Creating the New SCS Complex

As the Gates and Hillman buildings rise into view, the University reaches higher, too--toward a billion-dollar fundraising goal

It's an odd feeling to stand on a steel floor, 75 feet above the ground, where a few weeks earlier there was nothing but air. But that's how rapidly the steel has gone up at the new SCS Complex. Although plenty has been happening below street-level since last summer, the skeleton of the Gates Center for Computer Science didn't pop into view until this May. Suddenly, its unique silhouette began emerging on a daily basis; by September, the last beams were in place, and construction crews were erecting steel at the adjacent Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies.

Preparing the site presented unique challenges, says Andrew Reilly, the University's senior project manager for the SCS Complex, as he conducts a "muddy boots" tour for SCS staffers. Utility lines for surrounding buildings were relocated; solid bedrock was excavated and pulverized into aggregate; cribbing was constructed to temporarily support the ground near the Purnell Center for the Arts. "We have a six-acre site here, yet it's congested, because the building goes in many different directions--if it's not a building we're running into, it's a hillside," Reilly says.

Building the SCS Complex isn't just a physical challenge. With a price tag estimated at $98 million, it's also a challenge for the University's fundraising team, says Mark Dorgan, principal giving advisor for SCS. Almost $40 million has already been raised, including $20 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $10 million from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, and $9 million from alumni, faculty, and other friends of the University; but more fundraising work remains.

Many donors are sponsoring rooms in the complex. Some are being named in honor of faculty and alumni, but other donors are immortalizing computing projects they worked on, Dorgan says. "It's a cool, quirky thing to do in the world of computer science," he says. Besides leaving a lasting reminder of a special person (or processor), the gifts can help inspire future students to become entrepreneurs. Smaller, but important donations include $3,000 pledges toward the 250 seats in the Rashid Auditorium; about one-third are already claimed in the names of alumni and faculty members.

Fundraising for the SCS Complex is part of the University's newly announced campaign to raise $1 billion by June 30, 2013. Half of the money raised will go toward increasing the University's endowment; another 40 percent will go toward additional student and faculty support; and another 10 percent will be used for facilities and infrastructure upgrades. University officials say growing that endowment--which currently stands at $1.1 billion--is essential toward strengthening Carnegie Mellon's ability to launch new projects in strategic areas as well as to attract and retain the best faculty and students.

The fundraising campaign comes at a critical time for both education and research in the School of Computer Science and across the University, says SCS Dean Randy Bryant. "When I first came to Carnegie Mellon, I didn't have to struggle for funding," he says. "Now, research funding for junior faculty is much harder to get. They spend a lot of their time writing grant proposals." Adding new endowed professorships would allow faculty members to spend less time chasing grants and more time in the lab and the classroom.

Graduate students feel the same pinch. According to Dorgan, educating a Ph.D. student costs about $75,000 per year, including tuition, laboratory space, and living expenses. SCS has always provided complete funding for Ph.D. students from arrival to graduation, Bryant says. Most doctoral candidates are supported by research funding obtained by their advisors, while others have external fellowships. Any gaps between funding sources and the student's costs are made up through departmental resources; no SCS doctoral student has ever been unable to finish their degree for lack of money.

Unfortunately, those "gaps" are becoming more common, Bryant says, because private and public grants can sometimes be an unreliable source of funding. Some research areas fall out of favor from year to year, while others are over-funded. "This is putting a lot of stress on our overall financial situation," he says. "Having some internally-funded fellowships would help us support students in areas that are out of favor by funding agencies (these change from year to year) and enable us to continue our tradition of providing the most effective graduate student experience we can provide."

By increasing its endowment, the University can also offer more competitive financial aid packages to the best undergraduate students. Twenty years ago, Carnegie Mellon's undergraduate computer science program was in its infancy; today, it's "an integral part of what we do," Bryant says. Yet according to the University's statistics, federal and state tuition support isn't even keeping up with inflation. In some respects, it's actually gone down. Boosting the University's endowment will free additional money for financial aid.

The good news is that--like the steel at the SCS Complex--the fundraising total is climbing daily. More than $536 million was raised during a so-called "quiet" fundraising campaign that's just ended, and the ultimate billion-dollar goal is well within the University's reach--many of Carnegie Mellon's peer institutions are in the final stages of their own successful billion-dollar campaigns, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Gifts today to SCS will have a lasting impact that's measured both in bricks and mortar, Bryant says, and also in the intangible benefits created by initiatives such as the Quality of Life Technology Center and TechBridgeWorld. "We really feel like the opportunities here are limitless," he says. "But we need the kinds of resources that will help us get stronger and better serve the needs of society through our research, and students through our education."
Photos:

At top, the Gates Center for Computer Science takes shape, October 2008. (Ken Andreyo photo)

Center, Andrew Reilly (right), project manager for the SCS Complex, discusses the atrium in the Gates Center for Computer Science during a "muddy boots" tour of the construction site. From left are Walt Schearer, SCS associate dean for finance and administration; Joe Greenaway, Carnegie Mellon director of construction; and Jonathan Aldrich, assistant professor in the Institute for Software Research. (Ken Andreyo photo)

Third from top, Members of the SCS building committee add their signatures Sept. 26 to the ceremonial "final beam" of the Gates Center for Computer Science. Watching as SCS Dean Randy Bryant signs are, from left, committee Chair Guy Blelloch, professor in the Computer Science Department; Carlos Guestrin, assistant professor in Machine Learning and Computer Science; and Jim Skees, SCS director of facilities. Not shown are committee members Sharon Burks, former associate head of the Computer Science Department and assistant dean of SCS; Jim Herbsleb, professor in the Institute for Software Research and director of the Software Industry Center; Peter Lee, head of the Computer Science Department; and Manuela Veloso, Herbert A. Simon Professor of Computer Science. (Heidi Opdyke photo)
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Jason Togyer | 412-268-8721 | jt3y@cs.cmu.edu