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Investing in Duke Engineering: The Lord Foundation of North Carolina

Since 1984, the Lord Foundation of North Carolina has given $47 million to advance Duke Engineering teaching and research

From first-year students learning the fundamentals of engineering design to senior faculty pursuing new possibilities in quantum computing, tissue repair and solar energy, it’s hard to think of a person or program at Duke Engineering today that hasn’t been touched in some way by a gift made almost four decades ago.

The Lord Foundation of North Carolina (LFNC), established in 1984 to promote excellence in research, teaching and student programs in engineering and related disciplines at Duke, has contributed more than $47 million to advance those goals over the years. The funding has supported the launch of nationally recognized educational programs, state-of-the-art research facilities to attract top faculty and enhance graduate training, and a host of hands-on learning experiences for engineering students.

“Duke Engineering has been on an incredible upward trajectory across nearly every measure in recent years, and the Lord Foundation has provided a significant boost to our success,” said Ravi V. Bellamkonda, Vinik Dean of Engineering. “By providing a reliable source of funding over nearly four decades, the foundation has expanded our capacity to grow, pursue exciting new ideas and offer our students the kinds of personalized learning experiences that have come to define a Duke Engineering education.”

Across-the-Board Investments

Lord Foundation of North Carolina awards have supported Duke Engineering initiatives including:

  • students work with tools in the Design POD

    » Funding to launch and scale EGR 101: First-Year Design, which challenges student teams to design and build prototype solutions for client problems—leading to real-world impact and even two patents pending in the past year

  • Duke Electric Vehicles Team

    » Funding for student clubs such as Duke Engineers for International Development, Duke Smart Home, Engineering World Health and Duke Electric Vehicles (which won Guinness World Records for vehicle efficiency in 2018 and 2019)

  • Professor Joe Izatt with student in photonics lab

    » Support for symposia, seminars and graduate research fellowships through the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics, a cross-campus research and education initiative that brings together engineers, scientists and physicians advancing light-based technologies for medicine, energy, communications and more

  • Professor Amanda Randles with Pratt Fellow Stephanie Musinsky

    » Funding for Pratt Research Fellowships—18-month mentored research experiences for undergraduates. About 30 students annually graduate as Pratt Fellows; many publish research and garner other honors for their work.

  • Tatiana Segura with lab equipment

    » Specialized equipment for new faculty starting up research labs in critical areas such as quantum computing, high-performance solar energy technologies and targeted drug delivery. Duke Engineering's faculty has grown by nearly 50 percent over the past 15 years.

  • Olaf von Ramm and Richard Fair

    » Establishment of the Thomas Lord Professorship in Engineering (held by ultrasound pioneer Olaf von Ramm) and Lord-Chandran Professorship in Engineering (held by lab-on-a-chip developer and entrepreneur Richard Fair)

In recent years, LFNC has awarded more than $1.5 million annually to support wide-ranging initiatives across Duke Engineering, from undergraduate research opportunities in the Duke Smart Home to high-tech equipment for newly hired faculty starting up their research labs (see slideshow). In addition to these awards totaling over $29 million since 1985, the foundation contributed $18 million in the early 2000s to support expanding and modernizing the Pratt School of Engineering’s space for research and teaching.

LFNC is one of four Lord Foundations established in the 1980s by the late Thomas Lord, chairman of the board of the privately held Lord Corporation. Also benefitting are the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California.

With the acquisition of the Cary, N.C.-based LORD Corporation by Parker Hannifin, the foundations shared a distribution of more than $1 billion from the proceeds of the sale, leading to a distribution of approximately $261 million each to Duke, Cleveland Clinic, MIT and USC.

In addition to supporting engineering education and research and undergraduate financial aid, the new funds will enable the Pratt School of Engineering to continue the annual program awards previously provided through LFNC.

