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Sundial: How this founding professor of FIU helped build the university from scratch

Courtesy of Florida International University
Stephen Fain is one of the founding members of Florida International University.

There’s no handbook for building a university from scratch. But if there were, Stephen Fain would be one of the authors.

He’s one of Florida International University’s founding professors. The original group transformed an old airport near the Everglades into the fifth-largest public university in the country.

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Today, FIU has campuses across South Florida and in Washington, D.C. Even in China and Italy.

But it wasn’t like that when Fain got here in 1971.

They brought him to discuss a job at a dusty construction site. There were shipping containers and old airplane parts lying around. It required some imagination.

Fain was being given the chance to build a university from the ground up. He would help decide what was going to be taught and how — what kind of school it would be. It was a blank canvas.

On the Jan. 17 episode of Sundial, we’re joined by Fain, who has worked for the university for more than 50 years. He is FIU’s longest-serving faculty member and he just retired.

Courtesy of Florida International University
An old plane sits by the Charles E. Perry (Primera Casa) building.

On Sundial's previous episode, Dorothy Jenkins Fields reflected on her experiences marching with Martin Luther King Jr. as a college student in Atlanta. She went on the found the Black Archives at the Lyric Theater when she returned home to Miami.

Listen to Sundial Monday through Thursday on WLRN, 91.3 FM, live at 1 p.m., rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Missed a show? Find every episode of Sundial on your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify.

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Carlos Frías is the host of WLRN's Sundial. He is a bilingual writer, a journalist of more than 25 years and the author of an award-winning memoir published by Simon & Schuster.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.
Elisa Baena is an associate producer for Sundial.