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California couple gives Rice University $15 million to redesign education of engineers

Alumni John and Ann Doerr hope to motivate engineers to become leaders and entrepreneurs

Two Rice University alumni with engineering degrees – he a famed venture capitalist, she an environmental activist – have given their alma mater $15 million to transform the way engineers are educated.

The gift from the Benificus Foundation, a private charitable organization set up by alumni John and Ann Doerr, will fund the new Rice Center for Engineering Leadership and raise the bar for engineering educators nationwide. The center’s mission is to broaden Rice engineering education by incorporating current and emerging crises facing society and developing personal leadership skills needed to solve pressing global problems. The gift supports Rice’s Centennial Campaign, which was launched today.

“We are grateful for this extraordinary gift, which is generous not only in amount but in vision,” said Rice President David Leebron. “There is no limit to what talented and imaginative engineers will be able to achieve, and the education this gift makes possible will enable Rice to produce some of the great engineers who will help solve the big challenges facing our world.”

“We intend to be a beacon for other universities as we educate the engineers of the 21st century,” said Sallie Keller-McNulty, dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering. “We will think far outside the norm and emphasize communication, ethics and leadership across departments to revolutionize engineering education, and we plan to draw on technology, initiative, innovation and intuition.”

Ann Doerr said, “Our increasingly complex and global world demands great, ethical engineering leaders. And you can’t fake integrity.”

“The world’s best engineers are entrepreneurs and leaders,” added John Doerr. “They’re willing to take risks. They know innovation matters but execution is everything. It takes leadership to change the world.”

The search for the center’s first director is under way. “We are looking for someone who has the determination and character to truly change the world,” Keller-McNulty said.

John Doerr’s passion for engineering leadership has led him on a remarkable journey since his graduation from Rice, where he earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering before adding an MBA at Harvard, which recently gave him its highest honor, an Alumni Achievement Award.

He started his career at Intel as an engineer, marketer and top-ranked sales executive. At venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, he has become an entrepreneurial force as an early champion of Google and Amazon, among many other companies. His ability to recognize and help entrepreneurs commercialize innovation into winning products and services has placed him at No. 1 this year on Forbes Magazine’s Midas list of the world’s top 100 tech dealmakers.

Doerr’s interests as an entrepreneur and philanthropist extend to innovative green technology, urban public education, fighting poverty and the advancement of women as leaders.

Ann Doerr, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at Rice, is an environmental activist and a trustee of the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund.

The gift brings the Doerrs’ commitment to the Centennial Campaign to $22.5 million. A matching component of their donation could bring an additional $10 million to the center. Their other recent donations funded computational cancer research administered by the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology and two endowed chairs, one named for Kennedy’s parents and currently held by Professor Krishna Palem and one held by Professor Keith Cooper.

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