From Trolley Cars to 21st-Century Tech

A History of the Lord Foundation & Duke Engineering

View text version of timeline

  • 1924: LORD Corporation founded in Erie, Pennsylvania by Hugh Lord, a patent lawyer who invented a way to bond rubber to metal—solving major challenges facing the young automotive industry. The technology was first used in General Electric trolley cars and later in industrial engine mountings for everything from automobiles to aircraft.
  • 1970s: Mechanical engineer George Pearsall, dean of engineering at Duke from 1969-74 and 1982-83, consults for LORD Corp., now a global manufacturing company helmed by board chairman Thomas Lord and president Donald Alstadt.
  • 1979: After considering locations including Palo Alto, Cambridge, Pittsburgh and Austin, Texas, LORD directors relocate its corporate research laboratories to Cary, NC. Alstadt later notes, “Duke University, in view of its obvious capabilities, its private charter, and its obvious dedication to excellence and preeminence, was probably the single most influential factor in our decision.”
  • 1980: Alstadt joins the Duke Engineering Board of Visitors, serving for 24 years. He receives the Engineering Alumni Association’s distinguished service award in 1985 and chairs the school’s development committee from 2002-2004.
  • 1982: Thomas Lord establishes the JURA Corporation as a holding company for LORD Corporation stock, followed by charitable foundations with major equity interests in JURA. A socially responsible entrepreneur, Lord selects non-profit research institutions that share his vision of continuous learning and innovation as beneficiaries.
  • 1984: Thomas Lord chooses Duke University as a beneficiary based on part on Alstadt’s recommendation. On April 24, 1984, The Lord Foundation of North Carolina (LFNC) is established to support research, teaching and programming in engineering and related programs at Duke University, with Alstadt and engineering dean Earl Dowell signing the articles of incorporation.
  • 1985: LFNC awards its first round of funding to support projects including upgrades to undergraduate teaching laboratories and repair of the school’s high-speed wind tunnel.
  • 2019: At 35 years, The Lord Foundation of North Carolina has contributed more than $47 million in support of engineering and related programs at Duke. With the sale of LORD Corp. in November 2019, yielding over $1 billion to support research institutions chosen by Thomas Lord, Duke receives a distribution of $261 million. In addition to supporting undergraduate financial aid and advancing engineering education and research, the allocation will enable the Pratt School of Engineering to continue the annual program awards previously provided through LFNC.

Thomas Lord originally selected Duke’s engineering school as a beneficiary of his trust on the recommendation of LORD Corp.’s then-President Donald Alstadt, followed by conversations with Duke Trustee Fitzgerald “Jerry” Hudson E’46 (namesake of Hudson Hall), Engineering Dean Earl Dowell, President Terry Sanford and Chancellor Keith Brodie.

A member of Duke Engineering’s Board of Visitors, Alstadt saw both encouraging strengths and great potential in the ambitious young university. As he explained in a 1985 column for DukEngineer Magazine, “Duke is on its own fast track....[it is] sitting on the threshold of becoming a world-class university.”

On April 24, 1984, The Lord Foundation of North Carolina was established with a gift of stock holdings worth approximately $40 million.

As then-dean Earl Dowell recalls, “The engineering school’s total endowment when I arrived was $2 or $3 million, so this foundation endowment was far and away larger than any gift the school had ever received. The dividends over the years had a very significant impact on the school and vastly expanded what we could do.”

Since 1985, Duke Engineering has grown to include 1,260 undergraduate and 1,280 graduate students, with more than 15,000 alumni worldwide. The Pratt School is currently ranked No. 18 among U.S. engineering colleges by U.S.News & World Report, with a biomedical engineering program ranked No. 3 and environmental engineering No. 10.

With 156 faculty—up 25 percent in the past five years alone—external research funding has more than doubled over the past decade, reaching $96 million in new awards in FY19. Duke Engineering faculty now lead 10 major externally funded research centers in areas including quantum computing, epigenetics, metamaterials, environmental health, materials discovery, security and global sanitation. Currently, the school ranks #13 among all U.S. engineering schools in research funding per faculty member.