WSU announces record-setting gift for engineering

A conceptual rendering of the exterior of Schweitzer Engineering Hall.
Conceptual rendering of Schweitzer Engineering Hall

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University announced today a landmark $20 million gift from Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer, and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL). These investments will support the success of the next generation of students at WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.

The Schweitzers and SEL are each contributing $10 million toward the construction of the Voiland College’s new student success building on WSU’s Pullman campus. When complete, the facility will be a central hub where engineering and design students can innovate, collaborate with faculty and each other, and have access to advising, technology, and other activities that are foundational to their success at college and beyond.

“An investment of this magnitude is a game-changer for the Voiland College and for the entire WSU system,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “When people like Ed, Beatriz, and the employee-owners of SEL make a generous commitment like this, it is a resounding endorsement for all of our talented faculty, staff, and students in the college and across the WSU system.

“We are grateful for the leadership this generous investment represents and look forward to seeing it make a tangible difference in the educational experience for students for decades to come,” Schulz added. 

“When people like Ed, Beatriz, and the employee-owners of SEL make a generous commitment like this, it is a resounding endorsement for all of our talented faculty, staff, and students in the college and across the WSU system.”

WSU President Kirk Schulz

In recognition of this transformational contribution from the Schweitzers and SEL, WSU will name the new facility Schweitzer Engineering Hall. This investment represents the single-largest philanthropic commitment received by the Voiland College and is among the largest private investments in WSU history.

”Education leads to dreams, innovations, and new realities. WSU professors Mosher, Szablya, Baker, Flechsig, Hower, Seamans, Rigas, and many others opened my mind and the minds of thousands of students,” said SEL President Edmund O. Schweitzer III. “Beatriz and I are grateful for this opportunity to grow the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.”

According to SEL Chief Executive Officer Dave Whitehead, this commitment represents an exciting new chapter in a long-standing and successful partnership with WSU.

“SEL is pleased to partner with Ed and Beatriz to make this significant investment in engineering students at WSU,” said Whitehead. “Our connection with the university runs deep, from Ed’s days as a WSU grad student and professor, to many years of research collaborations. Hundreds of Cougs have joined SEL and contributed to our collective success over the years, with nearly 450 WSU alums currently employed by SEL.”

“The new building and the learning opportunities that come with it will increase WSU’s pipeline of engineering students and create a new legacy of exceptional engineering education for decades to come,” Whitehead added.

Opening doors for future engineers and designers

When completed, the state-of-the-art facility will house innovative and flexible classrooms, student collaboration and club activity zones, first-year student engagement studios and senior capstone project design spaces, and centers for academic advising, tutoring, and career counseling. 

Voiland College Dean Mary Rezac notes that demand for engineers, computer scientists, construction managers, and design graduates is at an all-time high. As that demand grows, so has enrollment in the college, which has increased to more than 5,000 undergraduate students.

“Voiland College provides an exceptional pathway to education and opportunity for thousands of students every year,” said Rezac. “However, our ability to continue delivering the very best engineering and design experiences is increasingly challenged by outdated classrooms and learning environments, many of which were constructed or last renovated more than 60 years ago.”

Rezac added: “By design, Schweitzer Engineering Hall will evolve to meet the changing needs of our students and the industries they are preparing to lead for generations to come. We are excited to share this vision with Ed, Beatriz, and SEL.”

Fundraising momentum grows

The construction of Schweitzer Engineering Hall represents the first phase of WSU’s long-term capital plan to modernize engineering facilities on the Pullman campus. WSU’s fundraising campaign will continue, with a goal to break ground for Schweitzer Engineering Hall in 2024, with further building construction to follow thereafter.

“We are deeply grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Schweitzer and SEL,” said Rezac. “Not only have they ensured the construction of the student success building, this gift opens up further opportunities to modernize all of our student’s learning environments.”

“Philanthropic investments like this have the power to raise the bar for the entire WSU system and encourage future partnerships,” said Mike Connell, vice president of WSU Advancement and CEO of the WSU Foundation. “We are grateful for the vision and leadership of Ed, Beatriz, and the employee owners of SEL. As fundraising for this important Schweitzer Engineering Hall continues, their commitment will inspire others to step up and get involved in this important initiative.”

Long-standing collaboration between WSU, the Schweitzers and SEL

WSU has enjoyed a robust partnership with the Schweitzers and SEL for many years. Over the past three decades, the Schweitzers and the Pullman-based company previously have together contributed more than $4.3 million to WSU. That support has spread across nearly every WSU campus and college, as well as signature programs like Extension, Northwest Public Broadcasting, and International Programs. It also includes the creation of the Edmund O. Schweitzer III Chair in Power Apparatus and Systems in the Voiland College with a $1.5 million commitment in 2017.

After completing his doctorate at WSU in 1977, Schweitzer was a member of the faculty at WSU and Ohio University before starting his business, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, in the basement of his Pullman home. In 1982, he left the university to devote his efforts full time to growing the Pullman-based company into a leading designer and manufacturer of digital protective relays for monitoring and control of electric power systems. Nearly every utility in North America uses SEL products, which can also be found in industrial and commercial power applications in 168 countries. SEL is also one of the region’s largest employers, with more than 5,400 employees worldwide.

Schweitzer is a recipient of WSU’s highest alumni honor, the Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award. He is also a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), an honor bestowed on less than 1 percent of the association’s membership. In 2012, he received the group’s highest award, the Medal in Power Engineering, for leadership in revolutionizing the performance of electrical power systems with computer-based protection and control equipment. In 2019, Schweitzer was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a recipient of WSU’s Alumni Achievement Award and Purdue University’s Outstanding Electrical and Computer Engineer Award.

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