Updated March 24 at 7:24am
higher education

Brown eyes College Hill expansion of engineering, announces gifts


PROVIDENCE – Thanks to the results of extensive faculty, staff and student survey results, and studies of student enrollment patterns and faculty collaboration ties, Brown University on Wednesday announced its intention to expand its engineering school on land within its existing footprint that the university already owns and within existing zoning regulations.

At the same time, Brown announced the receipt of $44 million in gifts toward the engineering school’s expansion, including what it termed “lead gifts” totaling $35 million from two alumni, who graduated from the engineering program before heading into business.

The engineering school, which was founded in 2010 after being an academic program that reaches back to 1847, has been a recent focus of enhancement planning, including fundraising, according to Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy, as well as co-chair of Brown’s Committee on Reimagining the Brown Campus and Community. He pointed to brain science programs, residential life and athletic facilities as other areas of high priority.

The school has determined that it needs an additional 100,000 square feet to accomplish its goals of increasing its graduate student enrollment by 50 percent (or 50 to 75 students), adding 15 faculty members to bring the total to 60, creating an entrepreneurship center, developing new educational programs, and updating existing facilities while building new ones.

Lawrence Larson, dean of the School of Engineering, said that the gifts were a first step in what is expected to be a $160 million campaign goal to fund the changes Brown wants to undertake. A separate capital campaign would be conducted for any structures that need to be built.

Larson added that the school is committed to growing its impact within the world at large as well as within Brown, pointing to existing efforts that include the Baby Imaging Lab, a longitudinal study of the development of infants’ brains, and nationally funded research on tidal energy generation as examples of the increased outward-facing orientation of the school.

Larson also noted that the school was increasing its ties to the business community in order to help develop job opportunities for its students and as well as to aid in technology transfer from faculty to industry.

And while he did say that there would be more graduate students in the future enrolled at the school, he did not expect an increase in Brown’s undergraduate population, although he did expect that more undergrads would choose engineering as a course of study thanks to the program’s enhancements.

Marisa Quinn, vice president of public affairs and university relations for Brown, said that the engineering school expansion plans have been the subject of talks with city and state officials, as well as neighborhood groups and others, and would continue to be as the university looked to modify its campus plan. She also said that more gifts for the school were “in the pipeline.”

Carey noted that the new facilities would be built in an area bounded by Brook Street on the west, Hope Street on the east, Waterman Street on the north and George Street on the south, and would be three-to-four stories high (within existing zoning) and that when complete, there would be more green space and openness than there is currently.

The decision to build on land that is part of the College Hill campus, as opposed to expand across the Providence River in the Knowledge District, where Brown built the Warren Alpert Medical School, was driven by the data showing that engineering students took many classes across the full range of the liberal arts curriculum, while non-engineering students were regular class-goers for engineering offerings. Carey said that the data supports Brown’s approach to undergraduate education, which allows great academic freedom.

In addition, he noted that building on the land identified allows Brown to keep its undergraduate classes within a 10-minute walking circle, which facilitates cross-pollination for learning as well as for faculty collaboration.


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