Autodesk provides $100,000 to College of Engineering in latest donation

The San Francisco-based software company Autodesk has donated about $100,000 to the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, with the money specifically going toward the classroom initiatives of MAE’s Dr. Sean Niemi and ISE’s (Industrial and Systems Engineering) Katie Basinger.

Autodesk is a multinational corporation whose software products are used in a variety of fields, including engineering, manufacturing, construction, and architecture. The purpose of their donation to UF Engineering was primarily to support the development of hands-on design and manufacturing courses by providing funds for equipment, supplies, and personnel. This funding has allowed the MAE department to modernize certain pieces of equipment as well as purchase brand-new machines such as a Haas Mini-Mill, a three-axis computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine that students can program to cut parts they’ve designed. The partnership has also paved the way for professors to use Fusion 360, Autodesk’s digital prototyping software, in the classroom. Niemi said that students who have participated in courses benefitting from the donation have “absolutely loved it.” The money also diminishes the need to charge students lab fees for certain courses.

“The goal is to make sure that we’re buying machines that are going to be similar to what students are going to see used in industry when they get out into the working world,” Niemi said. “Knowing how the machines work, how fixturing for parts works, how tooling works, helps make them better designers and better engineers, and they’ll be able to work alongside the technicians and know what they’re talking about.”

Niemi also noted the importance of emphasizing hands-on, project-based learning for this current generation of students. He said that students who have grown up with the internet and other technologies tend to prefer learning real-world applications alongside the theories behind them, rather than focusing solely on theories first. This is partly because the widespread accessibility of information and knowledge on the internet has reduced the need for spending as much class time on the theories. Accommodating the needs of this new generation will be crucial to the students’ success in the classroom and beyond, and the fact that the general style of engineering courses nationwide hasn’t changed much in several decades is something Niemi regards as a serious problem. Adapting effectively to a hands-on generation can only be accomplished with cutting-edge machinery such as that which this donation helps UF acquire.

“It’s a part of a greater mission to modernize some of our other course offerings in the department and give students a better experience at all levels,” he said. “Trying to make sure we’re giving them the best resources that we can and the best tools that we can for their careers and their futures.”

The partnership between Autodesk and UF Engineering started several years ago, when Niemi was able to secure a smaller donation (a few thousand dollars and a benchtop machine) for a pilot course on CNC manufacturing. It expanded from there after Autodesk was impressed with the results of their funding. 

“We did something impactful and meaningful with the money to get students engaged, learning how to make stuff, particularly learning how to make stuff using Autodesk software,” Niemi said. “They wanted to see student engagement, and we provided student engagement.”

Jared Vanscoder, strategic business development manager at Autodesk, said his company is eager to grow its partnership with the College of Engineering.

“We see the vision of UF’s manufacturing program, as laid out by Doctors Katie Basinger and Sean Niemi, and want to support their efforts to build the program into a world-class center of excellence,” he said.

Vanscoder also highlighted the fervent devotion with which Niemi and Basinger approach their craft as a reason for his company to invest in their projects.

“Katie and Sean have a true passion for teaching. Their enthusiasm for their work is contagious,” he said. “It’s their passion and vision that made it easy to invest in them.”

He later expressed optimistic excitement for the future of this partnership.

“Autodesk is committed to ensuring UF students have the tools required to do their best work and change the world. We are excited about future partnership opportunities,” he said.

Ben Crosbie
Marketing & Communications Student Assistant
UF Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
October 18, 2022