Dr. Matthew Traum, Senior Lecturer and Instructional Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has been named one of the 11 awardees of this year’s J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative Award for his Hands-on Energy and Thermo-fluids (HEAT) Program. This year, this extremely competitive grant program supports Virtual Exchanges between students in the U.S. and the Middle East and North Africa, reaching nearly 10,000 students with over $3.5 million in funding. Dr. Traum is the first UF educator to earn this prestigious award.

Dr. Traum is an experienced educator, administrator, fundraiser, and researcher, whose expertise consists of teaching and assessment for web-based STEM courses and high-enrollment engineering design courses. Last year, Dr. Traum ran a Virtual Exchange within the STEMTank 2023 high school summer program, sponsored by the U.S Department of Education with Urdaneta City University (UCU) in the Philippines. As both Florida and the Philippines are at risk for destructive tropical cyclones, these students were challenged to design, create, test, and analyze structures capable of surviving the effects of these natural disasters. Students collaborated throughout the program virtually with their international counterparts and shared findings and roadblocks, as well as learned about the way cultures and communities differed in their natural disaster preparedness.

Dr. Traum is a regular collaborator of the UF International Center and Office of Global Learning (OGL). He is an active member of the Global Learning Community of Practice, has co-authored multiple conference presentations and publications on his international engineering course projects, and is on track to complete the Global Teaching & Learning Certificate, among other accomplishments.

“Dr. Traum is a very committed and innovative educator,” says Paloma Rodriguez, Director of the Office of Global Learning. “Since he completed our Virtual Exchange Training along with Dr. Aissa from Aswan University in 2021, he has remained committed to implementing this project. The support of the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI) has finally turned this idea into a reality, and we are truly excited for the vibrant student exchange this project will generate.”

“UFIC is exceptional and generous in its support of UF faculty, and I’ve received enormous investments of time, expertise, and resources from UFIC for my programs, scholarship, and teaching,” said Traum. “Receiving a Stevens Initiative grant enables us to demonstrate how this new kit-based instructional paradigm obliterates barriers of distance to deliver high-quality engineering education while showcasing one of the key advantages of the approach: providing hands-on instruction to students in a partner country halfway around the world,” he added.

Dr. Traum is the principal investigator for the GatorKits Lab, which offers a one hundred percent online, ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited mechanical engineering bachelor's degree. This is a distinction that requires courses to have a laboratory component—hard to achieve through traditional distance learning. Dr. Traum explains, “These labs are usually large brick and mortar spaces with industrial scale equipment.” 
What distinguishes GatorKits Lab is that every lab taught in Mechanical Engineering is essentially shrunk down and packaged efficiently for postage and sent to distant learners.

In a merging of his VE experience and his GatorKits initiative, Dr. Traum will utilize the $299,903 award to send 15 educational laboratory kits with over 20 unique hands-on experiments to participants at Aswan University (AU) in Egypt. At AU, students in the Department of Mechanical Power Engineering will collaborate with UF mechanical engineering students using the same materials. “The students will feel like they are all enrolled in the same class and collaborating on the same experiments despite being separated by the Atlantic Ocean and almost 11,000 km,” explains Dr. Traum. He added, “Aswan University in Egypt is a compelling international partner for those with interest in energy and fluids due to its proximity to the Aswan High Dam – the largest dam and hydroelectric facility on the longest river in the world, the Nile. In this VE, our UF engineering students will be collaborating with Egyptian students and learning from Egyptian faculty about how they approach and solve energy and water management challenges.”

Hands-on Energy and Thermo-fluids (HEAT) Program is implemented by the University of Florida and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.

Congratulations, Dr. Traum!


The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners.