KNOXVILLE—Today, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, alumnus and Garmin International, Inc. founder Min H. Kao helped dedicate the new $37.5 million engineering building named in his honor—a state-of-the art addition to UT’s iconic Hill and a needed addition to one of UT’s fastest growing colleges.
Min Kao and his wife, Fan Kao, joined Governor Bill Haslam, Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, President Joe DiPietro, and other state and local officials to celebrate the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building. The couple committed $12.5 million with one stipulation—that the state would match the gift two to one. It did, bringing the project’s total to $37.5 million and marking one of the first such matching arrangements for a new academic building in Tennessee.
“The University of Tennessee opened its doors and offered me an opportunity to grow in my field,” said Kao, who graduated in 1977 with master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering. “I hope the new facility will allow others to pursue their dreams and will further position UT as a gateway to great things in engineering and innovation.”
After graduating from UT, Kao worked for several companies developing navigational systems. He saw great promise in the future of global positioning technology and joined forces with colleague Gary Burrell to start their own company. In 1989, the two launched Garmin. The name is a play on their first names.
The Kaos also donated $5 million to create the Min H. Kao Scholars and Fellows endowments and the Kao Professorship. This gift was also the foundation of a challenge campaign encouraging other alumni and friends to establish their own funds to support the department. An additional $5 million was raised providing tremendous new support for students and faculty.
“Dr. and Mrs. Kao’s generous gift laid solid groundwork to begin our journey to the Top 25,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “Their gift offers our students competitive education and research opportunities and provides much-needed infrastructure and resources as we continue to expand and enhance our institutional goals.”
The building provides much needed space for the booming College of Engineering. During the past five years, undergraduate enrollment increased by 27 percent, which is more than twice the national average. The number of doctoral students grew by 45 percent, which is more than four times the national average.
The Min Kao building streamlines six buildings that formerly housed the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science into one 150,000-square-foot engineering building. The centralization allows for more collaborative research between students. The building houses nineteen research laboratories, thirteen teaching laboratories, nine classrooms and faculty offices; a 2,500-square-foot, 147-seat auditorium; and an educational wing with smaller lecture classrooms which are available to other departments.
“The Min Kao building enhances students’ learning experience by offering them better laboratories for research,” said College of Engineering Dean Wayne Davis. “The building is also designed to accommodate the technological demands of these students’ work by having special power requirements for computations and network development. These technological learning spaces help them in their research and also help us stay competitive in our journey to the Top 25.”
Better facilities also help the university in recruiting and enrolling more students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields—which is a priority of the state and nation. The new building also assists with UT’s current outreach efforts in gaining interest in STEM fields to youth, women, and minorities by exhibiting its commitment to training the very best in these fields.
The building also houses the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks, a one-of-a-kind center funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, which seeks to develop smart grid technologies to overhaul our nation’s chronically overstretched electric power grid.
Construction began on the building in May 2007 and it opened January 2012. The building is built for LEED certification, which requires using environmentally sound materials, positioning the building to make the best use of natural lighting and using indoor lighting that is both cost- and energy-efficient.
The gift for the building was part of the Campaign for Tennessee, the most ambitious fundraising effort in the university’s 218-year history. By the end of the campaign in December 2011, more than $1.3 billion was raised for the students, faculty, programs and facilities on the four UT campuses, including more than $860 million for the Knoxville campus.
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