“Having this building at the heart of campus is making a very clear statement: that the University of Connecticut is ready to drive innovations, to catalyze research advances and to continue the momentum we’ve already picked up as a source for new and path breaking advances in research,” president Susan Herbst said at the ground breaking ceremony to commence the start of a 21-month project to build UConn’s new five-story engineering building.
A crowd of over 50 Connecticut senators, legislators, state officials, industry leaders and UConn faculty gathered at 61 North Eagleville Road, next to the existing Life Science building, on Wednesday morning for the groundbreaking.
“I think UConn deserves to have this level of investment in its flagship university. I believe this university needs to grow and by growing, drive Connecticut’s economy as well,” Gov. Dan Malloy said. “We need to make sure that we are dynamic, we are leading, that we are preparing a workforce for the challenges of the future as well as the present, and to make sure we have the talent and the skillset to compete with 49 other states and the rest of the industrialized world.”
The best way to grow the economy is to grow UConn’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program, Malloy said.
“With this building we can bring the best professors, the best researchers, the best students and the best minds across the state of Connecticut,” Connecticut Senator Kevin Witkos said.
The key is not only attracting students to the new school of engineering, but also keeping them in the state of Connecticut by offering jobs, Witkos said.
UConn partners with many companies in the state including Pratt and Whitney, GE and Comcast to name a few, Kazem Kazerounian, dean of the engineering school, said.
Dr. Francis Preli Jr., chief engineer of materials and processing engineering at Pratt and Whitney who also holds four degrees from UConn, said that 15 percent of internships at Pratt and Whitney come from UConn, which is a large amount from one university.
“We look forward to a continued relationship with UConn,” Preli said.
However, the building itself is just one step towards boosting Connecticut’s economy.
“I’m just going to use this opportunity for one moment to implore my colleagues to remember that the commitment to the University of Connecticut can’t just be about buildings. We have to be committed to keeping good, quality faculty and staff in these buildings,” Connecticut senator Mae Flexer said.
The state invested $1.55 billion in UConn, in which $92.5 million is going towards the 115,000 square foot building.
“This building will enable collaboration- feature no internal walls to separate researchers with the goal of creating dialogue, interaction and collaboration,”
The building, Kaerounian added, will also include research-biomedical devices and biomaterials, cyberphysical systems and robotics, micro and nano machines and manufacturing and energy systems in addition to genomics.
The funding for this building came from Next Generation Connecticut. According to Next Generation Connecticut’s website, Next Gen is Gov. Malloy’s initiative to expand educational opportunities, research and innovation in the STEM disciplines.
“Next Gen is only two years old and it’s already transforming our university,” Herbst said.
When Malloy signed Next Gen into law in 2013, he tasked the engineering school at UConn to increase enrollment by 70 percent, Kazerounian said.
“In that year  enrollment was 462. This fall the incoming freshman class is 671; more than a 45 percent increase. The graduate student enrollment increased by over 20 percent as well,” Kazerounian said.
2016 will be the 100th anniversary of four- year instruction of engineering at UConn, Herbst said.
“It gets right to the heart what a great research university does providing world class facilities for students and faculty members,” Herbst said.
CORRECTION – Sept. 10, 2015: In the first paragraph of this story, UConn president Susan Herbst was misquoted. In the two instances she said “advancements,” she actually said “advances.”
Emma Krueger is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.