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University of Denver Announces Transformational Gifts of $40 million to Launch New Interdisciplinary STEM initiative

The University of Denver today announced plans to launch a new interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiative that will allow it to address societal needs of the 21st century, including preparing globally competitive graduates for business and entrepreneurship. As a catalyst for this initiative, the University will construct a new engineering and computer science building that will bring together multiple complementary STEM activities and research already taking place on campus. The new building will also house the new Knoebel Center for the Study of Aging.

The building is made possible by visionary gifts totaling more than $40 million from Daniel L. Ritchie, chancellor emeritus, Betty Knoebel and the late Bill C. Petersen. The gifts will allow the University to increase student scholarships, faculty support, industry partnerships and experiential learning programs with the overarching goal of achieving distinction in interdisciplinary STEM education. The University expects the new building to provide ideal space for increased collaboration among complementary programs.

The Ritchie gift is the largest single donation in the University’s history and totals nearly $27 million. Ritchie, who served as the University’s chancellor for 15 years between 1989 and 2005 and as chairman of the Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2009, transferred Rancho Cielo, a working avocado ranch in Montecito, Calif., to the University to support construction of the new building. This is the second time the University has received a ranch from Ritchie. In 1994, Ritchie contributed a large portion of his Grand River Ranch in Kremmling, Colo. to the University. The new Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science is named for Ritchie’s father.

According to Chancellor Robert 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. He 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 in a variety of STEM disciplines, particularly the molecular life sciences, including cell biology and biochemistry of aging, neurodegenerative diseases, and drug design and discovery.

The Knoebel Center’s proximity to engineering and computer sciences, as well as other STEM and complementary social sciences disciplines, will encourage collaborative and complementary research and scholarship. This would include synergistic activities with such fields as orthopedic biomechanics and bioengineering. The Knoebel Center will act as the overall umbrella for cooperation and partnerships between natural sciences, engineering and social sciences — including social work and professional psychology programs. The laboratory hub of the Knoebel Center will occupy its own floor in the building containing the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science. Named in recognition of a gift from Betty Knoebel, widow of Denver food services pioneer Ferdinand “Fritz” Knoebel, the gift also will fund faculty positions focused in molecular life sciences and bioengineering.

Additional funding for the new engineering building is provided through an estate gift from the late William C. Petersen (BSEE ’69), an alumnus of the DU School of Engineering who had a lengthy career at the Gates Rubber Co. in Denver. Petersen resonated with the need for a new engineering facility when he named the University in his estate plans, specifically designating that his bequest could be used for construction of a new engineering building.

The building will create an anchor on the south portion of campus for STEM-related disciplines. It will be located between the Newman Center for the Performing Arts and Olin Hall and will be built 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.

Incorporating an open design the approximately 110,000-square-foot facility building will provide expanded research and instructional spaces, flexible classrooms, interdisciplinary centers and institutes, community areas, faculty and administrative offices and food service.

The architectural design of the building will be in keeping with the desire to create an enduring structure on campus with multi-century durability through the use of load-bearing bricks, stone masonry and signature copper roofs. The sustainable building design is a collaborative partnership between the Office of the University Architect and Anderson, Mason and Dale Architects (University’s Architect of Record-AoR).

“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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