Innovation Center Helps Reimagine Adventist Education in Florida and Beyond

Facilities seek to create learning environments that empower all students, leaders said.

Robert Henley, Southern Tidings, and Adventist Review
Innovation Center Helps Reimagine Adventist Education in Florida and Beyond
The entire Florida Conference Office of Education group participates in the ribbon-cutting for the reimagined Innovus Innovation Center. [Photo: Florida Conference]

The recently opened Innovus Innovation Center is an outgrowth of the Florida Conference Innovation Lab at Forest Lake Academy in Apopka, Florida, United States, an education lab that was implemented in 2017 to serve as an experimental classroom for exploring the impact of innovation and personalized multi-year competency-based education on Adventist K-12 education.

The day of the opening ceremony, a large group took seats outside the Innovus Innovation Center to witness the welcoming and the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reimagined facility. The audience then proceeded indoors to tour the facility, which includes a mechatronics lab, a wet lab, a co-working space, a ghost kitchen, a Virtual Reality/Artificial Intelligence (VR/AI) lab, and two design studios.

“Today, we open the doors and officially welcome present and future students, parents, donors, and others in this community to the newly reimagined Innovus Innovation Center,” Florida Conference president Allan Machado said at the inauguration ceremony earlier in 2024.

Innovus is a component of the Florida Conference Office of Education (FLCOE) Innovation Initiative, and home to Florida Conference Institute for Leadership and Innovation (FCILI). The mission of the FLCOE Innovation Initiative is to reimagine education in the Florida Conference through innovation. The vision, influenced by Jeremiah 1:5 and Proverbs 18:16 in the Bible, is to create learning environments that empower all students to own their learning, shape their dreams, discover their gifts, and realize the destiny that God has for their lives, regional church leaders said.

In addition to serving as a research site for education, the Florida Conference Innovation Lab at Forest Lake Academy has served as a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) experience destination for Florida Conference schools. Through daylong STEM field trips on topics such as mechatronics, robotics, computer-aided design (CAD), 3D printing, and coding, students have had the opportunity to be exposed to and explore topics that fuel the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Innovus will take those programs — X Lab Startup Incubator, STEMCIE Camps, and Innovation Scholar Program — to the next level and make room for new programs such as the Innovation Academy for homeschool students. The impact of those programs has been tremendous, leaders said. For example, the scholar program, which identifies talented youth beginning in the sixth grade and provides them with a multi-year journey to pursue their passions and interests, has been instrumental in assisting several alumni with receiving much desired internships, which they attribute to their participation in the program.

Jared Rader, a freshman at Southern Adventist University majoring in electrical engineering, was just awarded a six-week internship at the Brookhaven and Fermilab National Labs. His multi-year research project focuses on the use of LiDAR technology with medical robotics.

Andre Escobar, a senior at Forest Lake Academy, has recently been accepted at Florida Polytechnic University, a top-10-ranked STEM university. Escobar has been conducting physical computing research with the goal of developing a game-based physical therapy rehab center. He and his parents credit his early acceptance to his participation in the scholar program.

Brenden Henley, a sophomore at Oakwood University, recently presented research at the National Science Foundation’s Emerging Research Conference that he began as a ninth grader. His research journey began while he was participating in the Loma Linda University/FCILI Biomechatronics Collaboratium. During that event, he met Michael Davidson, assistant professor at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and manager of Loma Linda Health Orthotics and Biomechatronics Lab. Through a partnership with Elaine Vanterpool, chair of the Oakwood University Biological Sciences Department, and Davidson, with the support of the Versacare Foundation, Henley has been provided with a lab space to continue his research at Oakwood.

Innovus was intentionally designed to facilitate the disruption of Adventist education, according to its creators. It is a testament to a forward-thinking approach, aimed at reshaping traditional educational paradigms and ushering in a new era of learning excellence, regional church leaders said.

“At its core, Innovus is strategically designed to transcend conventional boundaries, leveraging innovation as a powerful catalyst for change,” Frank Runnels, Florida Conference vice president for education, said. Innovus will provide immersive learning experiences that will go beyond the ordinary, fostering a culture of creativity, critical thinking, and adaptability among students.

Leaders said that by embracing cutting-edge educational methodologies, emerging technologies, and forward-looking curriculum design, Innovus will equip students with the competencies and mindset necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

The original version of this story was posted by Southern Tidings.

Robert Henley, Southern Tidings, and Adventist Review