A $25 million grant will allow the UW-Madison College of Engineering to hire 25 new faculty members with the goals of creating a more interdisciplinary teaching approach and focusing on manufacturing advances to boost the nation’s economic competitiveness.
Ian Robertson, dean of the College of Engineering, announced Monday that The Grainger Foundation will make the donation to create the Grainger Institute for Engineering.
“This will allow us to make many new discoveries and enhance the university’s reputation as a leader in advancements that solve some of the worlds biggest problems,” Robertson said.
David Grainger, president and director of the foundation, is a UW-Madison alumnus. He graduated with a degree in engineering in 1950, and Grainger Hall, home to the School of Business, was named for him. W. W. Grainger, Inc., supplies maintenance, repair and operating products.
Grainger Foundation officials declined to comment.
Housed within the College of Engineering, the commitment — the largest in the college’s history — will allow the college to up their faculty count from approximately 225 people to 250.
“We’ll be seeking highly creative faculty who are the top people in their fields,” said Renee Meiller, a spokeswoman for the College of Engineering. “Top faculty think to the future and make research advances that have the power to change or impact their fields in dramatic ways. They might, for example, be implemented in new products, improve existing products, help solve a challenge important to society or lead to discoveries in other areas.”
The new faculty members will be hired in clusters of different backgrounds and will be appointed to two departments in the college. The college’s mission is to create a more transdisciplinary education for the nearly 5,600 undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled in the program, as well as future students.
“By bridging multiple disciplines, like computer engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, we can come together and focus on major problems,” Robertson said.
Robertson said the college will hold off on setting a specific focus until a director is hired. The job posting for that position is currently being finalized, but Robertson said the search will likely start as early as the end of next week.
Robertson said the college wants the institute and the new and old faculty to help determine the direction the research will go in. He said some of the many challenges college faculty will tackle include energy, transportation, water and health care.
“It’s a scope that will be defined greater as they move forward,” Robertson said.
Robertson said the institute will start with tackling various manufacturing issues, such as consuming fewer materials and energy and producing less waste. This, he said, will allow companies to bring new products to the market more quickly and economically.
Robertson said this could further speed up the “renaissance” of American manufacturing.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently announced that in the fourth quarter of last year, manufacturing was one of the leading contributors to the increase in economic output. The economic impact of nondurable-goods manufacturing — goods that are rapidly consumed, such as food, gas and clothing — increased by almost 19 percent in that quarter.
“There is a resurgence of manufacturing in the U.S.,” Robertson said. “Companies are coming back here. To maintain that, we need to keep them at the forefront by providing them with a skilled workforce.”
The Institute will also act as an incubator, which will allow the college to continuously launch and research new concepts. The goal is to create more self-sustaining research centers.
“The positive and transformative effects of this investment within the College of Engineering will resonate throughout the state and our nation far into the future,” UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement. “The institute will accelerate the renaissance of the U.S. manufacturing industry and enhance the nation’s economy.”
Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Grainger Hall was named after David Grainger and that W.W. Grainger supplies maintenance, repair and operating products.