By Florence Beth Snyder

Traveling between the theme parks of Orlando and the water wonderland that is Tampa Bay, you’ll see a snow-colored behemoth in Lakeland that could pass for the fictional Starfleet Academy. Welcome to the Innovation, Science and Technology (IST) Building at Florida Polytechnic University.

IST is a winner of the prestigious International Architectural Award for innovative design and the focal point of the twelfth and by far newest member of Florida’s State University System.

Innovation is an obsession at Florida Poly. The school’s mission is to “redefine the meaning of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education,” which made Santiago Calatrava the obvious choice to design the campus and its flagship center of learning. 

A native of Valencia, Spain, Calatrava is the creator of iconic buildings, bridges and railway stations in Europe, the Middle East and the mericas. His neofuturistic style is best understood up close, and Florida Poly is the only example of Calatrava’s work in the southeast United States.

Arched pergolas — 84 of ‘em — surround the IST Building, providing shade for the expansive terraces and walkways. On the rooftop, you’ll see 94 operable louvers that resemble giant wings and can be opened to let in natural light and closed to shade the top-floor atrium.

To fans of Calatrava and the founders of Florida Poly, the 26 teaching labs and classrooms, 11 research labs, two seminar rooms, 17 group meeting rooms and the 11,000-square-foot common area under the building’s cupola truly are state of the art. Even the library is all-digital.

Just outside the main entrance of Florida Polytechnic University, a student skateboards away from the building.

Just outside the main entrance of Florida Polytechnic University, a student skateboards away from the building.

- Bill Serne for VISIT FLORIDA

Florida Polytechnic prides itself on being the most “intentional” of Florida’s universities. The school opened in August 2014, determined that all its graduates would “possess the talent and job-ready skills to stand out from the crowd.”

Believing that “...innovation occurs when research and creativity are applied to real-world challenges,” Florida Poly partners with a rapidly expanding roster of high-tech company executives who have found that the school is indeed “engineered to be extraordinary.”  Today, Florida Poly’s academic staff and students are inventing the future in a variety of ways including 3D printing, cyber security, cyber gaming, robotics, big data and nanotechnology.

Reflecting ponds surround the IST, a fitting tip-of-the-hat to Lakeland, the eponymously named city in which Florida Poly is conveniently located at the intersection of Interstate 4 and Polk Parkway.

Residence Hall I offers fully furnished, three- and four-bedroom suites with high-speed wireless Internet access for studying and a fitness facility and game room for unwinding. Residence Hall II is under construction, and will feature game rooms and common study areas on each of its five floors. Both are just steps away from the IST Building. 

You can’t innovate on an empty stomach, and nobody goes hungry at Florida Poly. The emphasis is on freshness and variety. There’s homemade comfort food including fresh-baked breads, dessert and even pizza; a carving station and burgers and hot dogs on the grill, along with an assortment of 21st century options like Mindful Choices, a Simple Servings Allergen Station, and of course, Starbucks.

With its rich history and serene lakes which are home to swans descended from the majestic birds given to the city by Queen Elizabeth in 1957, Lakeland offers lots to see and do. Florida Poly people making spur-of-the-moment plans get up-to-the-minute guidance from, and town folk are always happy to welcome the growing numbers of STEM scholars wearing the school colors of royal purple and white.  

There’s no school nickname yet but Florida Poly’s working on that with a “student-driven, crowd-sourcing process” including a “mascot design challenge.”

That's right. At Florida Poly, even the swag is scientific.

When you go…
Florida Polytechnic University
4700 Research Way, Lakeland, Fla. 33805-8531