Taking Past Success to New Places: UW Moves Toward the 22nd Century
The most recent chapter in the UW’s history has been written through the generosity of friends and supporters who have helped define its character, reputation and in some cases its area of research focus. Numerous gifts in the most recent 50 years have supported the dreams of students, the growth of academic programs and some of the most innovative and awe-inspiring research being conducted in higher education. The result not only transformed nearly every corner of the UW’s three campuses, but resulted in some of the most ambitious acts of giving the University has seen seen to date. Bolstered by endowed chairs, scholarships, program support and new facilities, the University’s teaching and research exploded in the past half-century, and moved beyond the boundaries of Washington state to respond to society’s growing need for understanding, meaning and answers.
Gifts Propel Research, Industry and Society
Reinventing and rethinking the forest products industry set the University on a research path in the 1960s to better identify renewable resources. When Professor Reini Stettler created a hybrid poplar tree 10 times as productive as Douglas fir, his discovery changed the industry and launched the sustainable production of wood for paper fiber and biomass fuel. Paper industry executive Dick Denman, ‘50, and his wife, Mary Ellen, ‘51, knew these findings were important and encouraged further research with a series of gifts in the late 1980s supporting students, research, professorships and eventually the Denman Chair in Bio- Resource Science and Engineering. Most recently, the University received a $40 million federal grant for biofuels development to begin the next chapter in this research story.
The health care industry received a similar infusion of research founded benefits to the greater community when Dr. Leonard A. Cobb teamed up with then Seattle Fire Chief Gordon Vickery to found Seattle Medic One in 1969 — a revolutionary new approach to emergency care. Critical funding from the Medic One Foundation supported a study of local firefighters teamed with specially-trained medics to respond with emergency care at the scene of an incident. This paramedic system has become the model for emergency care services throughout the world, and in 1974 led journalists to call Seattle “the best place in the world to have a heart attack.”
Awareness of Society’s Issues Brings Inspired Change
On a fall day in 1968, as Erasmo Gamboa, ’70, ‘73, ’85, watched students coming in and out of the Husky Union Building, he realized there were more people on campus than in his hometown. And he noticed a small percent of the students were people of color. In response to this reality and the social upheaval of the 1960s, the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) was launched at the UW to assist economically and educationally disadvantaged students, including minority students. The legacy of this program includes more than 40,000 students who have been served and granted support — students like Gamboa, who today is a UW professor of American Ethnic Studies.
From this growing awareness also came the realization that higher education was in a powerful position to respond to the issues of these times. As this need for solutions from higher education grew, so did enrollment and a growing desire to see and help the most deserving students attend. It was during the presidency of Charles Odegaard (1958-73) that successful fundraising efforts began, with a joint effort between the UW and the Alumni Association, and with the help of hundreds of alumni volunteers.
Setting New Directions Through Giving
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, several transformational gifts began to have a profound effect on the University in terms of classes being taught and research questions being answered. As a young UW graduate, Chester Fritz, ’14, traveled to China and launched a career in international banking before donating $1 million in support of scholarships and China studies at what is now the Jackson School of International Studies. His generosity helped infuse the China studies program with new faculty and enhance the school’s national leadership in the field. Undergraduate and graduate international studies curricula continued to be developed, giving the UW the strong outlook and reputation it carries today.
Private gifts began to evolve during this time to strengthen UW’s faculty leaders as well. In 1979, former Regent and King Broadcasting network founder Dorothy S. Bullitt established the University’s first endowed chair. Soon, more than 560 donors joined in a five-year effort that resulted in the UW’s second endowed chair, the Robert H. Williams Chair in Medicine, named in honor of the department’s founding chair. Engineering’s first endowed chair, created by Metta Rehnberg in honor of her husband, and other gifts from the Foster Foundation, NASA and The Boeing Co., solidified the UW’s excellence in engineering, physics, applied math and business. By the end of the 1980s, the UW was a leader in computer science and engineering, just as the high-tech industry was emerging as a new driver of Washington’s economy.
During the Presidency of William Gerberding (1979-95), community supporters realized that private investment could be a vital mechanism to help higher education. When the UW Tacoma and UW Bothell campuses were opened in 1990, political, civic and philanthropic support came from surrounding communities. UW friends knew from the earliest campus days that this level of added support would provide an “edge of excellence.” Publicprivate partnerships have continued throughout UWT’s and UWB’s history and helped each campus through tremendous growth.
Memorable Gifts, Big and Small
As the University and the community grew, many people began realizing they could be part of the UW whether they had ever stepped foot in a class or not. The UW’s first university-wide campaign, The Campaign for Washington (1987-92), moved past its $250 million goal to raise $284 million, doubling the endowment and giving the University the extra resources it needed to recruit top faculty and students, especially research-focused graduate students.
Nearly 3,700 young scholars — and counting — have felt the impact of one particular gift. Bill and Melinda Gates created an endowed scholarship fund in the 1990s in memory of his mother, UW Regent Mary Maxwell Gates, ‘50. This year alone, Mary Gates Scholars have contributed to advancing research in diabetes, cancer and memory, as well as contributing studies in homelessness, transportation and government budgets.
While large gifts attract attention, gifts of all sizes make a difference. Especially memorable was a gift from 36 elementary-school children who donated $12 to help repair storm damage in the Washington Park Arboretum. The children had visited the Arboretum, part of UW Botanic Gardens, before the December 1990 storm and wanted to help restore trees damaged by wind. They were invited for a return visit in the spring to see how repairs were progressing.
Tackling Tough Questions on a World Stage
Another vital era was born when donors to a new fundraising effort, Campaign UW: Creating Futures (2000-08), rapidly evolved the University with support for the people, programs and facilities that continued to build the UW’s reputation. In addition to the new Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, William H. Gates Hall became the new home for the Law School and a third building, the world-class William H. Foege Building — named for the UW alumnus William H. Foege, ’61, who helped eradicate smallpox — became home to the Department of Genome Sciences and the Department of Bioengineering. Donors also helped the UW launch the Department of Global Health and efforts to raise the level of health for people here and around the world.
In addition to new scholarships such as the Students First Matching Initiative, donors continued to invest in the faculty as well. Friends to Arts & Sciences created 100 professorships in the college during this period — a remarkable achievement that ensured top-notch faculty would continue to teach students as well as support research and speakers that add life to the UW experience.
When Campaign UW wrapped up in 2008, nearly 300,000 alumni, friends, faculty, staff, organizations, corporations and foundations had contributed $2.68 billion to the future of the University.
The Next 150 Years Starts Now
As the University moves forward into the 21st century, faculty and students are building on previous successes, exploring new connections between established disciplines, advancing research in fields that were unheard of decades prior: neuroscience, quantum computing and genomics. Not to be outdone, core disciplines such as English, math and science continue to evolve and others, such as library sciences, now the iSchool, make headway in addressing emerging demands and issues.
Whether giving time or advice, $12 or $12 million, every generous supporter of the UW makes an impact on our community and the world. Each simple act today has the power to propel the University into another 150 years of growth. Today, the UW stands ready to answer the next decades’ questions. Working to solve local and global problems such as health disparities, social justice, and sustainability of the Earth, the University of Washington is only getting started.
As the UW steps up to meet and create change, we hope you join us in the journey. And as 150 years of supporters have done, together help make history.