The gift from Olsen, who earned his doctorate degree from the school's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, will support efforts to recruit and retain top engineering faculty, attract outstanding PhD students, and provide the dean and the department chair with funds needed to implement strategic initiatives. With $11.5 million in matching funds from UVA's Bicentennial Scholars Fund and Bicentennial Professors Fund, the overall dollar impact of the gift is expected to total $36.5 million.
Of that total, $15 million will be used to endow Olsen Bicentennial Professorships, enabling the engineering school to recruit and retain leading scholars who can drive collaborative research, advance technologies that benefit humanity, and foster an environment of innovation. Another $16.5 million will endow Olsen Graduate Fellowships, enabling the school to recruit highly qualified doctoral students from around the world; $10.5 million of that will be earmarked for fellowships in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The remaining $5 million will be used to create a Dean's Strategic Investment Fund in support of hands-on learning experiences, diversity programs, facilities modernization, and other strategic priorities.
Olsen is dedicating the gift to his former PhD advisor, materials science and engineering professor emeritus William A. Jesser, who went on to chair the department for twelve years. After earning his PhD in 1971 and completing a postdoctoral research assignment in South Africa, Olsen worked as a research scientist for RCA Laboratories. In 1984, he co-founded a manufacturer of fiber-optic detectors that subsequently was sold for $12 million, and in 1992 he co-founded a company that manufactured near-infrared cameras that sold for $600 million. In 2000, Olsen made what was then the largest-ever gift to UVA Engineering, $15 million, to build Wilsdorf Hall, which was named for two other UVA professors, the late Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf and Heinz Wilsdorf, and today is home to the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
"UVA is my family," said Olsen, who holds twelve patents, serves on the department's advisory board, and previously served on the engineering school's board of trustees. "That's where I come from, so I just feel closely associated with it and want the university, the engineering school, and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering to continue to do well."
(Photo credit: University of Virginia)