A vision fulfilled: President Avent reflects on decade of leadership

Jul 01, 2024
Dr. Randy Avent

Dr. Randy K. Avent, founding president of Florida Polytechnic University, will step down from his position on July 6 after 10 years at the helm of the institution.

When Florida Polytechnic University opened its doors for instruction in August of 2014, every bit of the STEM-focused institution was brand new – including its president.

Now, 10 years later, Dr. Randy K. Avent, is wrapping up his tenure as the University’s founding president and reflecting on the decade spent leading Florida Poly from an audacious experiment to a nationally recognized leader in STEM education. 

“I joined this University when the dominant view in academic circles was that it was somewhat of a joke.  Frankly, it wasn’t given strong odds for success and many people ignored the institution because they didn’t think it was worthy of consideration and that it was a bad mistake,” Avent said from his office in the Innovation, Science, and Technology Building on campus. 

“Since then, the collective we have transformed that joke into a nationally ranked engineering university that has the best student career outcomes and the second highest SAT scores in the state. We not only turned the University into a legitimate university, but we made it a strong one that is getting a lot of national attention.”

Last summer, Avent announced his intent to step down as president. His last day is July 6.

In his early days at Florida Poly, Avent spent much of his time meeting with policymakers, elected officials, industry leaders, and Central Florida stalwarts, sharing the reasons why he took the job, and the impact the all-STEM institution could have on the state and its expanding high-tech economy. 

“For the first several years, it seemed like there was aways something that threatened our future, but in the last few years, most of those obstacles have been pushed aside,” he said. “I’m very proud of the work we did to resolve those issues and advocate for why this institution is so important, what function it serves in the state, and how it does that differently. But none of that could have been done without (Provost) Terry’s (Parker) strong leadership in building an academic program we could be proud of.”

Avent said much of the credit for Florida Poly’s success goes to Parker.

“We wouldn’t be here without him. He never gets to the point where he says, ‘This is good enough,’ and at the end of the day, that shows,” Avent said. “It is how you build excellence.”

Everything ultimately boiled down to an engineering approach to problem solving, he said. Rather than stewing about plans that didn’t meet expectations, he and other university leaders would analyze what happened, try another approach, and keep at it until they achieved their goal.

“That’s what engineers do, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last 10 years,” Avent said. 

It seemed to be the perfect solution for a school intent on producing the top engineers in Florida to meet the industry challenges of both today and tomorrow.

“I tell people there’s no book on how to build a university – it just hasn’t been done that much,” Avent said. “We had to play it by ear. There’s a lot of big things, of course, but it can also be a lot of small things that add together to make up big things.”

Along the way, there have been many milestones to celebrate, including important accreditations, growth achievements, and national rankings. These include debuting in U.S. News and World Report’s annual best colleges rankings in 2021 as among the top public engineering programs without a Ph.D. and the top public college in the South. The rankings have only climbed since then.

Assisting in this was a deliberate focus on strategically growing the University and its academic enterprise. Maintaining a flat administrative structure played a key role, Avent said.

“We’ve always tried to do what’s right,” he said. “I think the biggest thing I’m proud of is everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction.”

After Avent leaves Florida Poly in July, he will take a break in his home state of North Carolina before heading to Spain to pursue research at the University of Barcelona as a recipient of the prestigious Fulbright-Schuman Innovation Award. His work will be a comparative analysis of how Europe and the United States approach academic research and economic development, highlighting the best practices of each.

Avent will pursue a quantitative portion of the work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during the spring semester, looking into how university academic research contributes to economic development in the United States. 

The goal is to build dynamic probabilistic models of how federally funded academic research flows out of a university and into industry and products for innovation. This could help restart waning academic research funding, he said.

Avent plans to return to Florida Poly as a member of faculty for the fall 2025 semester.

“I’ve never had the opinion that I’m more important here than anybody one else; it’s just that my job is this. I’ve never been wrapped up in the title or any of that fanfare,” he said. “It’s the reason I don’t like people to call me Dr. Avent, but to call me Randy.

“We’re a team, and now I’m just a different part of that team.”


Lydia Guzmán
Director of Communications