Credit Where It’s Due
Two of the University’s most prolific and generous donors receive long-overdue public recognition for their UT philanthropy
A certain very generous husband and wife have long been among the University’s top donors. And for about as long, they have declined the spotlight. But this spring, after years of encouragement from University leaders, Peter and Edith O’Donnell of Dallas decided the time was right to shed their anonymity. UT’s Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences Building, home to the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES), is now—with the couple’s blessing—the O’Donnell Building for Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences.
The celebration of a decade of innovative work at ICES, an initiative Peter O’Donnell holds dear and has supported since its inception, provided the occasion. “On the 10th anniversary of the institute,” the investor and philanthropist says, “Edith and I thought it would be appropriate to honor the request of the University to rename the building.”
The O’Donnells and their eponymous foundation are well known for supporting higher education, particularly engineering, science, and mathematics. They have given more than $135 million to the University since 1983, including 156 endowments for student fellowships, faculty support, and graduate education programs. The total market value of the endowments and accompanying matches currently exceeds $418 million.
President Bill Powers says the building naming acknowledges what the former “Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous” have done for UT for decades. “By any measure, Peter and Edith O’Donnell are among the greatest supporters of The University of Texas in its 130-year history,” Powers says. “Their transformative generosity is based on the belief in our power to change society for the better. It brings honor to UT to have their names connected with the campus in perpetuity.”
Edith O’Donnell received the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1989. Peter, who earned degrees from other universities, was given the Distinguished Service Award, the Texas Exes’ highest honor for a non-alumnus, in 2003. He is also a recipient of UT System’s Santa Rita Award and was tapped for UT’s Presidential Citation earlier this year.
ICES draws together faculty from 18 University departments to teach graduate students and conduct research. The institute’s work combines advanced computing, math, and various scientific disciplines to address formidable technological challenges. These include treatment of cardiovascular disease, new sources of energy, the design of advanced materials, nanomanufacturing, and many more.
Built specifically for ICES, the $32 million O’Donnell Building came about under an unusual arrangement in which the foundation leased the land from the University, constructed the building, and then deeded it to UT. With hands-on supervision by Peter O’Donnell, it was completed in record time and within budget. From the beginning it has attracted outstanding students, scientists, and engineers from around the world. Located in the heart of UT’s engineering and science complex and designed for continual upgrading, the building houses a 2,900-square-foot visualization lab, bandwidth-intensive research space for 300 graduate students, electronic seminar and videoconferencing rooms, and fully equipped offices for visiting researchers.
The O’Donnells have made nearly all of their gifts on the condition that matching funds would be raised and that the gifts would bear the names of those providing the matches. The single exception is the Peter O’Donnell, Jr. Centennial Chair in Computing Systems, which is assigned to the ICES director — a position that so far has been filled solely by founding ICES director J. Tinsley Oden, who also holds the Cockrell Family Regents’ Chair in Engineering #2.
“No one in history has had a greater impact on science and engineering in Texas than Peter O’Donnell,” says Oden, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and professor of aerospace engineering, engineering mechanics, computer science, and math. “His extremely generous and strategically planned support of computational science and engineering has made possible the creation of one of the top academic and research programs in the world and has led to advances of great benefit to not only all Texans but to all Americans.”
And now, along with Edith, his partner in philanthropy and in life, he is anonymous no more.
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