Engineering gift will advance IT
By William Cocke
With engineering identified as one of the top strategic priorities for the University, a lead gift from the Rice Family Foundation to the School of Engineering and Applied Science promises to transform the school’s ability to excel in the vital area of information technology. The commitment from the private foundation, created by Paul G. Rice and his wife, Gina, of Warrenton, Va., represents the second-largest gift ever to the school. In accordance with the donor’s wishes, the amount of the gift is being kept confidential; however, it will be the lead gift used to fund construction of a planned $50 million information technology engineering building.
“With this extraordinary gift, Paul and Gina Rice are investing in the core of the Virginia 2020 plan to enhance science and engineering at the University,” said U.Va. President John T. Casteen III. “The work that takes place in this building will advance the education of future leaders in science and engineering even as it opens the way to new technologies. The ITE building will provide the necessary physical space for a collaborative environment in computer engineering, computer science and systems engineering, and will help us promote what is now called ‘digital literacy’ Universitywide. We owe the Rices a debt of gratitude for their visionary support and for their commitment to strengthening the University’s engineering program.”
Some 20 years ago, Paul Rice founded PEC Solutions, a company that designs complex, customized technology systems for large government agencies and municipalities. Recently acquired, PEC built a client list that includes federal agencies such as the Departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security. The company’s large and holistic projects can be described as equal parts strategic planning, systems architecture and engineering, Rice said. They often require marrying new technology with existing systems. The company went public in 2000.
A graduate of the University’s electrical engineering program, Rice became re-engaged with the Engineering School through his company’s college recruiting efforts. He said the University’s engineering graduates are highly skilled engineers with unusually strong communication skills and integrity and have been great assets to his firm. “The study of engineering prepares young people for problem solving, but U.Va. graduates are also effective communicators and are very good candidates for early management opportunities,” he said. “The fullness of the program and the emphasis on integrity at the University round out people very effectively. They are especially valuable to a service industry like ours. We spend a great deal of time communicating with clients and working with them directly to design complex systems. U.Va. graduates handle that very well.”
Rice, who grew up reading books such as Tom Swift and who describes himself as an “aging technology junkie,” was looking for a chance to contribute to the school’s continued strength and prominence. By supporting the ITE building, he is ensuring that the University will keep a competitive edge in an ever-developing field, one filled with plenty of “gee-whiz” potential. “Information technology is at the core of our business, and of an awful lot of other businesses, and it is my hope that the Engineering School continues to provide a nationally competitive program that produces the people our industry needs,” he said.
“Paul and Gina Rice have provided the transformational vision and generosity for the University’s strategic priority in information technology over the next century,” said James H. Aylor, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “Their philanthropy will accelerate the school’s ability to serve critically important research and technology needs for the entire University for decades to come.”
The ITE building will support the goals identified by a Virginia 2020 commission, chaired by Anita Jones, the Lawrence R. Quarles Professor of Engineering and Applied Science at U.Va. Endorsed by the Board of Visitors, the Computer and Information Science and Engineering initiative, or CISE, made construction of a new building its highest priority. This 100,000-square-foot facility for the computer engineering, computer science and systems engineering departments will bring together all of the Engineering School’s major programs related to IT. Its flexible spaces will accommodate collaborative research activities and student interest across the University, as well as industry outreach.
Plans for the ITE building include much-needed facilities such as multi-configurable classrooms and computer labs and a large stadium-style classroom. A library, a cyber café and meeting spaces for faculty, students and staff will help to build a cohesive community that embodies the ideals of Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village.
In the new building, faculty and student teams will research problems in areas such as high-performance computing, computer visualization, wireless communications, telemedicine, virtual reality, distributed multimedia and distance learning. The ITE building also will support domestic and international outreach through the use of electronic media.
The School of Engineering and Applied Science — founded in 1836 as one of the nation’s first three engineering programs — is the second-largest school at U.Va., with an enrollment of 1,993 undergraduates and 654 graduate students. It offers 10 undergraduate majors and advanced degrees in 10 concentrations. There are 175 full-time instructional and research faculty and 50 full-time research professionals, bolstered by a $62 million endowment.