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Gift Makes New Building a Reality

kao_1.jpg Dr. Samir El-Ghazaly, professor and head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was out of town on business when he received a mysterious urgent phone call from retired electrical engineering professor Dr. James Hung requesting a meeting.

When the two UT professors finally got together, Hung told El-Ghazaly that an anonymous donor had approached him with an offer of a $1 million donation to provide scholarships to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). Delighted at the news, El-Ghazaly was even more astonished to hear that the same donor was considering a major gift to a university for a building, and that UT had a very good chance of being the recipient.

UT and COE administrators worked diligently to create an exciting proposal for the new building. Their efforts paid off when the anonymous donor, Dr. Min H. Kao, chairman and CEO of Garmin Ltd., one of the world's largest manufacturers of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) products, committed to providing $12.5 million for the new facility.

“I met Min Kao in the fall of 1973 when he arrived at UTK, where he had been awarded a graduate teaching fellowship,” Hung said. “I was sure that he would be very successful in his profession. We kept in touch occasionally, and I was happy that he thought of the idea to help a university.” For El-Ghazaly, the gift meant many new and exciting opportunities for his department. “It was a dream turned into reality,” El-Ghazaly commented. “The magnitude of this truly transformational gift is huge.”

The last academic building constructed on the engineering campus was Dougherty Hall, in 1962. A new engineering facility was one of the main goals on Dean Way Kuo's agenda, but the cumulative effect of years of tight budgets had resulted in a severe space shortage. Many of the college's existing facilities, including Perkins and Dougherty Hall, were far down the list of state capital improvement priorities. Estabrook Hall, the second-oldest building on campus, was near the top, but college administrators had been waiting for almost eight years for state approval on renovation funding.

Kao's donation for the new facility allowed UT and COE administrators to approach Tennessee's governor, Phil Bredesen, with a proposal to see if the funding could be matched by the state in order to expedite the construction of the building. Bredesen included the $25 million in his proposed 2005-2006 budget and the state legislature approved the funding in June of 2005, enhancing the building initiative to a total of $37.5 million. Kao also pledged an additional $5 million to match other private donations up to the same amount, with the goal of generating a $10 million endowment for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. This unique public-private partnership will allow the re-named Min H. Kao Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering to offer world-class educational and research opportunities.

hung_1.jpg “I am honored by this donation, but also I feel that we have a great responsibility to deliver what is expected of us by this wonderful gift,” El-Ghazaly added. “We also cannot say enough about Dr. Hung's contribution. We would not be here without his efforts.”

Hung hopes to see the ECE Department live up to the promise that the new building and endowment offers.

“I am sure, with the new building and additional funding, the ECE Department will be in a better position to fulfill its mission of teaching, research and public service. Especially, I hope to see the department produce graduates who are industry savvy, which is also the desire of Min Kao,” Hung said.

The ECE Department Building Committee, which includes Dr. Marshall Pace, Dr. Jack Lawler and Dr. Greg Peterson, are working with Betsey Creekmore, Associate Vice President for Space and Facilities, and Dr. Wayne Davis, the COE's Associate Dean for Research and Technology, as well as architectural firms Bullock Smith & Partners and Lindsay and Maples Architects on plans for the new facility.

The 150,000 square foot building will be constructed on the east side of the area of campus known as “The Hill,” between the Dougherty Engineering Building and Cumberland Avenue. The facility will contain modern classrooms, state-of-the-art laboratory and research facilities and two “clean rooms” to allow for development in research areas including solid-state electronics and multidisciplinary collaborations on nanotechnology, physics and biology projects. The college hopes to break ground on the project within the next two years, and the estimated completion date is 2009.

COE Dean Way Kuo said the new building is the result of collaborative efforts between Kao, UT administrators and state officials. “Dr. Kao's gift provided us with the chance to put a new engineering building before the governor and the state legislatures as a viable option,” Kuo said.

Kao, who modestly stayed in the background during the announcement of the gift to keep the focus on the building and endowment, said he is inclined to give to causes that inspire his passion and motivation.

“I am fortunate to be in a position to give back to a university that did so much for me,” Kao said. “The University of Tennessee opened its doors and offered me an opportunity to grow in my field. I hope the new facility will allow others to pursue their dreams, and will further position UT as a gateway to great things in engineering and innovation.”