovation of a donated building that previously hosted the early growth of several of his first businesses.
“I accomplished my own American dream and now I want to make sure the bridge I built is strong enough for others to cross,” said Dr. Paul Hsu.
Hsu was swiftly joined by several other area employers and businesses who could see the benefits of the project. These first “Innovation Accelerators”, as the Foundation has fondly named them, include Beast Code, City of Fort Walton Beach, MagAerospace Engineering, Patriot Technologies, Ray Foundation, and Step One Automotive Group. Each of these local businesses have committed to assist the HSU Innovation Institute through annual lab sponsorship, equipment, funds, resources and instructional expertise.
The HSU Innovation Institute, the only one of its kind in the area, spans a 28,000 square foot industrial office and warehouse facility that serves as a public-private partnership space. It will host STEM training, research and development in the 15 educational labs, collaborative maker spaces, tool labs, flight operations areas, Supporting Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) based classes, workshops and will also feature challenge events and expos. Each area will feature in-demand career skills training and will represent every sponsors’ diverse capabilities and future growth.
The open house revealed sleek glass classrooms, open ceilings that exposed colored network cabling for computer science coding software and IT/cyber related studies, and flexible spaces designed to facilitate exploration of hands-on STEM skills training. These areas will fully support the ability to move from idea creation to software development testing, as well as prototyping and flight applications. Using emerging technologies, the space will offer opportunities to fly a drone or test other forms of robotic artificial intelligence in the sUAS (small unmanned aircraft system) Training, Demonstration, and Competition Flying Lab. This unique, specially-equipped indoor lab is used for applying aeronautical concepts in a safe, well equipped environment. A particular draw, the central FieldWerx Makerspace area will support the ability to engineer and prototype projects using tools and the latest equipment, such as CNC machining, robotics, construction, 3-D Printing, welding and automotive technologies.
Located at 709 Anchors Street, surrounded by some of the community’s larger Department of Defense and STEM-related employers, the HSU Innovation Institute unveiling brought together distinguished guests from around the state, area dignitaries, as well as numerous local community members, including Representative Mel Ponder, Crestview Mayor JB Whitten, Fort Walton Beach Mayor Dick Rynearson, Okaloosa Superintendent Marcus Chambers, and many of the areas’ leading employers and civic organizations. Everyone in attendance maintained safe social distancing while wearing “Okaloosa Fighting COVID” 3D-printed face shields, a project powered by Step One Automotive Group and fulfilled through the support of many HSU Innovation Institute volunteers, mentors and donors. Guests toured the facility and learned about the overall driving vision from Dr. Paul Hsu and the foundation’s Executive Director, Amanda Negron, along with military leaders including Colonel Jocelyn Schermerhorn, 1SOW Commander – AFSOC Hurlburt Field, and Colonel Garry Haase, Director of AFRL Munitions Directorate, who shared highlights of the Educational Partnership Agreement recently executed with the HSU Educational Foundation.
Dr. Paul Hsu founded the HSU Educational Foundation as a 501c3 not-for-profit organization over five years ago with a mission to inspire innovation, connect industry with education, foster community and military collaboration and accelerate excellence in STEM. The foundation and its board of directors set their sights on creating outreach programs of science and engineering by flexing technical skill sets to solve real world challenges. They began programs in the realm of cybersecurity, robotics, drones, environment, and energy, as well as exploring many other up-and-coming technical fields.
In working closely with the Air Force, specifically AFSOC 1SOW at Hurlburt Field and AFRL Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, the HSU Foundation wants to leverage the development of the FieldWerx makerspace in a manner that will bring together industry and military in a more flexible and creative space, while also inspiring the next generation to explore the job skills that will be so important in the coming years. This partnership will help empower war fighters through training and collaboration to solve challenges, as well as encouraging development of new competitive capabilities and technologies.
“We hope the HSU Innovation Institute and FieldWerx will invite creative exploration and problem solving to inspire innovation through STEM, helping to ensure our nation’s strong future,” said Amanda Negron, Executive Director of the HSU Educational Foundation.
In addition to sharing the exciting resources and partnerships that will be fostered in this facility, the HSU Educational Foundation also presented over $26,000 to local STEM Educators through the Teaching Excellence Awards in Math and Science (TEAMS) 2020 program. The program was created through sponsorship of the HSU Educational Foundation and merit awards support of Intuitive Research, Carr Riggs and Ingram, Beast Code and Gulf Power.