$100 million for Frost Institutes will support interdisciplinary STEM, expanded facilities

During his January 2016 inauguration ceremony, University of Miami President Julio Frenk announced a $100 million donation by longtime donors Dr. Phillip and Patricia Frost for the expansion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

Now, a year later, President Frenk announced the money will be used to create the Frost Institutes for Science and Engineering, which will include 13 endowed STEM chairs and $3 million in stipends for doctoral candidates in the institutes.

The announcement was made during the 50th annual Miami Winter Symposium, an event at which more than 100 scientists, researchers and doctors from 28 countries gather every year to discuss scientific advancements.

“The University of Miami is already known for excellence in biomedicine, marine sciences and other fields,” Frenk said during the symposium. “But continued excellence cannot be sustained without critical investments in basic and applied science, mathematics and engineering. These disciplines, which form the building blocks for innovation, must be strengthened to maintain our leading edge as a research university.”

UM was ranked 44th in the 2017 U.S. News and World Report National University Rankings. U.S. News also ranked most of UM’s graduate programs within the top 100.

“It’s exciting that the funding includes Ph.D. stipends,” said Wyatt Sharber, a sixth year graduate student researching plant systematics and evolution. “Graduate students are the foremost practitioners of research at any institution – with the guidance and collaboration of their advisers – and additional funding for graduate students will advance the quality and quantity of scientific research at UM.”

Stipends help cover the cost of living for graduate students, allowing them to focus on their research.

The Frost Institutes will help strengthen the Roadmap Initiatives, which are the administration’s plans to enhance the university by 2025. More specifically, the project will bolster the STEM@UM initiative, which strives to cultivate scientific research and application in order to face pressing contemporary issues.

“The bigger picture, STEM@UM, means we’re not just looking at new ways of doing research, we’re looking at new ways of educating the students,” Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Leonidas Bachas said. “We want them to understand that solving big problems require that you understand biology in parallel with chemistry, in parallel with physics or in parallel with mathematics and statistics. Our approach to these institutes is not only to show that great discoveries happen when you converge the sciences, but that they also translate to different learning opportunities for the students.”

Modeled after National Institutes of Health, a medical research agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made of 27 institutes and centers, the Frost Institutes will also act as an umbrella, housing multiple concentrations. The first institute will be the Frost Institute of Chemistry and Molecular Science.

The physical building to house the institutes will feature integrated teaching labs and offer more space for research to take place across STEM disciplines, as it houses researchers from different fields in one space.

“Right now we are restricted by the space we have,” Bachas said. “We have the Cox Science building and we have the physics building and those buildings were built with the idea of what science was many, many decades ago.”

The Cox Building was renovated in 2013, when the Neuroscience and Health Annex was added. Still, graduate students like Sharber hope the new building will keep modern research methods by expanding core research facilities.

The Frost Institutes are still in the early planning stages, as is the design of the new facility. Provost Thomas LeBlanc, who is taking the lead on the STEM@UM initiative, said in an email interview that the university hopes to hire an institute director during the 2017 calendar year.