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Public-Private Partnership to Build Engineering Facility, Enhance Programs

Dr. Min Kao
Dr. Min Kao
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Through a new public-private partnership, the University of Tennessee's College of Engineering will build a $37.5 million electrical and computer engineering building and make program enhancements that will boost its international prominence.

The Tennessee legislature approved $25 million for the facility, one of the largest capital projects in Governor Phil Bredesen's 2005-2006 budget. UT Alumnus Dr. Min H. Kao, a 1977 electrical engineering graduate, has provided $12.5 million in private funding for the building. Kao has pledged an additional $5 million to match gifts, up to $5 million, to generate a $10 million endowment to support the department.

Kao's $17.5 million gift is the single largest private donation in UT Knoxville history. The department will soon become the Min H. Kao Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the building also will be named in his honor.

"I am fortunate to be in a position to give back to a university that did so much for me," said Dr. Kao. "The University of Tennessee opened its doors and offered me the opportunity to grow in my field. I hope the new facility will allow others to pursue their dreams and will further position UT as a gateway to great things in engineering and innovation."

The state-of-the-art facility, along with additional funds for new student scholarships, named professorships and fellowships, will fuel the College of Engineering's goal to be ranked among the top 45 engineering schools in the nation. The matching campaign underway is on track to reach the $5 million goal.

"As the University of Tennessee strives to be one of our nation's top research universities, we must continue to create exactly these types of public-private partnerships," Chancellor Loren Crabtree said. "This world-class facility, backed by strong funding for faculty support and student scholarships, will provide the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering the ability to compete with any comparable academic unit in the world. Dr. Kao has set a standard for business excellence and we applaud his generous support of his alma mater. We, as a university, will continue to strive for an equal level of excellence."

Kao is chairman and chief executive officer of Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ: GRMN) a world leader in Global Positioning Systems. Kao co-founded the business in 1989, and it has reported significant growth for the past 14 years. Garmin, headquartered in Olathe, Kansas with approximately 2,600 employees worldwide, has manufacturing facilities in Kansas, Oregon, Arizona, Taiwan and England, and has shipped more than 10 million products.

A native of Taiwan, Kao received a bachelor's in electrical engineering from the National Taiwan University and a master's and doctorate degree in electrical engineering from UT.

"We are profoundly grateful to Dr. Kao for this wonderful generosity, as well as to the governor and state legislature for serving as key partners in this project," said Way Kuo, dean of engineering and a University Distinguished Professor. "The commitment of Dr. Kao and the state will have a far-reaching impact on generations of electrical and computer engineering students for many years to come. This additional program funding will significantly assist the college in its goal to become ranked among the top-notch schools in the U.S."

The new facility will be located at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Middle Way Drive, across the roadway from the 11th Street Parking Garage. It will allow significant expansion of the engineering program to accommodate growing enrollment and provide the best environment for state-of-the-art engineering labs and equipment.

College of Engineering freshman enrollment has risen by 143 students to a record 537 students in the past academic year, an increase of 36 percent. The average ACT test scores for incoming engineering students have also improved during that same period from 25.8 to 26.3. Both factors show that state's HOPE scholarship offers strong incentives to high-achieving students, particularly in the engineering programs, said Kuo.

Additionally, college faculty have attracted an additional $5 million in research dollars, advancing to $26 million annually. The college has climbed in national rankings to 60th place in U.S. News and World Report's America's Best Colleges 2005 rankings.

UT and College of Engineering administrators are working with the Tennessee State Building Commission to expedite construction of the new facility. The college also will benefit from the legislature's recent approval of $19.6 million in funding for the renovation of Estabrook Hall, the second-oldest building on campus. The facility will house the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Engage Freshman Engineering Fundamentals Program.

"With these two exciting new projects, our College of Engineering is clearly on an upward trajectory," said Chancellor Crabtree.

For more information on Garmin Ltd., visit http://www.garmin.com/ or contact Jon Cassat at 913/397-8200.

For more information, contact: Kim Cowart, Communications Manager, Office of Engineering Communications at (865)-974-0686/kcowart@utk.edu