As an inductee into the National Center for Simulation Hall of Fame and one of Florida’s most influential business leaders as chosen by Florida Trend magazine, Bev Seay has established herself as a standout in both the STEM and business fields. In her work at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), she built the modeling and simulation systems business unit from the ground up — but it was the ripple effect of the program, established through partnerships and innovation, that made the biggest impact on her. “I’m most proud of the opportunities we created for people,” Seay says. “I really believe the close collaboration between the University of Central Florida, industry, government and our community partners is the reason Central Florida is the global center of excellence for modeling and simulation.” Now, as the chair of the UCF Board of Trustees, she has proved to be a champion for that collaboration.
What brought you to your work with SAIC?
Science Applications International Corporation, an entrepreneurial high-tech company headquartered in San Diego, had built a model of supporting high-tech entrepreneurial leaders in growing businesses critical to national defense. The founder moved me to Orlando in 1990 to develop the modeling and simulation business. It was an exciting time with a lot of on-the-job training. I’m proud that we had the opportunity to work with and help develop many of the companies in the Central Florida Research Park, which today supports a modeling, simulation and training market in excess of $5 billion. But I’m most proud of the opportunities we created for people, both employees and students, because I really believe that the close collaboration between UCF, industry, government and our community partners is the reason Central Florida is the global center of excellence for modeling and simulation.
What about your work with SAIC inspired you to pursue a role in education?
When I was in industry, I saw the value of being close to the university, whether we were funding research, hiring graduates, working with the faculty or doing community projects together. It was natural for me to become involved. Once my daughters were in college, I was asked by the universities to be more involved, which is how I became a donor. Donors are investors, and I’ve decided to invest a lot of my hard-earned money into my daughters’ universities, UCF and Georgia Tech, because I believe in the mission of higher education and leaving a legacy of giving. Being a member of the board of the Association of Governing Boards also offers me the opportunity to understand the challenges in the higher education industry and work with trustees and presidents across the country to find solutions.
As chair of the UCF Board of Trustees, you’ve spoken about how the board’s choices have to align with
a strategic plan. What are some of the things that plan will entail?
Our strategic plans need to be closely tied to the strategic needs of Central Florida and the broader Florida community. Being here for our citizens at every stage of their lives is really what we’re about and why we’re here. Our board of trustees understands our mission, and we’re looking into the challenges facing higher education to ensure we are addressing their relevance to UCF.
Inevitably, our plans must focus around student success, which encompasses a number of factors, such as the use of digital learning to keep current with the manner in which today’s students learn; providing curriculum and academic advising for retention, on-time graduation and debt reduction; ensuring our faculty are well supported for teaching and research so they can offer our students the best research experience; and providing students internship opportunities that prepare them for the workforce.
Can you tell us a bit more about your work with Girls Excel in Math and Science and the WISE mentorship program at UCF? What does it mean to you to give these opportunities to girls? How have you seen it make a difference locally?
My daughters graduated with undergraduate degrees in computing and master’s degrees in engineering management. If I hadn’t been their mother, they probably wouldn’t have STEM careers. The bottom line is if girls and women don’t have role models or guidance, if they don’t understand how to navigate the challenges in their field of choice, it’s difficult and STEM may lose them. What are the career opportunities in computing? It’s not always evident in high school or middle school, but we know in today’s environment, computing and information management are critical functions in many careers and across diverse industries.
I’m a big advocate of teaching girls about computing when they’re younger, so we can eliminate the problem of taking courses that for them are an introduction to the subject alongside boys who’ve been coding as a hobby since grade school. That’s the challenge they’re up against. It’s why my granddaughters attend programming camps every summer. They’re in middle school now and they just learned Python to program robots, and the younger one built her own laptop and brought it home. I think we need to do a better job of creating awareness at a very early age, making opportunities available, and making these jobs interesting to women.
How is Central Florida uniquely positioned to make the most of the connection between industry and the talent pipeline? How have you seen Central Florida Research Park grow along with the community?
In a sense, I feel like we’ve grown together — Orlando, UCF and the Central Florida Research Park. We are uniquely positioned because we have access to one of the largest talent pools in the nation, with more than 16,000 students graduating from UCF each year, along with graduates coming to Central Florida from universities both in-state and out-of-state. The strong connection between the universities and industry drives this. For example, our community hires a significant number of UCF grads. Nearly 80 percent of UCF’s computer science graduates work in Florida and 30 percent of the employees at Kennedy Space Center are UCF alumni.
Since 2015, the Orange County mayor’s office has worked with the National Center for Simulation to host the Florida Simulation Summit. I’ve been fortunate to chair this summit, working with volunteers from the Research Park community to demonstrate modeling and simulation technologies and applications derived from our important work in the defense industry. Each year, we focus on a variety of modeling and simulation technologies and their application in Florida industries including health care, entertainment, education, transportation, energy, manufacturing and smart cities.
What is missing in higher education when it comes to preparing students for the workforce? How are you working to change that?
As the partnership university, many of our colleges have deans’ advisory boards with industry members. The boards provide a channel for industry to give us feedback on skills our graduates need to possess for early career success. They then work with us to provide input for activities to prepare our students for the work environment by combining coursework with experiential learning, such as internships and soft-skill training in areas such as leadership, communications, team participation, professionalism, empathy and career management. We also need to instill the value of lifelong learning because you need continuous improvement to remain marketable.
A unique way our students are preparing for their futures stems from our student organizations, where students work with each other and faculty advisors to compete in national and global competitions. I’ve personally become involved with the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), where over 500 universities across the nation compete annually in regional competitions to determine which teams will go to the ICPC global finals in varying locations across the world. UCF’s programming, cyber and sales engineering teams have all won national championships in their respective competitions. Why is this important? These students must demonstrate competence, teamwork, leadership, creativity and performance under pressure. These are the skills our industry partners tell us they prefer in their new employees.
What are you most excited about for the future?
I’m most excited about what we’ll see at UCF over the next 10 years. Ten years isn’t very far away; that’s only two-and-a-half graduation cycles. But I think the community will see us better define our distinctive excellence in industry areas such as space, entertainment and health care, where we will be recognized for our interdisciplinary strengths in pervasive technologies, such as simulation, cybersecurity, data analytics, photonics, biomedical, computing and our understanding of their social impact. An example of our interdisciplinary prowess is our game design graduate program, which combines art, science and computing and is ranked fifth in the world. With our commitment to partnership, together with our community, we can reach for the stars!