URBANA — The highly ranked engineering school at the University of Illinois will become the Grainger College of Engineering following another $100 million gift from The Grainger Foundation.
The gift brings the foundation's total support for the college to more than $300 million, including a $100 million gift for the Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative in 2013.
The naming of the college also honors UI alumnus William Wallace Grainger, who graduated from the electrical engineering program in 1919 and founded the industrial supply company W.W. Grainger Inc. in 1927. Based in Illinois, the Fortune 500 company now has more than 25,000 employees worldwide.
Engineering Dean Rashid Bashir said William Grainger's impact is still being felt 100 years after his graduation.
"We're just very excited and thrilled," Bashir said. "We truly appreciate the Grainger Foundation's faith and support for the college for so many years. We are so honored to have their name associated with the College of Engineering in this way. This is going to help us continue to extend our focus on excellence, quality and innovation moving forward."
The gift and naming were announced Monday after consultation with the campus Senate Executive Committee. UI trustees must also sign off on the new name.
It's the third major college on campus to bear a donor's name after the Gies College of Business and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.
The $300 million from the Grainger Foundation represents the largest amount given to a public university to name a college of engineering, UI officials said.
Nine other top 25 engineering programs in the U.S. News rankings have named engineering schools, including five private schools — USC, Columbia, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins and Duke — and five public schools: the University of Texas-Austin, University of California-San Diego, UCLA and Maryland. MIT and Stanford, ranked 1-2, do not. The UI ranks 10th.
Bashir, dean since last fall, said adding a name to the college has been a priority for many years. The designation grew out of conversations between the college, the campus and the foundation, he said.
"If there was a name you wanted to associate with our college, it would be that name," Bashir said.
"All of us here at The Grainger Foundation are delighted that this gift will further strengthen one of the most distinguished engineering schools in the world," David W. Grainger, chairman of The Grainger Foundation, said in a release.
As part of the naming, The Grainger Foundation will provide the $100 million unrestricted gift to the college's endowment, giving the college unprecedented flexibility to use the proceeds to support educational programs, research, faculty hiring and endowed professorships as needed, Bashir said.
Most gifts have some strings attached or are given out over time, he said, but "this is very different."
Provost Andreas Cangellaris, former dean of the college, called the gift "transformational" because it will continue work begun over the last few years to create new collaborations across campus in academic programs and research initiatives.
"We're experiencing times of significant change, at a pace that sometimes catches us off-guard," Cangellaris said. "Having the ability not only to respond swiftly to these trends but also anticipate them and ... invest in ways that benefit the world is priceless."
To start, the college will focus on strengthening its research activities and infrastructure, including retaining and recruiting top faculty, graduate students and undergraduates, especially women and underrepresented minorities, Bashir said.
Exact priorities will be defined through a new strategic plan the college hopes to unveil next fall.
"The timing of this is almost perfect," Bashir said.
Gifts of this size and flexibility are even more important given the state's budget situation, including the two-year impasse that permanently cut the campus budget by tens of millions of dollars, Bashir and Cangellaris said.
Looking ahead "we have to work on becoming more and more independent of state funding overall. Excellence has become expensive, to stay top-ranked and meet our undergraduate land-grant mission that we are fully committed to, and at the same time being excellent in graduate research. That's why this gift is very timely," Bashir said.
The Lake Forest-based Grainger Foundation was established in 1949 by William Grainger and since 1979 has been overseen by his son, David Grainger. Bashir said the company has a long relationship with Illinois, starting with William Grainger and continuing through his son.
The 2013 Grainger Engineering Breakthroughs Initiative supported the hiring of additional faculty, provided more scholarships for engineering students and helped fund the renovation of Everitt Laboratory for college's growing bioengineering department.
Through a challenge established in 2017, the Grainger Foundation is also matching all gifts to the Engineering Visionary Scholarship Initiative for undergraduates, dollar-for-dollar up to $25 million.
The heavily used Grainger Engineering Library opened in 1994 with the help of an $18.7 million gift from Grainger.
And since 1979, the foundation has also supported the new Electrical and Computer Engineering Building, the redesign of the Bardeen Quad, the remodel of Engineering Hall, professorships and other initiatives.
"We couldn't appreciate The Grainger Foundation's trust in us more," Chancellor Robert Jones said in a release. "They believe in our powerful vision, and they've invested in it aggressively — supporting people, programs, and facilities."
Born in Chicago, William Grainger graduated from Crane Junior College in Electrical Engineering in 1916 and entered the UI as a junior. In 1917 his academic career was interrupted by service in the Navy during World War I, but he returned to the UI and earned his degree. During World War II he served with the War Production Board as a Dollar-A-Year executive.
William Grainger first worked as a designer of electric motors, and early in his career he recognized the need for the independent distribution of electric motors at the wholesale level in the United States, prompting him to create his company.
He remained president until he retired from active management in 1968. He continued as a director on the board until his death in October 1982 at the age of 87.
The new $100 million gift from The Grainger Foundation is part of the $2.25 billion "With Illinois" capital campaign for the campus. The Grainger College of Engineering's goal is $550 million, and this gift pushes the total over $500 million, Bashir said.