Pensacola is already known for its beaches and historic culture, but thanks to Dr. Ken Ford, science is a part of the city’s culture, too.
Ford is the founder and CEO of the Florida Institute of Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC). The not-for-profit research institute has grown to be one of the nation’s premier research organizations, bringing together world-class scientists and engineers to investigate various subjects.
IHMC isn’t just for an elite clique of scientists. The institute hosts free lecture series and science programs to keep the city engaged in science.
“We select exceptional speakers who can entertain an audience and educate at the same time on varying topics of interest to a community,” Ford said. “IHMC seeks to energize the adult mind and the spirit of inquiry in the community and we hope that this is the impact of these well-attended evening lectures.”
Keeping children engaged is also important. Programs include: Science Saturdays, which are held once a month for third to fifth graders; I LOVE Science, a volunteer program which brings the science experiments into schools; and Tech Connect, an ongoing program expanding computer science knowledge in elementary and middle school students.
“The primary goal is for young people to have a positive and fun experience with hands-on activities that increase knowledge of science, excitement regarding careers in science and confidence in their individual scientific abilities,” Ford said. “We are hopeful that this enthusiasm carries over into schools.”
When making the decision to set up shop, Ford felt Pensacola was the perfect backdrop for the institution.
“Pensacola, especially downtown and some of the older neighborhoods, has an authenticity and that helps attract creative people,” Ford said. “The historic human-scale downtown, beautiful natural resources, quality local restaurants, interesting architecture and thriving arts community all led me to believe that this institute could be successful in downtown Pensacola.”
As cities compete to attract a talented workforce, it’s important that Pensacola continues its progress. Ford said innovation is a key value, and scientists know plenty about innovation.
“It’s all about innovation and innovation is all about people and people are all about place,” he said. “A vibrant arts community, restaurant scene and affordable housing are clearly important components of a city that wants to continue to attract young and creative professionals.”
Ford notes that arts and food are done well in Pensacola, housing, as other game changers have noted, will improve Pensacola, especially as IHMC and other businesses continue to attract talented and creative people from around the world.
“IHMC researchers and staff, hailing from a wide variety of educational, professional and multicultural backgrounds, populating the downtown add to the blend of an interesting and diverse community,” he said.
The community outside the institute is important as well. Ford is a part of Mayor Hayward’s Urban Redevelopment Advisory Committee. Just like the science programs for children and free lecture series, IHMC offers free meeting spaces for non-profit organizations.
“Our interest is in helping in small ways to foster the success of all the organizations and developing a positive spirit of community in Pensacola,” Ford said. “Additionally, we hope to stimulate the ‘life of the mind’ for the community through education and outreach programs for people of all ages.”