Dear members of the university community,

Thinking of our future as we move into a second week of remote summer teaching and research, I am reminded of the dynamic that has framed much of our work during these past five decades of FIU’s existence, and the balance we attempt to strike between “being” and “becoming.” On one hand we are tasked to deliver a high-quality product to those who are counting on us every day, while holding the hopes and dreams for our university in the other. These two existential states are actually rooted in the centuries-long arc of university traditions and impacts that our learnings have had on human endeavor, progress and well-being.

May I let go for a moment of the COVID-19-centric obsessive narrative that has gripped me in the recent past? I want to share with you a good news development that is the “being” part of who we are but at once offers significant promise for the future — the “becoming” part.

Did you know that our FIU has one of the highest rated high schools in Florida on our Biscayne Bay Campus? That’s right. Ask Isabela Perdomo about this. Here is a rising high school senior who, because of her research to identify an eco-friendly alternative to ship antifouling paint, was selected as the South Florida Eco-Hero and has already been to Antarctica in part as a result of her efforts and support from this school.

Isabela Perdomo in Antartica

Ask Kaylah McNamee, who was featured on President Obama’s virtual graduation last night on national TV. What these students both have in common is MAST@FIU, the four-year magnet high school that is just seven years old!

MAST@FIU graduate Kayla McNamee

The Marine Academy of Science and Technology at Florida International University (MAST@FIU) brings together nearly 500 students who must meet a rigorous set of academic and behavioral requirements set by the Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
 
The school was most recently rated as a top-15 high school in the state of Florida, quite an accomplishment given that it is now modestly operating out of classrooms and portables on our campus overlooking the beautiful Biscayne Bay. Masterminded by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and its founding and only principal, Matthew Welker, along with a hearty group of enterprising teachers, the school gives testimony to the power of collaboration, persistence, and timing.
 
Founded in 2013, FIU and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) established the magnet school to provide a selected population of academically qualified students with a blended high school-university experience in areas of marine biology and environmental science. The curriculum, which includes Honors, Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment, is relevant, rigorous and accelerated. Students come from 43 different countries and reflect the diversity of the university and our community. 
 
Students are selected to enroll for the school based on the district magnet admissions process. Once selected, they must maintain a 3.0 grade point average in all high school and university courses. Enrollment at MAST@FIU gives students an opportunity to complete more than two years of college credit during their four years of high school. Kayla took some 30 FIU credits during her four-year stay at MAST. The school boasts a near perfect graduation rate and most graduates go on to college. Kayla is on her way to Howard University in Washington, DC. 
 
We are particularly pleased that our FIU is a major beneficiary of graduates from MAST@FIU. Of the 250 graduates over the past four years, nearly 40 percent have gone on to FIU, including Laura Gonzalez, who just graduated in December 2019 in psychology from FIU, and Amy Margolis and Leonardo Pineiro, who will graduate with Kayla on June 8 at MAST’s virtual commencement. Amy, who will begin at FIU on June 22, wants to be a physician’s assistant. She is quick to state that her experience at MAST and “being in a university setting allowed me to mature in a different way.”  Leonardo will study criminal justice or sociology. He praises FIU Professor Jesse Blanchard for his high impact teaching, having taken three courses from the environmental sciences.

Laura Gonzalez at her FIU graduation in December 2019

Already highly ranked, the school itself is poised to do even bigger and better things. The M-DCPS is now building on the Biscayne Bay Campus a new facility that will actually give their hard-working teachers and students a place of their own. 

The 53,000-square-foot facility will be a state-of-the art incubator for our community’s best and brightest to get a 21st century education and skills that foster leadership in the context of applied research and community involvement.

MAST@FIU and M-DCPS teachers and staff along with Principal Matthew Welker

Awareness of the MAST@FIU education experience is deepening across the nation. While last year, MAST graduates were offered $2.1 million in scholarship funding from universities throughout the country, this year’s graduating cohort was offered nearly $4.7 million! Evidence that the visibility and reputation of the program is growing rapidly.

So, as you can see, there is much to be excited about regarding MAST@FIU for both the present and the future. Even while we are focused on getting that new learning facility open, we wonder what it will take to get the school to be ranked number one in the state. After all, the ingredients are there: hard-working students, determined teachers and advisers, great leadership, an ideal location, and an obsessing partner that is future oriented.

We must think more deeply about how we can be better and more progressive partners. Indeed, our efforts at FIU with MAST@FIU must be enhanced to ensure that the on-campus experience for our high school students sets an example for how a 21st education can truly be seamless and efficient, while also being more human-centered and relevant for the times. Nothing less will be acceptable if we are to honor the hopes and dreams of those who are graduating and those who will soon begin their educations with us. Together we can do so much!

In the Panther spirit,

Mark B. Rosenberg