For more than 20 years, Trustee Bev Seay was the person responsible for hiring the right people to grow SAIC’s offices in Central Florida Research Park from a small technological startup to an industry-recognized powerhouse. Now, she’s focusing her energies on ensuring higher education — and UCF in particular — is best preparing students for careers.

“As a board member, I’m interested in making sure UCF students have access to experiential learning, that they’re going to be lifelong learners, that they’ll be able to work as part of a team, and that they understand the importance of being involved in the community.”

“It was always my objective to find the most interesting, challenging work and hire the best people,” Seay says. “As a board member, I’m interested in making sure UCF students have access to experiential learning, that they’re going to be lifelong learners, that they’ll be able to work as part of a team, and that they understand the importance of being involved in the community. All of these things ensure students are more well-rounded employees going into a new job.”

As the newly appointed chair of the UCF Board of Trustees, Seay will be overseeing the board, which provides fiduciary oversight for the university in addition to ensuring that major decisions align with strategic priorities.

“As a board, we need to have a strong grasp of the strategic plan,” she says. “We also need to look at the challenges facing higher education and make sure we’re addressing them.”

With nearly 30 years of experience volunteering in higher education, Seay is uniquely positioned to understand — and address — those challenges.

Her service at UCF began in 1992, and she has since served as a trustee, including as chair of the Audit and Compliance committee and vice chair of the Educational Programs committee, as well as chair of the College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean’s Industry Advisory Board and member of the UCF Foundation Board of Directors. She has also served on various boards at the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Peter Kiewit Institute at the University of Nebraska, the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

“At SAIC, we were very proud of the fact that everything we were doing was focused on saving lives,” Seay says. “Education is similar. We’re focusing on helping our students, our faculty and all of our stakeholders have meaningful lives.”

Why do you want to chair the UCF Board of Trustees? Why UCF? And why the interest in higher ed generally?

Because this is my community and what goes on here is very important to me. When I moved to Orlando, many people in the community helped me and I want to give back.

In a sense, I feel like we’ve grown up together.

Plus, this is where my husband and I have chosen to retire. My daughters are here with my wonderful sons-in-law and my grandchildren.

“This is my community and what goes on here is very important to me.”

Why higher ed? Well, 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 a couple of universities, such as UCF and Georgia Tech, because I believe in the mission of higher education.

Why UCF? Because it was created to help transform Florida’s economy and support the nation’s venture into space. I support that vision. UCF is engaged in many of the important growth initiatives — both technological and social — in our community. We are growing our research on the path to preeminence. And we just had a record year in funding and will use it to generate the latest knowledge to our education and teaching programs.

As part of my role, I have the opportunity to work with talented and educated people who are interested in making a difference. Also, my daughters have UCF degrees in computer science and engineering management, so it’s very important to me that their degrees become more valuable, and I was thrilled to be asked to join the board.

Why do I want to be chair? Because I feel that higher ed is facing some serious challenges. As a key university in this community, we need to be addressing those challenges and responding to changes in a constructive way so that we can continue our mission of having an impact on students’ lives.

Can you speak about that from an industry perspective, and what you were looking for when you were hiring graduates?

“It’s the university’s job to provide you the opportunities, but it’s your job to manage your student experience.”

Absolutely. Our community hires a significant number of UCF graduates. I recently learned that almost 80 percent of our computer science graduates now work in Florida. It is important to Florida companies and organizations that our graduates are ready to be contributing employees. As the partnership university, we work with industry 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. I will add life-long learning to that list as the education and training they receive today will require continuous improvement to remain marketable.

As a business leader, I always told my employees, “It’s our job to provide you the opportunity. It’s your job to manage your career.” I apply that same logic as a trustee. “It’s the university’s job to provide you the opportunities, but it’s your job to manage your student experience.”

What do you think is the biggest benefit of having Central Florida Research Park located next to the main campus? How did the proximity impact the work you were doing at SAIC?

I moved here in 1990 to build the modeling and simulation business as part of Science Applications International Corporation, an entrepreneurial high-tech company headquartered in San Diego. I started to learn the customer base, learn more about the university and other industry partners, while offering my area of expertise, which was software engineering technology to the community.

As soon as we started winning programs, we really needed to start recruiting. UCF had the talent we needed to grow, so it was very convenient. We had adjunct professors, so our employees could teach and find good students and bring them over. Word of mouth helped once we started hiring. That funnel made it easy to convince customers to move their work here because they believed we could create the workforce in Central Florida.

Today you can see the results of that partnership. Modeling and simulation is a $5 billion-plus industry right here, and we’re known globally as the center for modeling and simulation. We were able to teach students and graduates about modeling and simulation through application and fielding of this research area. It was very symbiotic — and still is — and it continues to grow.

I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to work with the university and grow as the university was growing and be part of the whole community growth in Research Park.

You’ve supported Girls Excel in Math and Science and a mentorship program (WISE) at UCF, and a Women’s Resource Center at Georgia Tech. Why are you passionate about more women working in STEM fields? How do you think a diverse workforce can improve these fields?

Because these are jobs that women can do, and they bring a different perspective to a job, which strengthens the whole team. You don’t end up with so much groupthink when you have people from diverse backgrounds involved.

“I’m a big advocate of teaching girls about computing when they’re younger.”

As for why GEMS and WISE, I have two daughters who graduated with degrees in computing and engineering, and 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, if they don’t understand how to navigate the challenges in their field of choice, it’s hard and STEM may lose them. What do software engineers do? It’s not always taught in high school. But computing is pervasive. Our lives are heavily impacted by computing today. Everyone should have an understanding of the role of computing in their career field.

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 computer and brought it home.

I think we just need to do a better job of creating awareness at a very early age, making opportunities available, and making these jobs interesting.

Is that why you also support the International Collegiate Programming Contest?

Yes. It’s a really good opportunity to advance the whole idea of computing and raise awareness — and now’s the time to do it. I became involved with this organization through UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science because our students were winning regional competitions and placing in international competitions.

I’ve been working with the ICPC organizers to help put together the first North American Championship. It will be hosted by Georgia Tech for the next three years bringing universities from across the United States and Canada together to compete, which will help raise visibility among North American companies of all the national talent that exists in a field with serious shortages. It will also create an opportunity for companies to get to know these students for internship and employment opportunities.

And since UCF has one of the winningest programming teams in the nation, we’re working on establishing programming camps so that students can up their game in the competition by attending camps with the best trainers in North America.  UCF will sponsor these camps for the next three years.

Where do you see UCF in 10 years, and what about the university’s future do you find the most exciting?

Ten years isn’t very far away. That’s only two and a half graduation cycles. But I think in 10 years that we will be known for our impact in industries such as space, entertainment, and healthcare 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!