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February 26, 2004

Gifts to benefit engineering facilities, visiting faculty

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue officials announced two major gifts to the Schools of Engineering's capital campaign today (Thursday, 2/26) as part of the university's celebration of National Engineers Week.

Kurz and Katehi
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Edward M. Curtis Jr. and Jan Curtis Spayth have given a combined $1.25 million to fund a professorship in the School of Civil Engineering to be named after their father, and Heddy Kurz has pledged $1.9 million to go toward the construction of the $46 million Millennium Engineering Building.

Curtis and Spayth have given Purdue $1.25 million to establish an endowed chair named the Edward M. Curtis, 1925, Visiting Professor of Civil Engineering. The chair is in memory of their late father, a Purdue civil engineering alumnus.

"One of the most important steps on Purdue's path to preeminence in learning, discovery and engagement is bringing the best and brightest teachers and researchers to campus," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke. "With this gift, Edward Curtis and Jan Spayth have allowed the School of Civil Engineering to take another big step along that path."

The gift from Spayth and Curtis comes in response to a challenge from Indianapolis business and civic leader William E. Bindley. The Bindley Chair Challenge allots $22.5 million to match other gifts and pledges to create 15 endowed chairs at $1.5 million each throughout the university. As a result of their contribution, the School of Civil Engineering will have two new academic chairs, one in Curtis' name and one in Bindley's.

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Two other donors contributed to the chair to reach the amount needed for the match.

This marks the second time that the school has received a Bindley chair. A year ago, Christopher and Susan Burke established the Christopher B. Burke Professorship of Civil Engineering, the university's first chair to be matched by Bindley's gift.

"We are very fortunate in the School of Civil Engineering to have alumni and their families who continue to be involved in the growth of the university," said Fred L. Mannering, head of the school. "The opportunity to add not one, but two endowed chairs in the school will help us continue to bring both the best teachers and most important researchers in the field to Purdue."

Unlike most endowed chairs at Purdue, which are filled by the university's most accomplished educators and researchers, the professorship funded by Curtis and Spayth will help attract visiting professors to spend a semester or year at Purdue. This will allow the school to bring in top faculty from other universities to work with Purdue students and faculty, both in the classroom and the laboratory.

"There are so many great professors at Purdue doing great things, but we realize that there are faculty members doing important work at other universities as well," Spayth said. "Ed and I are happy that we can help bring some of the additional expertise to the students at Purdue."

Curtis said the chair is a way for he and his sister to give back to the university that gave not only to them, but also to their father.

"Purdue and West Lafayette were really a second home for our father," Curtis said. "We all owe a great deal to the university. His firmest conviction was that Jan and I would both attend Purdue, and we can't think of a better way to memorialize him."

Edward M. Curtis Sr. was born in 1901 in Victor, Colo. He received his degree in civil engineering from Purdue in 1925 and married West Lafayette native Audrey Pilling, the daughter of Charles W. and Jewel Pilling. He retired from his position as a director of Nebraska Consolidated Mills shortly before his death in 1970.

While a student, Curtis was involved in many extracurricular activities including Scabbard and Blade, the Purdue Order of Military Merit, Reamer Club, the Purdue Independent Association and the freshman varsity football team.

Edward M. Curtis Jr. received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Purdue in 1949. He worked as a structural engineer for 23 years in Beaumont, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Anne. After that, he worked as a contractor for the U.S. General Services Administration and finished his career as a construction engineer on renovation projects for 100-year-old historical structures.

Spayth graduated from the School of Home Economics (now the School of Consumer and Family Sciences) in 1947. She lived in Williamsburg, Va., with her late husband, Frank J. Spayth, a retired electrical engineer for the federal government, until recently moving to Beaumont, Texas, to be near her brother. While at Purdue, Spayth was active in Chi Omega sorority, Playshop and Purdue Musical Organizations.

The university also announced that Heddy Kurz, whose late husband, Herman, earned a degree in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1925, donated $1.9 million toward the construction of the Millennium Engineering Building. The facility is the centerpiece of the Schools of Engineering's $400 million facilities improvement plan.

