Major commitment to elevate UW-Madison undergraduate engineering education

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Faculty, staff and students gathered on Engineering Mall

Several hundred engineering faculty, staff and students gathered on Engineering Mall Sept. 17, 2015, for an event at which mechanical engineering senior Ben Wortmann announced a $22 million commitment to establish the Grainger Fund for Undergraduate Education in the college. Photo: Renee Meiller.

On any university campus, the sidewalks are teeming with students carrying backpacks filled with the books they’ll need for a day’s worth of classes and homework.

But in the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering, textbooks make up only a fraction of a world-class educational experience that transports undergraduate students beyond the theory and into real, meaningful engineering work that can change the world.

And now, a $22 million commitment over four years from The Grainger Foundation of Lake Forest, Illinois, will establish the Grainger Fund for Undergraduate Education to help augment that experience, providing College of Engineering undergraduate students an unparalleled environment that will position them for success, not only academically, but in their future careers.

“We are deeply dedicated to providing an outstanding education for our undergraduate students,” says UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank.  “The Grainger Foundation’s generous commitment will allow us to expand the range of experiences we offer to our engineering students, both inside and outside the classroom, to give them the skills they will need to design innovative solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems across a broad range of fields.”

Group gathered on stage

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank spoke at the announcement event. In her remarks, she told engineering students they are privileged to attend one of the top colleges of engineering in the world—a place where the best and brightest students have been challenged and inspired for nearly 130 years. And, she said: “With partners like The Grainger Foundation, we can give our students the kind of outstanding education that will enable them to do impossible things. That is how we change the world.” Photo: Renee Meiller.

Nationwide, the demand for engineers is growing—and the burgeoning undergraduate student body in the College of Engineering reflects young students’ interest in careers that enable them to make a difference in society.

The Grainger Foundation commitment comes on the heels of a $25 million commitment that founded the research-focused Grainger Institute for Engineering in the college in June 2014.

This new commitment will help launch initiatives that allow the college to educate an increasingly diverse population of undergraduate students and to enable a growing number of students to achieve their goal of becoming an engineer.

Among those initiatives are a peer-to-peer learning and tutoring center that focuses on student success and a level academic playing field for students from a wide range of backgrounds; state-of-the-art classrooms conducive to collaborative learning that solidifies students’ deep understanding of the material; and a design innovation makerspace that will be a hub for creativity, enabling students to roll up their sleeves, explore new ideas, tinker, build and experiment, and in the process, broaden their understanding of the entire cycle of product development.

Today, successful engineers aren’t siloed in a single discipline, but rather, they work in teams and communicate across disciplines. They must understand business, social, political, economic, regulatory and ethical issues so that they can make informed decisions and develop designs that don’t just solve a problem—they make sense for the people who will use them. This world—which presents societal-scale challenges in fields ranging from energy, the environment and sustainability to medicine and manufacturing—is the landscape for which the College of Engineering is preparing its graduates, says Dean Ian Robertson.

“This commitment will have a transformational impact on the success of our undergraduates,” says Robertson. “Opportunities for our students to work in transdisciplinary teams, to express their creativity and to expand their entrepreneurial skills have become an essential component in the engineering experience. We are changing the world by changing the way we deliver an undergraduate education.”

To view additional photos from the Sept. 17 event at which Robertson, Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Provost Sara Mangelsdorf and mechanical engineering senior Ben Wortmann announced the $22 million commitment, visit our Facebook album.

About The Grainger Foundation 

The Grainger Foundation, an independent, private foundation, located in Lake Forest, Illinois, was established in 1949 by William Wallace Grainger, founder of W.W. Grainger, Inc., North America’s leading broad line supplier of maintenance, repair, and operating products. Since its founding, the Foundation has provided substantive support to a broad range of organizations including museums and educational, medical, and human services institutions. Today, the Foundation is guided by the leadership of David W. Grainger (BSEE ’50), president and director since 1979.

News stories reporting the gift include:

Big gifts for U. of Wisconsin and Harvard(Chronicle of Philanthropy;

UW-Madison announces $22 million gift to engineering program(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Grainger Foundation pledges $22 million to UW-Madison engineering(Wisconsin State Journal)

Unveiled: UW engineering announces $22 million commitment” (Badger Herald)

“Major commitment to elevate UW-Madison undergraduate engineering education” (World News;

“Grainger Foundation pledges $22 million to University of Wisconsin” (tED Magazine;

“UW-Madison receives $22 million for engineering education” (Philanthropy News Digest)

Renee Meiller