Towards a More Perfect Union

Towards a More Perfect Union

We are at the precipice of dramatic change – we are facing changing demographics and a much more culturally diverse world and simultaneously we are moving rapidly towards the use of data rich tools like AI to redefine the ways in which we live, work and play. Institutions, both academic and industrial, are being challenged to imagine their respective roles in shaping our collective future. As we hurtle towards a world that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and similar tools, both universities and corporations are challenged to advance society, but to do so with greater resolve toward establishing a more perfect union – one that considers the diversity of humanity, one that fully considers how technology can be leveraged to foster equity, and one that places at its center, moral and ethical considerations.

Universities and industry have long sustained a symbiotic relationship whereby academic institutions prepare future leaders, generate basic and fundamental knowledge and develop intellectual property – all resources industry relies upon and in which they make strategic investments. Industry provides universities with insight about the future use of developed technologies. They bring to market, ideas generated by faculty. As such, the relationship between the sectors has long been an essential part of economic growth and development. It has been and will remain, a powerful driver of innovation. Societal progress hinges on the relationship between these sectors.

But as we embark on the next industrial revolution, both sectors are being challenged to consider how we prepare for a more diverse future and, perhaps more importantly, how we do so with ethics and integrity at the core. Increasingly industry expects the academy to prepare students to work in diverse and inclusive teams and possess cultural competencies. The expectation of diversity is driven not only from economic impact, as we know diverse teams are more creative and innovative, but also from social and cultural expectations to move toward greater equity.

Diversity and inclusion, worthwhile aims in and of themselves, are critical to limiting systemic bias in implementations of emerging AI and machine learning technologies in all sectors. In some sectors this concern may not seem as critical, but as more advanced tasks traditionally handled by employees become automated, the need to identify and eliminate bias in algorithms will be essential.

Consider the potential use of AI in educational environments that can assist learners by personalizing content based on responses and interactions and the ways in which those interactions could be inadvertently influenced by existing systemic biases. These are the concerns of the future that both the academy and industry will need to contend with if we are to advance as a society, and institutions will need to tackle these biases in tandem. The shared commitment towards equity will drive both sectors to reimagine how we teach, engage, and empower our employees and students.

The changing landscape of work will also provide opportunities for academic institutions to embark in a massive re-education of the workforce. AI tools will increasingly become commonplace and the existing workforce will need to be upskilled. The delivery mechanisms for that education have a tremendous capacity to be profoundly disrupted by the very AI tools the workforce is seeking to learn. One can imagine AI driven, highly personalized learning that will work with learners and tailor their academic experiences based on one’s unique characteristics and capabilities.

Just as AI may alter online learning approaches, many academic institutions, in response to industry demands, are reconsidering the notion of teaching using the standard credit hour as the unit of measure. Short courses, industry driven certificates and alternate credentialing models are being considered by a variety of academic institutions. Which model and approach will emerge as the disruptive winner remains to be seen, but the interest in exploring these possibilities is the direct result of the symbiotic relationship the academy has with industry seeking such innovation.

“In the next 20 years our academic institutions, industry and government will be called upon to lead intentional, proactive, trust-riven, collaboration in a rapidly changing world”.

It will be demanded that these institutions rise above the current need-driven, reactionary approach we have today; it will fight tradition, prestige, and complacency. However, technology is advancing aggressively and the call for morality, ethics, and equity of access must prevail over the ways of the past. The work we do to foster relationships and partnerships between the academy and industry will have a significant and profound impact on humanity. If we can create synergies between our organizations that leverage intellectualism coupled with an inclusive mindset as we embark on AI’s powerful disruption to our workforce, we have the very real capability of creating a more equitable future for all. In fact, progress relies explicitly upon it.


Dr. Kimberly Jacobs serves as Director of Engineering Extension and Outreach for the University of Florida’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. Kimberly is responsible for extension and outreach functions of the Florida Engineering Experiment Station, focused on developing and delivering programs that drive economic development. She is also responsible for managing relationships with industry, actively assisting with talent acquisition, development of research opportunities, establishment of executive education partnerships, and matching University assets with industry needs. Kimberly is a member of NACRO and is currently serving as a member of the Board, co-chairing the Benchmarking Committee. Prior to working at the University of Florida, Kimberly worked at Pennsylvania State University, Florida State University and St. Peter’s College. She holds a BS in Biochemistry from Albright College, a MS in College Student Personnel Administration from Western Illinois University, and an MBA and PhD in Higher Education Administration from Florida State University.

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