On Wednesday, campus’ iconic Hill dedicated a new addition to its surroundings.
This new landmark is the state-of-the-art Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building. The dedication was attended by namesake Min Kao, along with his wife Fan, Gov. Bill Haslam, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, President Joe DiPietro and a host of other officials.
The building, which cost over $37.5 million to construct — $12.5 million of which came from the Kaos — will serve to augment and hopefully advance the college.
“The University of Tennessee opened its doors and offered me an opportunity to grow in my field,” said Kao is a press release from the university. “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.”
Kao, a UT alumnus, donor and chairman, received his master’s and doctorate degrees from UT in 1977 in electrical engineering. From there, Kao went on to work in navigation systems before beginning a partnership with Gary Burrell.
Burrell and Kao created Garmin, which has become one of the leading names in consumer, aviation and marine technologies for Global Positioning Systems.
While Kao’s success with Garmin has taken him to high financial heights, he has always remained committed to his alma mater. In addition to the money donated for the building, he has also donated $5 million to create the Min H. Kao Scholars and Fellows endowments and the Kao Professorship. Through these gifts, he has been able to affect the lives of not only individual students but also an entire department.
“Your generosity is going to be appreciated for as long as this building stands,” said Michael Pickelsimer, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, who was also a recipient of the Min H. Kao Fellowship and scholarship. “And your contributions have helped to provide a bright future for the department as well as students, and your gifts have made a difference for so many.”
Kao’s contribution to the department was also reflected by DiPietro, who saw this building as a nice infusion of energy.
“There is a special feel around a university when you move into new digs or a new building, and you can feel that in this place today,” he said. “And the best way to describe it is ‘Camelot’-like ... there is a spring in everybody’s step. There is a new sense of commitment to that enterprise around that college or in this case that department. It spills over.”
The Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department is one of the fastest-growing colleges on campus, and Kao’s numerous gifts will certainly play a part in its future growth.
According to a UT press release, “During the past five years, undergraduate enrollment (in the college) 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 new Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building will provide even more space for the college to grow as it centralized what had been a six-building college into a singular 150,000 square-foot building, with the ability for more and better interaction between faculty and students.
Ultimately, this building and its construction reflect the administration’s current Top 25 Initiative, “Big Orange, Big Ideas,” which Cheek commented on.
“Dr. and Mrs. Kao’s generous gift laid solid groundwork to begin our journey to the Top 25,” Cheek said in a release. “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.”