Dr. Randy K. Avent is the founding president of Florida Polytechnic University, the newest of the state’s 12 public universities and the only polytechnic university in the State University System of Florida.
As Florida Polytechnic University’s inaugural president, Avent is responsible for the development and operation of the university and is committed to strategically developing Florida Poly as a research and jobs university, an agent for growth and a beacon for the economy.
His career exemplifies the qualities of innovation, leadership and entrepreneurship the university seeks to instill in students. An accomplished academician, senior administrator and research scientist, Avent has an extensive background teaching and directing research at higher-education institutions dedicated to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
At Florida Polytechnic, Avent focused on the core STEM disciplines of engineering, mathematical and physical sciences, which are considered key to economic growth and prosperity for Florida and the nation as a whole. He created a strategic plan that addressed the four largest pressures on higher education in Florida – degree alignment, student success, economic development and affordability – and helped open the university in under two years by creatively building the campus using combinations of state funding, private investments and Public-Private Partnerships (P3s). He formed over 200 partnerships with industry and is working with a local developer to create a 4,500 acre “live-work-play” research park that brings together industry, government and academia. Under Avent’s leadership, the university received both SACSCOC and ABET accreditation in under five years and have built relationships with Fulbright, Killam and other international partners in India and Brazil.
Before coming to Florida Poly, Avent served as the associate vice chancellor of research and a professor of computer science at North Carolina State University. There, he was responsible for growing NC State’s overall research program and was the principal investigator on the Laboratory for Analytic Sciences. He also led an interdisciplinary effort to grow data science at NC State through a cluster hiring program, introduction of new courses and development of a new research institute.
Prior to joining NC State, he served as the chief scientist in the Defense Department’s Office of Basic Research, where he oversaw science programs, developed strategic plans for basic research investments and led a national “Data-to-Decisions” program on large-scale analytics for massive data sets.
From 1986-2006, he held a variety of positions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, where he served as the associate chief technology officer, led three different research groups and conducted research in diverse technology areas.
Avent has a broad range of interests and has conducted research in numerous areas, including environmental studies, neurophysiology and defense. The majority of his work has centered on machine learning, signal processing and dynamic probabilistic systems analysis. He has led several national panels in the areas of computer science, cognitive technology and signal processing, and he has served on National Academy of Engineering studies. He is an IEEE fellow and was named to Florida’s 500 Most Influential Business Leaders twice as well as the Tampa Bay Business Journal People to Watch list.
He has a Ph.D. in biomedical mathematics and engineering from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has two master’s degrees, one in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University and the other in biomedical mathematics and engineering from the University of North Carolina. His bachelor’s degree is in zoology from the University of North Carolina. Avent is also a 2005 graduate of the Greater Boston Executive Program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
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