A Strong Foundation

June 1, 2002

 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is giving Duke $30 million to support a new science facility and another $5 million for student life-initiatives, President Nannerl O. Keohane announced at the May meeting of the university's Academic Council, the faculty governance body.

Melinda French Gates '86, M.B.A. '87, a former Microsoft executive, is a member of Duke's board of trustees and vice chair of its student affairs committee. As an undergraduate, she majored in computer science and economics before earning her M.B.A. at the Fuqua School of Business. Her husband, Bill, is the founder and chairman of Microsoft.

In announcing the gift, Keohane said that expanding Duke's teaching and research capability in the sciences by bringing together different disciplines to address major scientific challenges, and enhancing students' out-of-classroom experiences, are important priorities in "Building on Excellence," the university's strategic plan.

The new multidisciplinary sciences building is expected to be named the French Sciences Center in honor of Melinda French Gates' family. Gates is a native of Dallas, where her parents, Elaine Amerland French and Raymond French, still live.

"Melinda French Gates is a wise and visionary leader at her alma mater," said Keohane. "We're grateful not only for the resources provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but also for Melinda's personal leadership in helping us shape and implement university priorities. Melinda, Bill, and the foundation staff have been typically thorough in evaluating Duke's priorities and generous in helping us meet them.

"The gift will enable us to create a much-needed science teaching and research facility that will unite disciplines and improve teaching and research in the biological sciences and related disciplines, giving more undergraduates opportunities to experience the excitement of science and research. It also will speed our efforts to continue enhancing the ways in which Duke students live, study, work, and socialize."

The building is expected to house faculty from the departments of biology, chemistry, physics, and biological anthropology and anatomy, says Provost Peter Lange. It will be located adjacent to the math and physics building and the Biological Sciences Building, and near the Levine Science Research Center. Lange, the university's senior academic officer, says the building "will feature state-of-the-art research and teaching laboratories appropriate for conducting twenty-first-century research and for training students in emerging fields such as genomics, biological chemistry, physical biology, and bioinformatics."

Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, says the $5-million gift will support student life through projects such as the renovation of the university's West Campus Union and Bryan Student Center. "This generous gift will accelerate our plans to improve the quality of meeting places available to students on our West Campus," he says. "We're looking to create or improve both formal and informal gathering places, including better offices for extracurricular activities, more multipurpose areas, and considerably more locations for informal interaction."

The Gates family has provided support to Duke before: In September 1998, they awarded a $20 million grant to establish Duke's University Scholars Program, which supports interdisciplinary study by outstanding undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. University Scholars are chosen not only for their record of "intellectual brilliance and fearlessness," but also for financial-aid need and diversity. They include undergraduates from every class, as well as graduate students and representatives from each of Duke's six professional schools, making the program both interdisciplinary and intergenerational.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is dedicated to improving people's lives by sharing advances in health and learning with the global community.