UW News

June 12, 2015

Microsoft dedicates $10M gift to new UW Computer Science & Engineering building

An early conceptual drawing of the new CSE building interior by LMN Architects. The final building design will incorporate an undergraduate commons (pictured) and instructional labs, seminar rooms, research labs, and collaborative spaces for students and faculty

An early conceptual drawing of the new CSE building interior by LMN Architects. The final building design will incorporate an undergraduate commons (pictured) and instructional labs, seminar rooms, research labs, and collaborative spaces.LMN Architects

Microsoft Corp. is awarding a $10 million gift to kick-start a campaign to build a second Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) building on the University of Washington campus, Microsoft General Counsel and Executive Vice President Brad Smith announced on Friday.

“This is an investment in students who will become the innovators and creators of tomorrow,” Smith said. “We hope this first corporate commitment to a new UW CSE building inspires others — individual donors, companies and those in state government — to support a project vital to the future of our state.”

Microsoft’s gift represents the first corporate commitment to a public-private partnership to assemble $110 million in funding to construct a new 130,000-square-foot CSE building. The new facility will provide the space to enable the UW to double the number of computer science degrees it awards annually, from 300 to 600 — an important step in closing a large “workforce gap” in computer science in the state. According to the Washington Student Achievement Council, Washington needs to produce an additional 2,760 bachelor’s degrees annually to meet projected employer demand.

Microsoft's Brad Smith delivers a talk on "Creating an Environment for Innovation" to students and faculty as part of UW CSE's Distinguished Lecture Series in 2012.

Microsoft’s Brad Smith discusses creating an environment for innovation as part of UW CSE’s 2012 Distinguished Lecture Series.Bruce Hemingway, UW

Yet today, UW CSE is able to accommodate only one out of three qualified students who apply to the major, even after a concerted effort by the University and the Legislature to expand enrollments. Microsoft has made closing the workforce gap a major focus, around which it built its YouthSpark initiative to create opportunities for young people in the state of Washington and around the world.

UW CSE — by far the state’s top supplier of computer science graduates to companies of all sizes and a nationally recognized leader in attracting female students — has outgrown its current space. Classrooms, lab space, offices and even auditoriums are at capacity. Tonight’s CSE graduation celebration has been moved to the basketball arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion because graduates and their families no longer fit into Meany Hall, which holds 1,200.

“The goal for our investment is to spur an expanded program that makes the joy, awe and the beauty of computer science available to more students,” said Jeannette Wing, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research. “UW graduates are a source of talent for Microsoft and our extensive research collaborations benefit the region’s computer science prowess. All of us at Microsoft want to see their computer science program continue to grow and thrive.”

The planned second building will complement the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, which opened its doors in 2003 and helped catapult the department into the first tier of the nation’s computer science programs.

“Kids who grow up in the state of Washington deserve the opportunity to be educated for jobs at the forefront of our region’s innovation economy,” said Ed Lazowska, UW’s Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering. “It’s incredibly painful to have to turn away highly qualified students from our program due to lack of space and funding. Microsoft provided the first corporate gift to the Allen Center. We can’t thank them enough for once again leading the way.”

Enrollment in UW CSE's introductory courses has grown to record levels and now serves nearly 5,000 students a year.

Enrollment in UW CSE’s introductory courses has grown to record levels.University of Washington

UW CSE is also experiencing unprecedented demand from nearly 5,000 non-majors annually who recognize basic computer science knowledge as a prerequisite for success in today’s technology-driven economy. These introductory classes have helped hook students from diverse backgrounds on computer science. In the past 10 years, UW CSE has doubled its percentage of female graduates, an achievement recognized last month by an award from the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Roughly one-third of the undergraduates receiving degrees in computer science tonight are women, more than double the national average of peer institutions.

“The new building will enable UW CSE to build on our recent success in recruiting and retaining world-class faculty, expand opportunities for our students to conduct cutting-edge research and educate more undergraduates from Washington,” said Hank Levy, Wissner-Slivka Chair in Computer Science & Engineering and CSE department chair.

“Microsoft has consistently, over decades, invested in UW CSE. When combined with anticipated strategic investments by the state, these resources will allow us to increase our capacity and prepare more of Washington’s students for Washington’s leading-edge jobs.”