State, local leaders dedicate new UT building with a bang

6:05 PM, Mar 14, 2012   |    comments
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Dr. Min H. Kao's first overseas trip was from Taiwan to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville some 40 years ago.

"I was immediately impressed by the majesty of the Smoky Mountains and the beauty of this expensive university campus," said Kao, who earned his master's degree from UT in 1974 and his PhD in 1977. He later went on to found Garmin, the GPS navigation system.

"But the memory most indelibly etched in my memories is that of Ferris Hall," he said. "It just looked and felt like a place that would inspire great thinking."

But after more than 80 years of inspiring students, the need for more students and new technology proved too much for Ferris Hall. And so the idea of a new engineering building began.

The idea began to truly take shape, however, with the $12.5 million donation from Dr. Kao. With a matching $25 million from the state, planning for the construction of a new electrical engineering and computer science building began.

The finished product -- a 150,000-square-foot, six-floor building with a five-story atrium -- was dedicated on Wednesday.

"There's a special feel around a university when you move into new digs or new buildings, and you can feel it in this place today," Dr. Joe DiPietro told a huge crowd that included leaders from UT, previous university donors and the governor. "It's really the dawning of a new era at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, but, more importantly, across the system."

The building includes laboratories, research facilities, offices, a classroom annex and is designed for LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification.

"It is my great hope that this building will attract the finest students and the greatest faculty, a building that will achieve the highest educational standards in electrical engineering and computer science, a building that will inspire its graduates to develop and pursue ideas that will create jobs and shape our world," Dr. Kao said.

He joined several other leaders in a special ribbon-cutting ceremony that included confetti shot from cannons and a balloon drop.

It was all to celebrate the precedent the building has set as an example of public-private partnership and the future students, faculty and jobs it may soon attract.

"As we work to recruit jobs to Tennessee, our biggest weakness, quite frankly, has been a lack of engineering talent, and this building is going to help remedy that, and, quite frankly, I think that, through the works of the University of Tennessee and our other higher ed institutions, we're making great progress," Gov. Bill Haslam said.

Along with the dedication on Wednesday came news that UT has already made some strides in national rankings.

The electrical engineering department moved from 38th to 34th in the U.S. News and World Report rankings for public institution programs, while the College of Engineering went from 41st to 40th.

"We're becoming a major national player," UTK Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said. "What we've got to do is intensify our efforts, keep moving up that slope, that trajectory and become better and better each year."

And now, the students on that path will learn in a new building, inspired by a UT alum, who once found inspiration on the campus himself.

"It is my hope that our future graduates will one day look back at the Min Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building with the same fondness as I have for Ferris Hall and remember it as a place that inspires great thinking," Dr. Kao said.

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