Video story by Tonia Borsellino
A $50 million donation is paving the way for a new generation of engineers at the University of Florida.
The Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation donated the money to kick off a $300 million funding project taking place over the next five years. The gift is the largest cash donation in the university’s history and put the Wertheim name on both the College of Engineering and the planned Engineering Innovation facility.
Sporting orange-and-blue brogues, a turquoise belt buckle and a bright red fedora, “Herbie” and his wife Nicole arrived to the announcement ceremony as the Florida band played and a tunnel of Gator-colored fedora-clad students and faculty welcomed them. UF President Kent Fuchs and Cammy Abernathy, dean of the now Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering joined him.
“We want to graduate and prepare our engineers, both undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. level, to be able to discover how to do things better than they’ve ever been done before,” Wertheim said afterward. “We’re going to prepare them to have the tools to be great thinkers, not just great doers, but great thinkers, and great humanitarians, and great leaders, because engineers have an education no other profession has.”
Wertheim, a distinguished UF alumnus, holds more than 100 patents, including the UV coating used on sunglasses. He studied electrical engineering and optical engineering at UF, and has a doctor of optometry degree from the Southern College of Optometry. He is the founder and CEO of Brain Power Incorporated, the world’s largest manufacturer of ophthalmic instruments and chemicals.
Abernathy emphasized that this is just the beginning of a process to raise UF’s engineering stature.
“Let me be clear about this: such an undertaking requires more than just an expansion. It will require a transformation, a transformation of how we teach, educate and equip the next generation of engineers,” Abernathy said.
Following the ceremony, Fuchs elaborated on the five-year, $300 million effort to bring the college to new heights.
The first phase is new facilities, including the 80,000 square foot Wertheim Engineering Innovation building that will break ground in Spring 2016 and is planned to be completed by Spring 2018. Additional faculty, new programs and initiatives, and new companies will be involved.
“We hope to drive our research expansion to $100 million a year, up from about $60 million,” said Helen Goh, director of marketing and communications for the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. “We also want to raise our tenure and tenure-track faculty to 300, in addition to bringing in new graduate and Ph.D. students.”
Jared Stone, a mechanical engineering student and a member of the UF Engineering Ambassadors, was optimistic.
“It’s extremely momentous, how invested the community is in the university,” Stone said. “I’m hoping it’s going to draw more students to the College of Engineering.”
For Wertheim, that kind of thinking is part of what makes the college and building being named after him so important.
“I like that. It makes me feel good. I believe it’s a symbol of what I stand for and what our family stands for. We’re excited about that, it’s a monument,” he said. “Couldn’t have a better monument than one that has to do with education and the future of the world.”