Duke to Establish New Center for Engineering, Energy and the Environment

A gift of $7.85 million by a Duke alumnus and his wife will create a center to educate students to meet the world’s energy needs while also improving its environment, university President Richard H. Brodhead announced Nov. 9.

The Gendell Center for Engineering, Energy and the Environment is being established by Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering in collaboration with the university’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

The center is being named for Jeffrey and Martha Gendell of Greenwich, Conn., whose gift will support two new faculty positions, learning facilities and laboratory support at the center, as well as an assistant professorship in the Nicholas School. The Gendells also have committed more than $2 million to endow a professorship, an associate professorship and programs in the Nicholas School. Altogether, they are providing $10 million of the projected $12 million Duke will raise for the center. Jeffrey Gendell, a 1981 Duke graduate, is a general partner of Tontine Associates, a Connecticut-based investment firm

“The Gendell Center is a wonderful example of Duke’s strategy to make a difference by building on its special strengths in collaboration to address real-world problems,” Brodhead said. “In this case, thanks to the generosity and vision of Jeff and Martha Gendell, Dean Rob Clark of the Pratt School and Dean Bill Chameides of the Nicholas School will work with colleagues across the university to attract outstanding faculty and deepen student engagement in energy and the environment.”

It is expected that the center will develop courses leading to a new undergraduate certificate program in energy and the environment. It also will provide a new home where faculty, students and industry professionals can interact, whether they are pursuing basic scientific questions or real-world applications on issues ranging from atmospheric chemistry to new energy-saving ideas for homes, vehicles or workplaces.

“This is not an environmental problem alone. Its not an engineering problem alone,” Brodhead said in making the announcement at a special gathering of Pratt’s Board of Visitors with faculty and students from both schools. “It’s the marriage those two that will bring us solutions.”

The center is likely to be located initially in Pratt’s Hudson Hall and feature new classrooms, laboratories and meeting spaces. It will later become a prominent part of a new engineering design center now being planned. Administered by the Pratt School in consultation with Nicholas School leaders, the center will be led by an academic committee of faculty members from both schools and guided by an external advisory board.

Tod Laursen, the Pratt School’s senior associate dean for education and co-director of the Computational Mechanics Laboratory in its Department of Civil Engineering, will be the center’s first director.

“We are particularly excited that this center will focus on intensive and sustained engagement of students across the disciplines, working in teams that will produce real solutions that have been vetted technically, economically and environmentally,” Laursen said. “We know that such cross-disciplinary engagement is the future of engineering education, and the problems both Pratt and Trinity (College of Arts and Sciences) students will engage in this program demand the holistic approach we will feature.”

“Martha and I saw an opportunity for undergraduates to work on very important, very real problems,” Jeffrey Gendell said. “Solving our energy needs without sacrificing our environment is perhaps the greatest challenge facing the 21st century. Pratt and Nicholas students and faculty working together can certainly contribute a lot to help meet that challenge, and we are happy to provide some of the resources necessary for that process.”

“Its time to do something a little bit different,” he said.