Libraries Send Students to Impact Forum

By Judith C. Russell, Dean of University Libraries

Students at the University of Florida have many opportunities to attend programs, concerts, and events. The Smathers Libraries sponsor or co-sponsor a number of these events each semester. In late February, the Libraries had a unique opportunity to take 100 students to the Lake Nona Impact Forum, an annual convening of the nation’s top thought leaders in healthcare and related areas. This year, former Senator and current NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson, was asked to bring leaders from two major commercial space flight companies to Lake Nona to be interviewed by him. Nelson invited Gwynne Shotwell from SpaceX and Jeff Bezos from Blue Origin, and both agreed to participate. He then asked both of them and the conference organizers to allow him to sponsor 50 UF students each day to hear the presentations and meet with these leaders. All agreed, and he turned to the Smathers Libraries, with which he has a unique relationship, to identify the students and organize the trips.

When he left the Senate in 2019, Senator Nelson deposited his personal papers and related memorabilia with the Smathers Libraries. He also established the Nelson Initiative on Ethics and Leadership through which he provides an ongoing series of speakers and seminars. As he often explains when asked, he is using his ability to convene interesting people to discuss important topics. Most of these events have taken place at the University of Florida, usually in the Smathers Library building. The Lake Nona Impact Forum was the second Nelson Initiative event in the Orlando area to which he invited UF students with the assistance of the Smathers Libraries.

After the interview with Shotwell, the students had an opportunity to meet her briefly and then participate in a dialogue with Senator Nelson about NASA initiatives. The following day, a second group of students observed his interview with Bezos and then met with the two of them for a discussion. The links to both presentations are available at Nelson Initiative on Ethics and Leadership webpage. Both interviews were amazing and the conversations afterwards so stimulating that there was excited chatter all the way back to Gainesville and afterwards.

Perhaps the most important lesson shared was that space exploration and research require trial and error, patience and persistence. Learning from each failure, correcting the known errors, and trying again and again eventually lead to success – in both research and in life! We are proud to support these opportunities and grateful for the collaborations between our nation’s thought leaders and the University of Florida students.

Lake Nona Impact Forum
Lake Nona Impact Forum