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University announces gifts to fund new building and STEM initiative

The largest financial gift in University of Denver history will support the construction of a new campus home for engineering and computer science.

Chancellor Emeritus Daniel Ritchie has donated property valued at $27 million to the School of Engineering and Computer Science, which in May was renamed the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science in honor of Daniel Ritchie’s father. The 110,000-square-foot building on the south side of campus also will house the new Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging. It is slated to be completed in 2015.

“We have wonderful faculty; we have wonderful students; what we don’t have is wonderful facilities. That’s the piece that’s missing,” Daniel Ritchie said at a May 20 press conference to announce the new building. “This will make a huge difference for the University, for the faculty and for our students.”

The new building is part of a new interdisciplinary science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiative at the University that will address societal needs of the 21st century and prepare globally competitive graduates for business and entrepreneurship. The Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science will bring together multiple complementary STEM activities and research already taking place on campus.

“These are the disciplines that are driving the growth of the worldwide economy,” Chancellor Robert Coombe said at the press conference. “Today, with the U.S. economy rebounding, many of the jobs that are being created are in these disciplines, and we find that this is driving interest among students and among students yet to come to the University of Denver. There is an enormous wave in interest in STEM disciplines, and that wave is washing ashore at the University of Denver with considerable vigor.”

Additional funding for the new engineering building comes from Betty Knoebel, widow of Denver food-service pioneer Ferdinand “Fritz” Knoebel, and the late Bill Petersen (BSEE ’69), an alumnus of the DU School of Engineering. The gifts will allow the University to increase student scholarships, faculty support, industry partnerships and experiential learning programs.

According to Chancellor Coombe, the interdisciplinary focus will allow the University to dramatically expand its current engineering and computer science programs, with a vision of further developing mechatronics, bioengineering and software engineering curricula. Added capacity will allow the school to increase its faculty by more than 30 percent and enhance particular areas of scholarship and instruction. Coombe added that the initiative also responds to the shifting interests of college-bound graduates who are increasingly interested in sciences, math and engineering.

“The University of Denver will be on the cutting edge of developing a new breed of STEM graduates ready for the complex technological needs of the future,” Coombe said. “Our students will create real-life solutions to real-life problems with an integrated approach to learning.”

The University plans to address the increasing needs of an aging population through the new Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging. The Knoebel Center, which builds on the University’s dedication to the public good, supports complementary research and scholarship on aging and aging-related conditions.

The new building will be located between the Newman Center for the Performing Arts and F.W. Olin Hall and will be adjacent to buildings that currently house the University’s Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and multiple research centers, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, where students join faculty in conducting foundational biomedical, molecular and genetic research.

“This is an extraordinarily exciting time for our University, and these gifts will go a long way in transforming and redefining the focus of our science, engineering and related programs and research. It will help us lay a strong foundation for collaboration across disciplines, while we expand our ability to serve the future needs of our region and state,” Coombe said.

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