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February 18, 2008

Purdue alumnus provides gift for engineering learning laboratory

Stephen D. Bechtel Jr.
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Purdue will announce Monday (Feb. 18) that one of the country's leading engineers is providing a significant gift to the university's Ideas to Innovation Learning Laboratory that will be located in the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering.

The award from Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., chairman emeritus of the Bechtel Group Inc. of San Francisco, will be used to help construct and equip the $4.3 million learning laboratory. The laboratory is a facility of the School of Engineering Education, which is housed in Neil Armstrong Hall.

The announcement is being made in conjunction with National Engineers Week, which is being celebrated at Purdue and institutions around the country. It was created to raise public understanding and appreciation of engineers' contributions to society.

"Engineering has been pivotal in shaping this nation's industrial capabilities and making us the world's premier economy," Bechtel said. "Providing engineering students an authentic hands-on education based on design, creativity and innovation will help keep America's technological edge sharp."

The Ideas to Innovation Learning Laboratory will serve more than 1,600 students annually through the university's First-Year Engineering Program. In the summer months, it will be used by K-12 administrators, counselors and teachers taking part in engineering summer academies and other university programs.

"The goal of this learning laboratory is to make engineering come alive for students at Purdue," said university President France A. Córdova. "We will be able to significantly augment a learner's firsthand experience with engineering concepts and context."

The laboratory will consist of several team-focused, collaborative spaces: the Design Studio, Innovation Studio, Rapid-Prototyping Studio, Fabrication and Artisan Laboratories, and Demonstration Studio.

"The studios will form a physical representation of the design cycle," said Leah H. Jamieson, John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. "They will serve as a constant reminder to students to ask questions and to define the goals of success, invent potential alternatives, anticipate and plan for a chosen option, build a prototype and test, reflect based on evaluative outcomes, and refine as needed."

The laboratory also will be equipped with state-of-the-art learning technologies and advanced fabrication equipment.

In 2006 Bechtel awarded a separate grant, renewable over four years, to Purdue's School of Engineering Education to expand the university's educational research efforts to foster an interest in engineering in K-12 classrooms. The school has collaborated and partnered with Purdue's Discovery Learning Center in Discovery Park and other academic units on campus to develop new approaches to learning and teaching. The school also is the home of Ideas to Innovation Learning Laboratory.

"The Ideas to Innovation Learning Laboratory will enable our faculty to create a new paradigm for engineering education that combines collaborative instruction with a technology-enhanced learning environment," said Kamyar Haghighi, head of the School of Engineering Education.

Bechtel earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Purdue in 1946 and an honorary doctorate in engineering in 1972. He was named president of Bechtel Group in 1960 and became chairman in 1973.

He served under presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford in six federal appointments and, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush presented him with the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor for technical achievement.

Bechtel was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1975 and from 1982-86 served as its first chairman. He has received many awards in the field, including the Herbert Hoover Medal in 1980, both the 1982 Chairman's Medal and the 1997 National Engineering Award from the American Association of Engineering Societies, and the Founders Award from the National Academy of Engineering.

The National Engineers Week Foundation is a formal coalition of more than 75 professional societies, major corporations and government agencies. It was formed to ensure a diverse and well-educated future engineering work force by increasing the understanding of, and interest in, engineering and technology careers among young students and by promoting precollege literacy in math and science.

Purdue's College of Engineering is made up of 11 schools and departments: aeronautics and astronautics, agricultural and biological, biomedical, chemical, civil, electrical and computer, engineering education, industrial, materials, mechanical, and nuclear. The college also includes the divisions of construction engineering and management, engineering professional practice, environmental and ecological engineering and programs such as Engineering Projects in Community Service, Minority Engineering Program, Professional Practice Program and the Women in Engineering Program.

In addition to the more than 6,379 undergraduate students, the college enrolls 2,277 graduate students.

Writer: Clyde Hughes, (765) 494-2073,

Sources: France A. Córdova,

Leah H. Jamieson, (765) 494-5346,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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