UPDATED: Taiwanese CEO gives $12 million to UI

UPDATED: Taiwanese CEO gives $12 million to UI

URBANA — A $12 million gift from a Taiwanese CEO will fund an innovative learning center at the University of Illinois, part of a top-to-bottom renovation of a major engineering building on campus.

Construction will begin in early 2017 on the Sidney Lu Center for Learning and Innovation at Illinois, a five-story addition to the Mechanical Engineering Building, 1206 W. Green St., U.

It coincides with a larger renovation of the 65-year-old building, which includes an $11 million contribution from the university.

The gift was announced Friday at a press conference with Lu on campus.

Lu, who graduated from the UI in 1981 with degrees in mechanical engineering and mathematics, is a global leader in technology. Based in Taiwan, he is the first chairman and CEO of Foxconn Interconnect Technology, which designs and manufactures connectors for a range of electronics, including computers and cellphones.

Lu said the UI has been a “tremendous” help to him, “in terms of the education, in terms of value, in terms of support. That’s the reason I give back today.”

The 36,000 square-foot Lu Center will be built on the southeast side of the Mechanical Engineering Building, near the corner of Green and Goodwin Avenue. It will feature an innovation and design commons, state-of-the-art tools and equipment, “active learning” classrooms and large areas for student collaboration that will support study groups and project team work, the UI said.

The classrooms will incorporate new ways of integrating teaching, learning and technology — advanced concepts for solving real-world challenges with hands-on design, officials said.

“In this space, imagination and engineering will become one,” said Professor Andreas Cangellaris, dean of the College of Engineering. “Sidney’s immense loyalty to Illinois, and his vision for fostering creativity and inspiration in our students will open up a world of possibilities and new ideas.”

Education has move beyond simply teaching, especially in the Internet age, Lu said.

“Knowledge itself is pretty readily available through the internet. It’s no longer about learning the knowledge, it’s how to apply it. And when you try to apply it, collaborative efforts and hands-on practice are the most important elements,” he said.

Built in 1950, the Mechanical Engineering Building is home to the nationally ranked Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, which has 53 faculty and about 1,000 undergraduates and 400 graduate students, said Professor Placid Ferreira, head of the department. It was designed to accommodate the demand for higher education generated by the GI bill, and “not much has been done to it since” other than an addition for labs and research, he said.

The layout is a essentially a corridor with traditional classrooms and offices on either side, and the field demands more modern spaces that “inspire” students and allow them to collaborate, he said.

Department enrollment has also increased significantly in recent years, and it provides classes for other growing engineering departments, so many of the classrooms are too small, Ferreira said. The entering freshman class has jumped from about 170 five years ago to 225 today, he said.

The UI had already planned a smaller renovation, as the building was “beginning to crumble” and mechanical systems were old and inefficient, he said. The $11 million from the campus, provost’s office and the department was to address those problems and renovate some classrooms and labs.

Lu’s donation allowed the creation of the new learning center, and Ferreira hopes it will inspire other donors and alumni to add to the project. Architectural plans will be flexible so the project can be expanded, with more renovations or perhaps another addition, he said.

“I look at Sidney’s gift as a challenge for us to dream a little bigger,” Ferreira said. “This is the biggest gift we’ve received as a department, so it’s extremely exciting.”

Lu, who said he’s been a regular visitor to campus since 2011, knew about the building’s needs — a stark contrast to the new Electrical and Computer Engineering Building to the north — and wanted to help “make something happen.”

“That is the most exciting thing — to make sure that we have excellent facilities, that great students coming here actually have the environment to thrive,” Lu said.

One of the two houses that used to stand where the addition will go has already been torn down, and the other one is slated for demolition.

Lu has donated to the UI before. In 2013, he gave $5 million to create the Tungchao Julia Lu Professorship in Mechanical Science and Engineering, named for his mother, as well as new student scholarships and other department projects.

He will be honored this weekend with the College of Engineering Alumni Award for Distinguished Service for both his career accomplishments and service to the UI.

“Sidney Lu is a self-made success story. His accomplishments are an inspiration to our current students and his generosity will have a profound and lasting impact on our future students,” UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise said in a release.

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yeahokay wrote on April 17, 2015 at 11:04 am

Very generous! The name however immediately makes me think of "The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good!" Ha

mstook423 wrote on April 17, 2015 at 12:04 pm

I hope the gift comes with an endowment for maintenance and operation of the building.  If not the U of I will need to come up with that money and they claim they are going broke with the reduction in state funding.  Providing money for upkeep is not a very exciting to a donor but is a necessary expense that must be covered.

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