Developing the student of tomorrow

Scott Friedman (BSBA ’01) grew up with a passion for education because of his upbringing. After his family moved to the United States to escape religious persecution in Eastern Europe, his parents instilled education as a priority.

The son of a chemical engineer and a professor in French and linguistics, Friedman grew up surrounded by PhDs and educators in his family.

His upbringing played an integral part in Friedman earning his current role as Partner and Co-Founder of Soroban Capital Partners and leading him to fund an AI Professorship at UF Warrington. But long before then, there was a day that played an important role in his future while also appreciating his past.

“One day, my father opened the mail and read a letter that said I was gifted a full academic scholarship to the University of Florida,” Friedman said. “That single sheet of paper encapsulated years of hard work and the sacrifices my family had made on my behalf.”

After graduating from UF, Friedman began his career with Goldman and Sachs in New York. As he grew in his career, Friedman began to build a strong network and earn speaking opportunities at Harvard and Yale. He saw each time how impressive faculty members were and how much students were benefitting from their work.

That ultimately led to Friedman connecting with professors from UF.

“As the years passed, I increasingly engaged with the PhDs, professors, and students at the University of Florida,” Friedman said. “As my own career and experience advanced, watching the university positively evolve and take on challenges was incredibly rewarding.”

Soon after, a remarkable moment connected Friedman’s alma mater with his industry. NVIDIA donated the fastest supercomputer on any academic campus across the United States to UF. When the gift was made, UF faculty quickly began to ensure they had the proper training to use it and teach students how to use it.

Friedman was a focal point in those conversations. He spoke frequently with UF Warrington Dean Saby Mitra, as well as Clinical Professor Jim Hoover and Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Department Chair Andy Naranjo. The conversations often came back to the best ways for UF Warrington to develop the student of tomorrow.

They landed on four key areas students must master if they were going to stand out in the future—business fundamentals, engineering, mathematics and statistics, and computer science and AI.

After they got deep into the process of how to build business students of the future, the final challenge was finding the funding for it. Friedman was so inspired by the direction of UF Warrington and the generosity shown by Chris Malachowsky and his co-founders at NVIDIA that he decided to endow UF’s first professorship in AI and machine learning. 

“I want to accelerate faculty work in machine learning and applications of artificial intelligence in finance,” Friedman said. “The collective ambition is to provide University of Florida students with a cutting edge and all-encompassing educational toolkit, so they can craft extraordinary futures for themselves.”

The benefits of the professorship are already showing. Alejandro Lopez-Lira is accelerating faculty work in machine learning and applications of artificial intelligence in finance. He taught ChatGPT how to quantitatively trade using a modern approach to sentiment analysis, and his academic paper quickly became one of the most read academic papers across Wall Street and the United States.

“The goal is clear—to supercharge the students at the University of Florida and ideally students across the leading public universities in America with the resources to not only achieve success, but to also shape extraordinary futures,” Friedman said. “This professorship is already proving to be a positive transformative force for all involved.”

AI is exploding in new industries and around the world, but it has long been a passion for Friedman. Growing up with a scientific father and a creative, artistic mother, their blend between technology and liberal arts is similar to the way Friedman views AI.

Just as the PC made computing personal and the iPhone made the internet mobile, Friedman believes AI can make technology intuitive.

“AI is the kind of seismic shift that comes once in a lifetime, challenging us to rethink what’s possible,” Friedman said. “The rise of ChatGPT was not an isolated event but a link in a long chain of technological evolution, a chain that is far from reaching its final form.”

Friedman is playing an important part in the way UF is educating students on AI. He sees the strengths of UF Warrington’s efforts in its curriculum and experiential learning.

“Just as Chris Malachowsky and Jensen Huang revolutionized graphics processing units to handle complex computations in parallel, Warrington is revolutionizing its curriculum to include next generation tools like Python and R. They’re essentially building the GPUs of the educational landscape—highly specialized, cross functional and incredibly powerful clusters of curriculum.

“Malachowsky and Huang believe in the power of real-world application, as evidenced by NVIDIA’s forays into AI, autonomous vehicles and more. Similarly, Warrington’s real-world business analytics projects are like NVIDIA’s real-world testing labs, giving students hands-on experience that’s directly applicable in the workforce.”