Two gifts will add faculty, help construct new facility

Oregon State University officials on Thursday announced a pair of multimillion-dollar gifts to the university, including a $5 million gift from an anonymous donor that is the largest single gift ever made to OSU’s arts programs.

Also announced Thursday was a $7 million gift from a mid-valley couple, Peter and Rosalie Johnson, to help create a new educational and research facility for OSU’s College of Engineering.

Peter Johnson is a 1955 engineering alumnus from OSU whose Tekmax Inc. company revolutionized battery manufacturing equipment. “Oregon State was instrumental in setting me on the right path,” Johnson said in a press release from OSU. The Tangent company was acquired in 2004 by TBS Engineering Ltd.

OSU President Ed Ray made the announcements at a state of the university speech in Portland. Ray also said that The Campaign for OSU, the university’s first campus-wide fundraising drive, had surpassed $900 million and should reach its $1 billion goal.

Leveraging an earlier $10 million gift from an anonymous donor, $3 million in additional private funds, and possible matching state funds, the planned $40 million facility for the College of Engineering will address space needs for engineering faculty, lab space for interdisciplinary research, and a center focused on improved recruitment and retention of engineering students. Construction will rely on legislative approval of state bonds during this legislative session.

The building, which likely would be located in the general area of campus that includes the Linus Pauling Science Center, would be home for the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, said Sandra Woods, dean of the OSU College of Engineering.

Woods said initial plans for the building call for a center on the first floor intended to improve recruitment and retention of engineering students, particularly first- and second-year students.

If OSU gains the necessary approval from the Legislature, the building could be open in three years’ time, she said, with one year for design and two for construction.

In an interview with the Gazette-Times after the Portland speech, Ray said the $5 million gift to OSU’s newly reorganized School of Arts and Communication includes funding for a new position, a director of performing arts. Ray said the hope is that position will serve as a liaison of sorts to other arts organizations throughout the mid-valley and statewide.

Marion Rossi, the director of the School of Arts and Communication, said the idea is not just to enhance OSU’s profile in arts circles throughout the state but also to help arts organizations in their own efforts, “so we become a much more prominent vehicle for making art happen.”

Among other items, the gift will establish endowments for four positions in the school.

Rossi said one of the gratifying things about the $5 million donation was that it underlined “the idea that the arts and humanities are central to the university experience. … Art is part of who we are as human beings.”

Ray said he was confident that OSU would reach its goal of $1 billion for The Campaign for OSU by 2014. He noted that the campaign collected $106 million last year. The original goal for the campaign was $625 million, but OSU officials extended the effort after blowing past that mark.

Ray noted that his “state of the university” speech in Portland attracted some 500 people, and he attributed that to widespread interest in OSU. He joked that if the speech had been about his term as OSU president, “it would have been me and three childhood friends on bar stools.”

Instead, he said, “It’s about Oregon State University and the role it plays in the state.”

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