From staff reports
The largest gift any public engineering college has ever received -- and the largest to any public university in Ohio -- just got larger.
In January, Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis announced an estimated $80 million gift from the estate of the late Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ of Dayton, Ohio. The value of the estate is now known to be in excess of $91.8 million -- $79.1 million in cash and securities in addition to $12.7 million in property. The proceeds will support engineering education and research at Ohio University.
This gift brings the Russes' total giving to at least $100.7 million. Prior to this gift, the couple had contributed more than $8.9 million to Ohio University, the majority of which is held in endowments that support engineering.
The Russes' generosity has made them the largest donors in the university's history. Another engineering family -- C. Paul and Beth K. Stocker -- are next on the list with contributions totaling $31.9 million.
The Ohio University Board of Trustees named the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology in honor of the Russes' commitment to engineering education on June 25, 1994.
"The Russes have placed their remarkable legacy in Ohio University's hands. They have entrusted us to carry forward their commitment to innovation, to engineering and to the betterment of mankind through our stewardship of this incredible gift," McDavis said. "We are humbled by the magnitude of their generosity.
"We will honor the Russes' commitment by continuing to advance our position as a national public research university and by building one of the best colleges of engineering in the country," he added.
The Russes believed in putting support where it would have significant impact. In addition to supporting Russ College students, faculty and facilities, they established the Russ Prize to recognize engineering achievements that improve the human condition. One of the top three engineering prizes in the world, the Russ Prize is awarded bi-annually in conjunction with the National Academy of Engineering.
Russ Prize recipients have made contributions that are worthy of Nobel Prize recognition, but the Nobel Prize does not include engineering as a award category. Since its creation in 1999, the Russ Prize has been awarded to the inventors of the pacemaker, the kidney dialysis machine, the enabling technology for the heart-lung bypass machine and to the father of modern biomechanics. The next prize will be awarded in February 2009.
In order to ensure the Russes' gift takes the college to a new level of excellence, Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin is assembling an external, blue-ribbon advisory group to suggest strategies for allocating the resources. Still being finalized, the group's primary charge will be to honor the Russes' commitment to innovation and to engineering education.
"Their astounding gift to the Russ College allows those of us in the college to aspire for achievements we would have otherwise thought unattainable. That is their real gift: the freedom to think of the ideal college, without the timidity that limited resources would otherwise impose," said Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin.
The advisory group -- experts from the industry, government and engineering education -- will convene its first planning workshop this summer. The outcome of the group's work will be an academic plan -- including curricular changes, resource allocation, and future strategies -- designed to place the Russ College among the nation's top colleges of engineering within 10 years. The focus of planning will take cues from the college's strategic research areas: avionics; biomedical engineering, energy and the environment; and smart civil infrastructure. Planners expect that, in addition to supporting research, funds from the estate will support scholarships and leadership incentives for engineering students.
Fritz Russ would appreciate that emphasis on transformation and innovation. He earned his bachelor's in electrical engineering from Ohio University in 1942. Early in his career at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., he helped build the world's first high-voltage, RF-generated power supply, later used in every television set.
The Russes founded Systems Research Laboratories (SRL) in 1950. They built the single-story office by hand from the ground up -- digging the foundation and building the framework together.
SRL innovations include an instrument for space suits to monitor an astronaut's blood pressure and radio the data back to Earth: a breakthrough device that became the basis for central monitoring of multiple blood pressures in hospitals. Other milestones included developments in lasers, chemical warfare shelters, and artificial intelligence.
SRL eventually expanded to a multi-building research campus -- now known as the Russ Research Center -- in Beavercreek, Ohio, and grew into one of the world's largest and most productive, independent engineering and technology research firms. SRL had about 1,000 employees when it was purchased by Arvin Industries Inc. in 1987.
This Russ Research Center, a 28-acre research campus that offers a high-tech atmosphere and currently houses 13 companies, remained part of the Russes' real estate holdings and is included in the gift to Ohio University. It will be retained as a strategic partner in research and technology for the Russ College.
"Fritz and Dolores Russ lived modestly, thought expansively and gave generously, but they did expect something in return. Not recognition for themselves, not accolades, however deserving of them they may have been. They expected those to whom they gave to follow their example of thinking expansively," Irwin said.
The Russ College has a solid foundation of expansive, innovative thinking on which the Russ gift can build:
- The college's Avionics Engineering Center has been awarded more than $100 million in contracts from sponsors such as NASA, the FAA, and the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the only facility of its kind in the U.S.
- Gerardine Botte, associate professor of chemical engineering, has gained international recognition for her research on and development of affordable ammonia and hydrogen-based fuel cells to power vehicles, residences and commercial buildings.
- The Academic & Research Center (ARC), a new joint endeavor of the Russ College and the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, will be one of just a few centers nationwide to put engineering and medicine shoulder-to-shoulder in integrated instructional and research spaces to promote discovery and learning. Dolores Russ provided generous support for the ARC, a facility that includes project team rooms that will enhance a senior engineering design program that is already one of the nation's best at challenging students' engineering proficiency and professional skills.
"It is clear that the Russes shared a vision of the future of engineering education when they made their gifts to Ohio University -- not only during their lifetimes, but in their most generous estate gift as well," said Vice President of University Advancement and President and CEO of The Ohio University Foundation, Howard R. Lipman. "The Foundation Trustees are honored to be the stewards of this incredible gift."
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