It’s not often that Barnes & Noble College opens a college bookstore before a first-ever class steps foot on a new campus. But at Florida Polytechnic University, the newest member of Florida’s State University System, the bookstore was in place before its inaugural class arrived on campus on August 25, 2014. “This is really unique for us. We don’t have many occasions to be part of a brand-new university,” said Barnes & Noble College Regional Manager Andy Shaffer. “We approached this partnership not by asking, ‘What do you need today?’ but instead, ‘What will you need over the next 10 years?’”
Thinking ahead is the modus operandi of Florida Polytechnic. Strategically located in Lakeland, along the I-4 High Tech Corridor, the school is dedicated exclusively to hands-on learning and applied research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Florida Polytechnic’s College of Engineering and College of Innovation and Technology offer six undergraduate degree programs, two graduate programs and 19 high-tech concentrations like Big Data Analytics, Cloud Virtualization, Motion Intelligence, Nanotechnology, Cyber Security and Machine Intelligence. Students generate tomorrow’s technology in a Supercomputer and Student Data Center, visualization and Technology Collaboration Lab, and a Rapid Application Development Makerspace Lab in the Innovation, Science and Technology (IST) Building — a state-of-the-art facility designed by world-renowned architect Dr. Santiago Calatrava.
In an institution where “on the horizon” can mean “any day now,” a bookstore has to fulfill plenty of expectations. Located in the university’s Wellness Building, which also houses a health clinic, fitness room, mail center, dining hall and Starbucks Coffee, the Barnes & Noble at Florida Poly Bookstore occupies 2,260-square-foot of space. “The foundation was only poured in May,” Shaffer said incredulously. “It’s really unreal to think about the incredible growth of this campus.”
Starting from the ground up was very exciting, but also “quite physically taxing,” said Store Manager Linda Huie. “In addition to setting up a bookstore, we were working with contractors,” who were customizing the bookstore space within the building. “Lucky for me, my husband is a contractor, so I was familiar with a lot of how this all works,” Huie said.
Offering a wide selection of textbook options that includes used, new and digital books, the bookstore also offers a multi-channel textbook rental program. “We had the benefit of starting with an electronic book program,” stated Ray Galleno, Executive Director of Auxiliary and Business Services for Florida Poly. “We are a BYOD campus — a bring-your-own-device place — and we support all systems. We are ready for it all. These are very tech-savvy kids and we made sure the electronic support was in place.”
Students roam bookstore aisles browsing trade books, magazines and gifts (“graphic novels and science fiction are a big draw,” Shaffer disclosed) and look for software, laptops and computer accessories. Snacks and convenience items also rank high among hungry college kids, but what has perhaps been making the biggest buzz is the Florida Polytechnic-branded apparel and merchandise, something the bookstore team has had a hand in. “Where we often work with licensing, here we’re working with the marketing department to help hone the brand,” Shaffer explains. “It’s very exciting to work with the graphics and lend our expertise.”
That’s truly building from the (just-poured) foundation. The school may have started with an incoming class of 500, but there are plans to enroll up to 5,000 students within five to seven years.
The bookstore team has been eagerly working with the school’s faculty and administration, which works hard to acclimate students to the new campus and make the experience meaningful and fun. “It’s been pretty easy because the faculty and administration have been so helpful, explained Huie. “We’ve been meeting with them to keep the lines of communication open, and there are some fun activities coming up — there are talks of a pumpkin toss and a pirates week — and we can support those activities with t-shirts or merchandise,” she added.
The bookstore team had the opportunity to take part in Florida Polytechnic’s public LAUNCH Celebration to commemorate its grand opening and the completion of the Innovation, Science and Technology Building, ordering LAUNCH-specific products such as t-shirts and mugs. “We sold out of most of our products that day,” Shaffer said, reflecting on the excitement of the school’s inauguration.
The LAUNCH Celebration followed PIVOT, a philanthropic gala that generated more than $3.6 million to support scholarships for the university’s inaugural class. Supporting students is a key mission for the University — and that philosophy extended to the type of bookstore Florida Polytechnic had in mind for its new campus.
“When we began our work with Barnes & Noble College, we wanted to make sure the people we work with understand our highly technical students, who are really the cream of the crop,” Florida Polytechnic’s Galleno said. “We wanted to make sure that we have people in place who truly understand the purpose of our university and how to relate to our students. The Barnes & Noble team has done just that,” he continued. “It was a great opportunity not having legacy programs in place, starting fresh with no presuppositions. We were able to work with Barnes & Noble and ask, ‘What are the best practices out there? What’s trending? What’s being developed?’ And then we put them in place.”