A graduate of Portland State’s School of Engineering donated $8 million to the school March 18, the largest private donation in the university’s history.
Dr. Fariborz Maseeh, an Iranian immigrant who earned degrees in structural engineering and mathematics from PSU, made the unprecedented donation. Maseeh later earned his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and went on to found the IntelliSense Corporation, a successful micro-technology company.
About 200 professors, administrators, and alumni crowded into a large room in the Fourth Avenue Building, which currently houses the School of Engineering, for the announcement of the donation, which had been carefully kept secret.
“The magnitude of the gift sets a new high water mark for PSU,” President Daniel Bernstine said at the ceremony. “The members of the team hit a grand-slam home run.”
University administrators indicated that the donation marked an important step in PSU’s goal of heightening its profile in the Northwest. With the Oregon University System’s continually dwindling budget, private philanthropy is becoming increasingly important in maintaining the level of educational excellence, according President Bernstine.
Oregon University System Chancellor Richard Jarvis called the gift a “blue chip investment in PSU,” and said that it marked “a turning point for PSU and for Oregon.”
“This significant gift will help the college to advance its initiative of being regionally relevant and nationally prominent,” Robert Dryden, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science said.
Of the $8 million donated, $6 million will go toward a new five-story building for the College of Engineering and Computer Science, which will now be called the Fariborz Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science. The 130,000 square-foot building, which will be located on Fourth Avenue, will be called the Northwest Center for Engineering, Science and Technology, and will host nearly 50 new teaching and research laboratories.
“Not too long ago, engineers were perceived as second class citizens of sorts,” Maseeh said. “I have a vision that tomorrow’s freshman can walk into our new engineering building and be filled with excitement.”
The state-of-the-art facility had previously received about $6 million in private donations, from sources such as Intel Co-Founder Gordon Moore and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as $30.5 million in general obligation bonds from the state of Oregon and the city of Portland and about $2.4 million in federal funds.
Another $500,000 of the donation will be used to endow of the Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, which will be known as the H. Chik M. Erzurumlu Deanship, after the founding dean of the college.
The remainder of the donation will be used to fund two professorships, which will be known as Maseeh professorships, and five student fellowships.
The process leading up to Maseeh’s gift began with a December meeting in California between Maseeh and university officials seeking donations toward the engineering building. According to Maseeh, he was immediately interested in how he could help.
“Within the first 20 minutes we agreed we were going to donate,” Maseeh said. “The question was never if we were going to contribute, but how we could contribute in the best way.”
Maseeh, said he was inspired to donate to the school both because of a sense of responsibility to give back to the school as an alumnus and because he was impressed with the quality of the education he received while at PSU.
“I believe that the education I received here (at PSU) was very similar to other schools I attended,” Maseeh said. “Without PSU, my life could have taken a very different turn.”