More than 200 members of the WSU community gathered Friday afternoon on the Pullman campus to break ground on what will be the centerpiece of the revitalization of the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.
But as several speakers noted, the forthcoming building is more than its state-of-the-art laboratories and the spaces where collaboration and comradery-building will be common.
“Today’s groundbreaking isn’t just about this building,” Mary Rezac, dean of the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, said. “It’s about building an entire new community. We’re planning a new engineering and design district that will serve as the thriving home for the next generation of students and faculty that modernizes the historic buildings that have served us for more than 100 years. We envision a modern, vibrant ecosystem where faculty, staff, students, industry partners, and alumni can come together and do great things.”
Speakers at the groundbreaking event included WSU Pullman Chancellor, Provost, and Executive Vice President Elizabeth Chilton, WSU President Kirk Schulz, state Sen. Mark Schoesler, as well as several corporate sponsors who contributed to the project. WSU Board of Regents members Lisa Keohokalole Schauer and Marty Dickinson were among the university leaders and guests in attendance at Friday’s ceremony.
The Schweitzer Engineering Hall is the first step on the college’s path toward modernization, as well as an exemplary public-private partnership. To date, the project has received approximately $80 million in support, including $40 million from the Washington Legislature as well as a combined $20 million from Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. The latter gift was one of the largest made to WSU in its history.
“We’re really delighted and excited to be a part of this bold, new vision, led by Dean Rezac, for engineering education,” Edmund Schweitzer, president and chief technology officer at SEL, said. Schweitzer attended WSU as a student and later taught at his alma mater before going on to found the SEL.
“May today’s groundbreaking of this engineering building symbolize and renew our commitment to our land grant roots,” he added.
The Boeing Company is also establishing a new student success center within the building as part of its $5 million investment announced last year.
As part of her remarks, Chilton observed that the new building represents a commitment to the university’s shared goals and objectives and will exist as an extension of the entire Cougar community.
“At WSU, we pride ourselves on being more than just an institution of higher learning – although of course that’s our core mission – but we’re also a family, a close-knit community bound by the spirit of comradery, determination, and shared aspirations,” Chilton said. “We know that together, we can achieve greatness and make a lasting impact on the world.”
The deep connections between the university and SEL were celebrated by several speakers. SEL CEO Dave Whitehead noted that there are more than 450 WSU alumni currently working at the company in addition to 75 student interns.
Marielibeth Vanessa Moran, a computer engineering major, spoke to the audience about her childhood love of computers as well as the initial challenges she experienced finding a supportive community as a student. The sense of belonging that comes from finding a community comes with tremendous benefit, she observed, and is central to the philosophy behind the new facility.
“Every student has experienced moments where we wonder if we were even cut out for this, questioning whether our all-nighters will ever pay off. Schweitzer Engineering Hall represents a safe harbor that acknowledges these struggles. This building is being designed to ensure that we have our spaces where we can find our people, collaborate with our peers, seek guidance from ours professors and find inspiration in each other’s determination.”
More information on Voiland’s facilities modernization plan is available on the college’s website.