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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Engineering team will keep all prize money

<p>Team GatorWings (left to right: Marco Menendez, Dr. John Shea, Tyler Ward, Dr. Tan Wong, Caleb Bowyer, and David Greene). Photo emailed to me from John Shea.</p><div class="yj6qo"> </div>

Team GatorWings (left to right: Marco Menendez, Dr. John Shea, Tyler Ward, Dr. Tan Wong, Caleb Bowyer, and David Greene). Photo emailed to me from John Shea.


A UF engineering team won $2 million in October, but UF tried to keep their money. Now, it will go back to the team.

The United Faculty of Florida, which represents UF faculty and graduate assistants at the university, reached a settlement last week regarding GatorWings’ prize money. Both the $750,000, which was won at a preliminary event for the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge, and the $2 million, which was won as a grand prize for the challenge in October, will go to the team. 

GatorWings, UF’s engineering team, competed Oct. 23 in The Spectrum Collaboration Challenge, hosted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The challenge was three years long and tasked competitors to better manage space on the radio spectrum, which is used in telecommunications.

The $750,000 will be used for further research on radio spectrum space and the $2 million is no-strings-attached prize money that team members can use however they want, said Eric Lindstrom, an attorney with the United Faculty of Florida. The university will not tax any of the money.

The $2 million will be distributed fairly among nine team members, said Tan Wong, a UF professor of electrical and computer engineering who participated in the challenge. Two of the team members are faculty, and seven are students. The team members include those who have made major contributions to GatorWings in the past three years.

The team is currently drawing up plans on how they’ll split the money. Wong said the money will probably go to an entity outside of the university, and that entity will act as a mediator and be responsible for distributing the money.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has not yet released the $2 million. The agency needs to know where the money will be deposited first, Wong said. He is not sure when the money will be released yet. 

“Any sort of prize, small or big, acts as a motivator for students and faculty to compete,” Wong said. “This competition is very prestigious, so it actually tells the world that we are doing some good work at the university.”

Settlement terms would also cancel the change in policy that UF created without notifying the faculty union. The policy changed the established practice of letting faculty and students have prize money to let the university keep it.

The settlement was mostly worked out two weeks ago, Lindstrom said. The settlement was filed last Wednesday morning with the Public Employees Relations Commission, which hears labor and employment disputes.

“We basically got everything that we were looking for and we were able to avoid the hearing, which is the best possible result,” Lindstrom said.

The United Faculty of Florida and UF have resolved all matters with the prize money, UF spokesperson Steve Orlando wrote in a statement. He added that in the future, the university will work with faculty representatives on policy changes for prize money. 

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Orlando declined to comment on those specific policy changes and what motivated UF to settle. He continued to refer The Alligator to his written statement.

Although graduate and undergraduate students were involved with the GatorWings team, they did not have a say in the settlement. This is because the collective bargaining agreement between Graduate Assistants United, the union that represents graduate students, and UF does not address prize money at all, David Greene, a 31-year-old UF electrical engineering doctoral student, said.

Greene participated in the GatorWings team, and although he did not participate in the settlement, he said he was happy with the outcome.

“More than three years of our hard work is finally being appreciated,” he said. “It was really painstaking to be dragged through all of these legal issues while we were still competing.”

Greene said he plans to use his portion of the $2 million to pay off student loans and take care of his two children.

UF changed its policy Sept. 2018, three months before GatorWings won $750,000 Dec. 2018 at the preliminary event, Lindstrom said. He added that the policy change was against state statutes because UF did not consult the faculty union before the policy change. 

Orlando wrote that UF will be collaborating with faculty in the future to make sure policy changes are “mutually agreeable and beneficial” for both parties.

UF’s faculty union filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge on June 13 in response, and they filed another charge Oct. 24 after GatorWings won $2 million Oct. 23. The Unfair Labor Practice charges are heard by the Public Employees Relations Commission.

The Public Employees Relations Commission was originally supposed to hear the charge Dec. 4, but UF pushed the hearing back to mid-January. This settlement means that the hearing will not be held, as the United Faculty of Florida and UF worked out an agreement, Lindstrom said. 

The university was motivated to settle to avoid a hearing because of pressure from press coverage and rallies, Lindstrom said.

“I don’t think that the university was looking forward to having embarrassing testimony under oath,” Lindstrom said. “That helped us work out a deal.”

Contact Meghan McGlone at Follow her on Twitter @meggmcglone.   

Team GatorWings (left to right: Marco Menendez, Dr. John Shea, Tyler Ward, Dr. Tan Wong, Caleb Bowyer, and David Greene). Photo emailed to me from John Shea.

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Meghan McGlone

Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.

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