New era in engineering to begin at Washington University

Renamed McKelvey School of Engineering will take innovation, technology and academics to new heights

Jim McKelvey Jr. has made an unprecedented and transformative investment in engineering education at Washington University.
Jim McKelvey Jr. has made an unprecedented and transformative investment in engineering education at Washington University. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

Furthering its strong trajectory as a leader in research and innovation, the engineering school at Washington University in St. Louis is taking a major leap forward and reaffirming its commitment to tackling the world’s great engineering challenges with renewed vigor, an ambitious strategic vision, and a new name.

Balloons and banners displayed in Whitaker Hall atrium
Balloons and banners were released at the Jan. 31 ceremony announcing the McKelvey School of Engineering. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

The School of Engineering & Applied Science will be renamed the James McKelvey School of Engineering, in honor of trustee and distinguished alumnus Jim McKelvey Jr., who has made an unprecedented and transformative investment in the school. The renaming was announced during a Jan. 31 ceremony in Whitaker Hall Atrium.

“The McKelvey name has become synonymous with innovation and entrepreneurship in the St. Louis region and well beyond,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “There is no better way to make a statement about what our engineering school stands for than by giving it a name that represents being ahead of the curve and blazing a trail of creative problem solving through technology.

“This is a historic milestone for the university and comes at a perfect time — when we are sharpening our efforts to advance innovation and entrepreneurship, coupling science with technology in all fields from computer science to biomedical engineering, and attacking global challenges such as energy and the environment. We are tremendously grateful to Jim for this investment, which expands the significant contributions the McKelvey family has made to this institution.”

The commitment will be used to fund endowed scholarships and professorships, as well as the dean’s highest priorities for advancing the school and its impact on lives and communities in St. Louis and around the world. In particular, the commitment will allow the school to create educational and research programs that integrate computing with the humanities, social sciences, arts and other disciplines, and it will support the school’s effort to enhance the region’s innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem. In addition to major support for facilities, McKelvey Jr.’s past giving includes scholarships and general support for the engineering school.

“Under the strong leadership of Dean Aaron Bobick, the engineering school is positioned for true greatness, and this is the right time to step forward with this investment,” McKelvey Jr. said. “Engineering fields are moving at an exponential growth rate, and to keep up with that requires tremendous investment of resources: human, physical and financial.”

“This is a great day for the School of Engineering and for the university,” said Chancellor-elect Andrew D. Martin. “We are embarking on a new era that builds on the momentum and energy under Dean Bobick’s leadership. We will unleash the tremendous potential of our smart and talented students and faculty and see where their talents will take us in the new world of technology and innovation. Thanks to the unwavering generosity and support of the entire McKelvey family, the possibilities are limitless. We are profoundly grateful.”

Jim McKelvey Jr. has made an unprecedented and transformative investment in engineering education at Washington University.
Jim McKelvey Jr. greeting guests during the renaming announcement Jan. 31 in Whitaker Hall Atrium. (Photo: Whitney Curtis/Washington University)

McKelvey Jr.’s family — including his wife, Anna; his father, James McKelvey Sr., an alumnus and iconic former dean of the engineering school; his late mother, Edith McKelvey; and his stepmother, alumna Judith McKelvey, MD — has a long legacy of dedication to Washington University. “We are a Washington University family through and through,” McKelvey Jr. said. “This university has meant so much to us, and it is my privilege to continue our role in providing for the engineering school’s future.”

“We are extraordinarily grateful to Jim Jr. and his family for their incredible history of generosity to the engineering school. Particularly now, while we stand poised to truly transform our approach to research, innovation and learning, this new commitment will allow us to advance the McKelvey School of Engineering into the next tier of top engineering programs in this country and the world,” said Bobick, who also is the James M. McKelvey Professor.

“This tremendous gift creates new opportunities for our students and faculty to tackle the world’s greatest engineering challenges, and to dramatically expand computing throughout the university.  At the same time, it helps ensure that a diverse population of students will have access to a world-class engineering education, and enable the school to be a catalyst for economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.”

Founded in 1857, Washington University’s engineering school promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. With top-ranked research programs in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computer science, the school attracts many of the best students from around the world to its 40 different degree programs.

The school recently launched several new graduate programs, including an interdisciplinary doctoral program in imaging science, one of only two such programs in the United States; an innovative doctoral program that combines data sciences with social work, political science, and psychological and brain sciences; and a new master’s program in cybersecurity engineering. New bachelor’s programs include environmental engineering, a joint business and computer science degree, and a joint math and computer science degree.

Key components of the university’s current east end campus transformation include two major facilities for engineering: James M. McKelvey, Sr. Hall (to open in 2020) for the Department of Computer Science & Engineering and other computational programs, and Henry A. and Elvira H. Jubel Hall (to open in 2019) for the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science. Since 2000, the school has invested more than $250 million in new and renovated space, which includes 700,000 square feet in the new engineering complex.

McKelvey Hall was made possible by a $15 million commitment from McKelvey Jr. in 2016 to honor his father who, during his 27 years as dean, transformed the engineering school from a regional program into a nationally prominent research institution.

McKelvey greatly strengthened the quality of the undergraduate and graduate curricula, particularly in emerging fields including computer science; significantly increased both undergraduate and graduate student enrollment; expanded the faculty; dramatically increased federal and other research funding; and grew the endowment for the school more than tenfold from $4 million to nearly $52 million. He also oversaw a remarkable expansion of the school’s footprint on the Danforth Campus.

About Jim McKelvey Jr.

Jim McKelvey Jr. is a successful serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Square, a revolutionary financial services and mobile payment company credited with empowering businesses of all sizes around the globe.

McKelvey Jr. is an independent director of the St. Louis Federal Reserve but is better known for his involvement in several St. Louis­-based startups, including Six Thirty (co-founder), LaunchCode (founder), Third Degree Glass Factory (co-founder), Mira publishing (founded when he was a Washington University student), and Square, the company he founded in 2009 with Jack Dorsey. He also is the author of “The Art of Fire: Beginning Glassblowing,” the leading textbook for novice glassblowers.

As a child, McKelvey Jr. spent formative time at the engineering school with his father during his tenure as dean. He applied early decision to Washington University and enrolled in 1983, graduating in 1987 with degrees in economics and computer science. While a student, McKelvey Jr. authored two computer programming textbooks.

In 2012, the engineering school presented McKelvey Jr. with its Alumni Achievement Award to recognize his groundbreaking entrepreneurship. In 2017, the university recognized him with the Robert S. Brookings Award, which honors individuals for their extraordinary dedication and generosity to Washington University. In addition to currently serving as a university trustee, he also has served as a member of the Alumni Board of Governors.

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