The Power of Philanthropy
Rob Adams still remembers the enthusiasm in his colleague Justin Klocman ’06’s voice. Klocman, a Burnett Honors Scholar who earned his degree in electrical engineering, had just left a meeting of the College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean’s Advisory Board and immediately called Adams en route from Orlando to his home in South Florida.
“He said to me, ‘Rob, you need to come up here — we need to be doing more,’” Adams says.
The ‘we’ was Florida Power & Light (FPL), the largest energy company in the U.S., serving more than 11 million residents across Florida with clean, reliable and affordable electricity. Adams serves as director of Power Delivery Grid Control Systems, and Klocman is general manager of the Performance and Diagnostics Center and one of Adams’ mentees.
FPL has long hired UCF alumni, as well as funded projects, centers and scholarships, but Klocman saw the potential for a deeper, more strategic partnership. Adams agreed.
Thanks to conversations initiated by Klocman and Adams, and the collaborative efforts of FPL, GE Digital and UCF over the span of two years, the partnership came to fruition in the form of the new Microgrid Control Lab co-sponsored by FPL and GE Digital, opened on the UCF main campus in November. The state-of-the-art research facility, which features control-center equipment and software that students can use to simulate and test real-life grid control operations, will ensure that UCF students in the field will be industry-ready upon graduation. FPL and GE Digital together employ approximately 400 UCF alumni in their workforces.
“The lab will give us a place to talk to students early on and get them excited about the power industry and the opportunities available for them,” says Adams, who believes that UCF graduates make some of the strongest employees thanks to their experience within the university’s robust engineering programs focused on power, renewable energy and cybersecurity.
The strength of UCF’s programs is no surprise to Adams and his wife Adrienne, who are also parents to three Knights: son, Joshua Perlstein ’12 ’15MS (an engineering alum); daughter, Madison (a mechanical engineering junior) and daughter, Savannah (a health sciences first-year student). They also know the importance of a well-rounded college experience, which includes co-curricular and service activities — many of which are funded by philanthropy.
As members of the UCF Parent & Family Philanthropy Council, the Adamses’ goal is to provide resources for enhanced student experiences.
“For the lab, FPL’s philanthropic objective is to provide students with a real-world avenue that will help them achieve career success, but our personal family objective for giving is legacy,” says Adams. “Regardless, there’s a real opportunity here at UCF to make a meaningful difference in a student’s life, especially first-generation students.”
Madison is also an ambassador for 4EVER KNIGHTS (4EK), whose mission is to educate students on the importance of establishing and maintaining a lifelong relationship with UCF. As a member of the philanthropy committee, her goal is to help build a student culture of philanthropy through outreach and events.
“We stress that the relationship with UCF is forever,” she says. She also works with students in EXCEL, a program that aims to increase student success in STEM during the first two years at UCF. “I try to pipeline my students to the appropriate programs and facilities where they can achieve the most impactful accomplishments,” she says.
Sean Farrell, associate director for advancement in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, who worked closely with the family and corporate leaders throughout the planning, creation and launch of the microgrid lab, says that the work Madison and the 4EVER KNIGHTS are doing is vital.
“Establishing that relationship early on, as students — with philanthropy and engagement — is what makes things like the microgrid possible,” he says. “Their work is what allows us to have important conversations down the road.”
Farrell has nothing but praise for the work the Adamses are doing for the university and the impact they are making.
“From Rob driving from South Florida to take initial meetings about the lab and exploring opportunities outside of FPL’s traditional university partners, to Rob and Adrienne volunteering for the parents’ council — whenever there is a challenge, the answer has always been ‘yes,” Farrell says.
Story by Susan Watkins, UCF Foundation