Finding a Community at the University of Florida
Engineering may not have always been a dream shared by triple Gators Dan and Teresa Nieten. Dan (BSECE ’92; MSCE ’04; Ph.D., CE ‘11), at one point, wanted to be an astronaut, and Teresa (BSECE ’92; MSCE ’04; Ph.D., CE ‘11) wanted to be a veterinarian. But eventually, they found their way to engineering, to the University of Florida and, in the spring of 1990, to each other.
Each of them came to UF at different points in their lives and, coincidentally, ended up working toward the same degrees. Both Dan and Teresa Nieten were from military families. So, they were used to constantly adapting to new environments. But they were also used to the feeling of being part of a bigger military family, and they found that community in the Gator Nation.
“In the CISE department we were a pretty close-knit group, working in computer labs evenings and weekends, getting together in study groups,” said Teresa Nieten about her time in the Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering. “The third floor of the CISE building was a home away from home.”
Several years ago, the Nietens decided to give back to their home away from home by creating a scholarship for undergraduate CISE students. This year, The Nieten Award for Undergraduate Students, which focuses on first-generation and military dependent students, was awarded for the first time to Jack Wittmayer.
“Dan and I both grew up in military families and were first-generation students,” Teresa Nieten said. “As such, we have seen how difficult it can be to have enough roots by the time a military dependent starts looking at college to find the local scholarships.”
Today, Teresa Nieten works for Ocean Insight where she combines her computer engineering and data science experience. She has contributed to developing solutions ranging from determining the moisture level of fruit and detecting contaminants in foods to measuring industrial coatings and determining when complex industrial processes are complete.
“I also transformed the way that machine learning and analysis are done at Ocean Insight,” she said. “I developed a tool called Ocean Intelligence that allows individuals without machine learning or software backgrounds to analyze their data using complex machine learning algorithms.”
Dan Nieten works for Express Scripts and has two roles: director of the Data Science and Advanced Analytics for Pharmacy Services, and principle data scientist. He said his team is responsible for developing analytical solutions that provide operational insights. Before working at Express Scripts, he worked at a handful of places including IBM, L3Harris and NASA, where he spent 10 years working on projects like the Space Shuttle program Checkout and Launch Control System and the Constellation program (the next phase of the manned space program). He also received a Silver Snoopy award for his contribution to the manned space program.
After meeting during their undergraduate years and eventually getting married, the pair had their son, Brandon Alexander, as they were completing their dissertations. For the Nietens, giving back to their community and supporting several charities and causes (cancer research, childhood diseases, Parkinson’s, veterans organizations, etc.) is essential. And including their son in that process is equally as important.
“While we have been very blessed, we have not had an easy path getting to where we are, there was a lot of hard work, ups and downs,” Dan Nieten said. “With that in mind, it is important to help others when you have the opportunity. It’s also important to set the example for our son and others that paying it forward is fundamental.”