USF engineering future of military defense with University Mall project

The University Mall in Tampa sits quiet, awaiting a billion-dollar makeover into an uptown tech-hub. But inside this relic of the past, a company based at the University of South Florida has its focus on the future. 

"We solve really wicked hard engineering problems and we solve them quickly, so our motto is 'seeking truth at high velocity,'" said Robert H. Bishop, dean of the College of Engineering and president of the USF Institute of Applied Engineering

The institute combines education with real-world problem-solving and many of the problems have life or death implications, like helping military operatives stay connected while in foreign countries, with little or no technology infrastructure.  

It's part of an $85 million contract the institute was awarded with US Special Operations Command (SOComm) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Last year, the institute sent three small satellites into space aboard a SpaceX rocket. 

"It was a novel communications mission to demonstrate connectivity between all of our satellites," says graduate student Troy Young. 

He has been involved with the project for over two years, starting as an undergraduate intern. 

"I was immediately shocked to see how much of the project was entirely done at the student level," Young said.

Engineers and professors bring students back down to Earth with the realization of their ultimate goal: defending the nation.

"Yeah, you may be writing some code for some sensor, but that sensor is going aboard a satellite and that satellite has a mission, so your code is important," says engineer scientist Hillary Belliveau.

Hillary, who received her Ph.D. from USF, recently returned to join the Institute of Applied Engineering team. She's excited to see the mall's transformation, in real time. 

"It’s going to be a bustling, booming part of Tampa Bay. I’m looking forward to that. The next Silicon Valley, if you will!" she says.