IST at 30: A Brief History

Seeds for the idea of a simulation institute were planted in 1965 when the Naval Training Equipment Center (NTEC) relocated from Long Island, NY, to the Orlando Air Force Base (later, Naval Training Center Orlando). The Army's Project Manager for Training Devices (PM TRADE) accompanied the Navy in its move to the Naval Training Center. Nearly 20 years had to pass before the simulation institute idea began to sprout.

UCF was still a fledgling Florida Technological University (FTU) back then. Throughout the ’70s, FTU faculty and students provided academic support and contract research for the two defense training centers, but an organizational structure was lacking. That changed in August, 1982, with a proposal that would lead to creation of the Institute for Simulation & Training.

Since simulation-related research up to that point was scattered around the university in a number of disciplines, the proposal to the State University System was for a multidisciplinary institute responsible to the Vice President for Research rather than to a dean of a specific college. The Florida Board of Regents thought it was a good idea and a month later added IST to the State's official list of institutes and centers.

picture of groundbreaking1986 Ground breaking for IST's first headquarters. Then Research VP Lou Trefonas (3rd from left) and IST's 1st director, Wei Chen (4th from left), wield the shovels.

Several more years rolled by before the Florida Legislature authorized funding for IST. Wei Chen, enticed to leave General Electric for UCF, became the first director in May, 1985.

In February of the following year, Chen and other officials picked up shovels to break ground for an actual IST facility. The site and building were temporary, a modular-construction "Butler Building" in the university's facilities area.

The dust had barely settled before Chen cut short his affair with the rigors of M&S academia and headed back to GE. Dr. Chris Bauer, from Electrical and Computing Engineering, assumed the duties of acting director, holding down the fort until A. Louis Medin, recruited from IBM, assumed the post in May, 1987. Butler building

Dr. Medin came equipped with a "my way or the highway" philosophy, determined to steer IST away from the grasp of any special interest groups and put it on the road to becoming a truly multidisciplinary institute. During his nearly 12-year tenure as director, Dr. Medin saw IST grow from a staff of 29 with $2.5 million in contract and grant support to more than 150 researchers and professionals with close to $5 million in projects. IST in no time outgrew its trailer-size temporary headquarters. To consolidate the research—some of which was conducted in other campus buildings—the institute moved into the Research Pavilion late in 1988.

The move proved auspicious, for now IST was right next door to its two defense partners – and one of them, the Army, had two tank simulators to spare.

The simulators were part of a cutting edge networking technology that was drawing a lot of attention – and frequent requests for demonstrations. The Army was continually under pressure to drop everything to get ready for the next bus load of VIPs. A deal with IST would allow the Army to "get back to work."

The institute acquired the loan of the tanks and responsibility for demonstrating the new SIMNET technology. This was IST's first real opportunity for exposure to a ready made audience of defense brass and political leaders eager for a photo op and a chance to know more about the emerging science of simulation.

moving tanks into PavilionThe Research Pavilion's doors and hallways were not designed for tank travel — even the simulator kind — so in an ask-permission-first-or-beg-forgiveness-later move, IST's director had the tanks brought in through a window.

In its five years at the Research Pavilion, IST led breakthroughs in simulator networking and computer-generated forces used for war games. A move to its own building, in the Bennett complex on Progress Drive, was soon followed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chair, Senator Sam Nunn's declaration that Central Florida was the nation's hub of simulation technology and UCF America's leading simulation university.

Florida Governor Lawton Chiles added more honors in 1997, proclaiming the Central Florida Research Park "the National Center for Simulation." IST and the local industry-connected Training and Simulation Technology Consortium were named in the proclamation. The Consortium later took the designation as its own name, becoming the National Center for Simulation.

Senator Sam Nunn, left, (presumably after a "ride" in one of the tank simulators) declared Central Florida the nation's hub of simulation technology and UCF "America's leading simulation university." Florida Governor Chiles later proclamed the research park to be the National Center for Simulation.

In ensuing years the research park and surrounding area grew to become, arguably, the nation's highest concentration of companies and agencies dedicated to simulation and training-related research and development.

On Dr. Medin's retirement in February, 1999, Deputy Director, Brian Goldiez stepped up as Acting Director until October, 1999, when Navy Captain Dr. Dennis McBride became Director, serving a military-length tour of duty lasting only 21 months. Goldiez again became Acting from June, 2001, until Dr. Randall Shumaker's installment as Director in the Winter of 2002.

Dr. Shumaker, brought to IST more than 30 years engineering and computer engineering experience with the Navy plus his passion for autonomous systems, very high performance computing and collaboration.

Although, as records show, IST from the beginning worked diligently to develop and maintain partnerships, the new Century brought efforts to give those partnerships substance in concrete and steel. The institute began this "brick and mortar" phase first by building behind the UCF fire station a modest training building for crisis managers, then by coordinating the renovation of a vacant research park building destined to become known as the Army's SFC Paul Ray Smith Simulation & Technology Training Center (STTC).

IST timeline

IST contracts and grants grew to $14+ million and IST once again outgrew its office and lab space. The next move was planned to build on successful partnerships with government simulation components sharing space in the IST-renovated STTC and the Partnership I building.

A state-supported opportunity for some real construction led IST to design and build the Partnership II building. In November, 2004, the institute moved some of its labs and offices onto two floors of the five-story building. Six years later, in October, 2010, the labs and offices remaining in the Bennett Building on Progress Drive, and a new high performance computing center temporarily housed in the University Tower across the street, moved in to the first and second floors of the newly completed Partnership III. As the names imply, the buildings are occupied by a mixture of IST, UCF and defense agency tenants.

Simulation and training in the 21st Century took on dimensions hardly imagined – even in the '80s. The discipline's horizons stretched far beyond earlier foundations in mechanical engineering and computer science to encompass psychology, cognitive science, robotics, human factors engineering, mathematical analysis, philosophy, learning theory, culture studies, to name a few. With all these multidisciplinary underpinnings, modeling and simulation became a discipline worthy of its own advanced levels of academic study. IST led the push for multidisciplinary master's and doctoral simulation degrees and the program accepted its first students in 2002.

The diversity of the industry is well-represented by the many disciplines making up the institute's more than 200-strong complement of staff, research faculty and part-time student interns.

IST's clientele, a far cry from the one-source initial partnership with the Army, is similarly diverse. Department of Defense contracts still account for a sizeable portion of the institute's contract and grant support, but clients range from businesses and agencies seeking more effective ways to train (Google, Johnson & Johnson, US Department of Education and Federal Aviation Administration, to name a few) to health care providers with similar training goals, to museums and science centers looking to simulation to enhance their exhibits' learning value.


Institute for Simulation & Training
3100 Technology Pkwy, Orlando, FL 32826
407-882-1300

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This page was last updated on: May 23, 2014