It’s Not All About the Bling for Wealthy Engineers

Engineering schools benefit from their generosity

24 February 2012

Rich people have a lot of options when it comes to ways to spend their money. They can buy luxury cars, build larger houses, purchase yachts, and collect valuable art. But that’s not the case for several wealthy engineers recently featured in the news. They’ve decided to invest their hard-earned money into funding the construction of new engineering buildings and sponsoring engineering programs.

Robert Beyster, a University of Michigan graduate and the founder of the research and engineering contracting firm Science Applications International Corp. last week donated US $15 million to the Ann Arbor school's College of Engineering. His gift will go to entrepreneurship programs and capital improvements. It also provides at least $9 million to endow a fellowship program for up to 10 engineering students annually. The school's Computer Science and Engineering Building will be renamed the Bob and Betty Beyster Building in recognition of the gift. Beyster said he hopes his gift "will help keep the United States at the forefront of global innovation and competitiveness."

The first new engineering building on the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus in nearly half a century opened in January, marking the end of nearly three years of construction on the $37.5 million project. The state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly structure was named the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building, after the Garmin cofounder and UT alum who donated $12.5 million to the project.

Alice and Erle Nye, chairman emeritus of TXU (formerly Texas Utility Co.) and twice a regent of the Texas A&M University System, in College Station, committed a $1 million gift in December to the school’s engineering program. The money will support faculty and students through professorships, fellowships, and scholarships. Nye graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. “Texas A&M has had a profoundly positive impact on my life, and my engineering education has been a key part of my development,” Nye said. “I am extremely grateful, and want to help others access the great engineering programs at A&M.”

Laurentian University's School of Engineering, in Sudbury, Ont., Canada, last November received a $10 million donation from Stan Bharti, an engineer and chairman and CEO of Forbes & Manhattan, a private merchant bank. In honor of his donation, the engineering school was renamed the Bharti School of Engineering. 

With a $50 million gift made last March to Yale’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, university administrators say they now have the resources to put ambitious plans for the school into motion. Donated by John Malone, who graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, the gift is the largest in the engineering school’s history and will enable Yale to create 10 new endowed professorships across all engineering disciplines. "I believe the work of [the] Yale engineering [program] is critically important," Malone said. "In a world with diminishing resources, exploding populations, and immense complexity, only science and technology can improve the standard of living for people on a global basis. We need our nation's best institutions to be invested in this work, and I am eager to support Yale as it continues to build top level programs in engineering research and education."

Jack Baskin and Peggy Downes Baskin also last March made a $1 million donation to the School of Engineering at the University of California, in Santa Cruz. Baskin is an aeronautical engineer who earned his fortune as a general contractor. While the donation was not the largest ever for the 14-year-old School of Engineering, the donation from the philantropist couple is a record amount as a fellowship fund. The endowment will help graduate students pursue doctorate degrees in engineering at UCSC. "This new gift establishes the Jack Baskin and Peggy Downes Baskin Fellowships, the largest fund for graduate-student support in the history of the campus," said Chancellor George Blumenthal. Baskin has given generously to the school over the years, with the Baskin School of Engineering named in his honor.

But you don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference in the field of engineering. Consider donating to the IEEE Foundation. The foundation relies on donations to award grants to charitable organizations with new and innovative projects. It also administers more than 130 donor designated funds that support a variety of educational, humanitarian, historical preservation, and peer recognition programs.

If you won the lottery, or are fortunate enough to have more money than you know what to do with, would you build an engineering school or fund engineering programs? Is it a wise investment? Why or why not?

Photo: iStockphoto

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