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Gates boosts top-10 computer science program

Giving News

Bill Gates

By Lee Clippard

One of the nation’s leading computer science departments is a big step closer to having a new, state-of-the-art home, thanks to a $30 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation’s investment will be paid as the College of Natural Sciences raises the remaining funds for the complex. The University has secured $30 million in commitments toward a $120 million goal.

The complex, which will consist of two buildings and a connecting atrium, will be named the Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex in honor of the gift. The buildings will seed the transformation of one of the largest and most diverse top-10 computer science departments in the United States by enabling growth and innovation in the department’s research and teaching programs.

“This investment will advance the University’s computer science program and help prepare future generations of innovative leaders,” says Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We believe it will also complement our foundation’s wider goal, to increase the number of students who graduate from high school ready to succeed in college, and then the number of students who graduate from college.”

The Gates Foundation joins the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation in contributing to this building campaign. The complex’s north building will be named Dell Computer Science Hall in honor of a $50 million gift the Dell Family Foundation made to the University of Texas System, of which $10 million will be used for the computer science complex.

The Department of Computer Science is currently scattered among six buildings across campus and has more than 900 undergraduate majors, 250 graduate students, and 52 faculty members. It has a 17 percent Hispanic student enrollment. The new Gates Complex will bring the entire department together for the first time, and will feature state-of-the-art laboratory space, classrooms, faculty and graduate student offices, a 200-seat lecture hall, and more than 24 discussion areas and seminar rooms. Large spaces and offices will support undergraduate student organizations, study lounges and project labs.

The world-class architectural firm Pelli Clark Pelli Architects is designing the 234,000-square-foot complex, which will be built in the heart of the campus on the Speedway pedestrian mall in the space currently occupied by Taylor Hall and the soon to be decommissioned Chilling Station No. 2. The complex will support growth of the department to at least 60 tenure-track faculty, a graduate program of about 350, and an undergraduate population of up to 1,500.

The department is credited with $8.7 billion per year in strategic economic impact on the technology economy in Texas. It produces between 16 and 20 percent of all computer science graduates from top-tier departments nationally. Among the faculty are three members of the national academies, a Turing Award winner, and the recipients of numerous other national and international awards. ”Our graduates are in high demand because computer science is the engine that drives much innovation and discovery in medicine, science, engineering, business, entertainment, transportation, and national defense,” says J Strother Moore, chair of the department. “It is basically impossible to be competitive today without computing expertise.”

“The Department of Computer Sciences is one of the best at UT, and its research and teaching missions are critical to the success of the University, the state, and the nation,” says UT President William Powers Jr. “Supporting this department during this critical growth phase will greatly affect the future of our students and the world.” Faculty and graduate students are working on pressing problems such as climate change, cancer and disease, genetics and DNA, safer and more fuel-efficient cars, robotics, cybersecurity, and national defense. These research programs will benefit from innovative “research clusters” throughout the building, where large collaborative laboratories are surrounded by multiple faculty, graduate student, and visiting researcher offices.

“The presence of the Gates Complex on The University of Texas at Austin campus will help us attract the best new faculty and students and allow us to merge teaching and research in an exciting new interdisciplinary environment,” says Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. “It will help us to better fulfill our mission to enhance the economic and technological development of Texas and the nation.”

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