Last fall, Heddy Kurz, who lives in Louisville, Ky., also gave Purdue $2 million toward the construction of its new $25 million computer science building and the purchase and maintenance of instruments for the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band.

"The gifts from Mrs. Kurz are a testament to the importance of our alumni and friends in Purdue's journey to preeminence," Jischke said. "The Millennium Engineering Building will stand not only for the future of engineering scholarship, but also for the important contributions that Purdue students, alumni and faculty have made to the field."

The Millennium Building will be located near the intersection of Northwestern and Stadium avenues. The building will house the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the School of Materials Engineering and the Department of Freshman Engineering. It also will house the dean of engineering's offices, Engineering Projects in Community Service and the Women and Minority Engineering Programs.

The 125,000-square-foot facility will include more than 20,000 square feet dedicated to research labs and more than 60,000 square feet of undergraduate teaching facilities, including discipline-specific design labs.

It is the largest piece of the Schools of Engineering facilities master plan that will see the schools' physical facilities grow by more than 300,000 square feet, or 60 percent.

"The Millennium Engineering Building is the cornerstone of our expansion plans and is one of eight major building projects for engineering," said Linda P.B. Katehi, John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. "Besides providing facilities for students and faculty to learn and research, the new building will serve as a gateway to the future of engineering, both at Purdue and throughout the industry."

The School of Materials Engineering's portion of the Millennium Engineering Building will allow the school to double undergraduate and triple graduate enrollment to 125 and 90 students, respectively. Faculty size also will grow to accommodate the increase in student numbers and to position the school as a leader in materials research, particularly in the fields of processing, manufacturing and nanoscale technology.

Laboratory spaces will accommodate classes of 12-20 students. Since many laboratory courses include some discussion and lecture, the labs will have adjacent space for teaching and group presentations.

For the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Millennium Engineering Building will house learning modules that support research and hands-on learning experiences, and classrooms will be located with labs and discussion areas designed to facilitate small-group work. Katehi said these "team-learning modules" will give students a more integrated educational experience, easier access to the tools needed for classroom and lab assignments, and room for groups to spread out, share ideas and build solutions.

These areas will be strategically located near research and graduate labs so faculty can expose undergraduates to large-scale experiments and research opportunities.

"Herman never forgot the education he received at Purdue," Kurz said. "We both acknowledged Purdue's role in the success we have been able to achieve, and I am glad that I have the opportunity to give back in this way. The improvements in learning and discovery that will be possible in the Millennium Engineering Building will help to give those same opportunities to the next generations of students."

The couple also bequeathed a significant portion of their estate to the upkeep of Purdue's science and engineering facilities.

As of the end of December, the $1.3 billion Campaign for Purdue had raised $838 million to support the objectives of Purdue's strategic plan, which include raising $200 million for student scholarships, $200 million for faculty recruitment and retention, $200 million for programs and centers, $600 million for facilities and equipment, and $100 million in unrestricted funds.

Writer: Matt Holsapple, (765) 494-2073,

Sources: Martin C. Jischke, (765) 494-9708

Linda P.B. Katehi, (765) 494-5346,

Fred L. Mannering, (765) 494-2157,

Donald R. Fry, director of advancement and major gifts, Schools of Engineering, (765) 494-0164,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: B-roll video and video are available by contacting Matt Holsapple, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2073,

Linda Katehi, John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering, helps Heddy Kurz make a concrete imprint of her hands while, from left, Benita Tubbs, a sophomore in the School of Industrial Engineering, and Brian Schoening, a senior in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, watch. Purdue University's Schools of Engineering today (Thursday, 2/26) announced that Kurz has donated $1.9 million toward construction of the Millennium Engineering Building. The imprint will be built into the new facility in honor of Kurz. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at

Olivia Djibo, a graduate student in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Ivory Coast, helps several undergraduate students with a metal strain test experiment. The experiment is an example of work students will be able to do in the Millennium Engineering Building, where a main focus will be undergraduate education. (Purdue News Service/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo is available at

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