The University of Maryland’s mathematics and computer science departments are receiving about $6 million in new funding after the Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative matched two private donations Sept. 10 to the college that totaled about $4 million.
A $2.5 million donation from Michael and Eugenia Brin — the parents of alumnus and Google co-founder Sergey Brin — helped establish a mathematics endowed chair named after the Brins. The state will match the donation with $1.05 million in additional funds to create a second endowed chair for the department, said Jaynath Banavar, computer, mathematical and natural sciences college dean.
A separate $1.5 million donation from Elizabeth Stevinson Iribe, the mother of alumnus and Oculus VR co-founder Brendan Iribe, also created the Paul Chrisman Iribe Chair in computer science. MEI funds will provide an additional $1.05 million to set up the Reginald Allan Hahne Chair in computer science, Banavar said.
The MEI, which aims to encourage private donations to state universities for applied research, matches university donations of at least $500,000 in scientific and technical fields that support economic development in this state, said Brian Darmody, the associate vice president for corporate and foundation relations.
The donation matches at this university account for two of six total state matches under MEI, Darmody said, noting the other four are going to the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University.
Nick Sohr, a state business and economic development department spokesman, said good professors are vital for state education.
“They’re educating people — preparing them to do work, start companies and be impactful members of the workforce,” he said. “They’re also doing incredible research, laying the groundwork for the next generation of technologies and companies. We love to invest in that.”
Sohr added that one of the hopes in endowing these chairs is to have them develop technologies and start companies that will “eventually hire Maryland people and create a virtuous cycle.”
For computer science, the Paul Chrisman Iribe Chair will place an emphasis on augmented- and virtual-reality research, a growing field that presents some exciting economic prospects, Banavar said.
The funds coming to the department will help position this university as a leader in research and innovation, especially in the AR and VR fields, said Amitabh Varshney, a computer science professor and director of the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.
“We have some expertise already in VR, but what this gift from Elizabeth Iribe and the state match allows us to do is to hire two world-class experts in virtual and augmented reality,” Varshney said. “There is no question in my mind that this will elevate our university.”
There are many developing applications for VR and AR technology, including surgical training in hospital settings, military training for U.S. forces and possible consumer uses for shopping, dining and tourism, Varshney noted.
He added that the computer science department is also working with the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center to consider how VR and AR could create immersive performances.
With new computer science funds, he said, it is important to foster a well-trained workforce and continue research and development so this university can “rise to the top.”
The MEI funds likely will also help staff the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation — which is breaking ground in 2016 thanks to a donation of more than $30 million from Iribe last year — and bring some great talent in the math and computer science fields into this state, Darmody said.
For math studies, these funds present a similarly exciting opportunity, Scott Wolpert, the mathematics department chairman, wrote in an email.
Banavar said math plays a key role in many disciplines and is a subject that all students take in some form during their college careers at this university. The state’s donation matches seem to signal recognition of the department’s role in STEM development and the foundational role of math in science and technology fields, Wolpert wrote.
“The Brin gift and state match will enable us to make faculty appointments at the very highest level, appointments that will raise the visibility and prestige of the department and the university,” Wolpert wrote. “With these resources, we look forward to hiring two distinguished faculty with preeminent records for research and education.”
In the end, Banavar said it’s all about providing the best education possible for this university’s students.
“We have been totally blessed by these donations,” Banavar said. “And ultimately it’s all about our students. [These endowed chairs] will help make a difference in young life, train the next generation and make a great impact in the state and the country.”
Staff writer Darcy Costello contributed to this report.