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Union grads give $51 million gift to support engineering and computer science

Union grads give $51 million gift to support engineering and computer science

Union College's largest gift in history
Union grads give $51 million gift to support engineering and computer science
Union College alumni Mary Templeton wipes away a tear as her husband Rich Templeton watches.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- Rich and Mary Templeton met in the basement of Union College’s Old Chapel. Rich ran the Rathskeller, a campus gathering spot for music, and Mary worked there.

Nearly 40 years later, the Templetons returned to campus Friday to announce a $51 million donation, the largest in the school’s history, to support the creation of the Templeton Institute for Engineering and Computer Science.

The donation will target an expansion of the college’s engineering and computer science programs, funding a new dean position and 14 faculty spots, increasing the number of courses the school can offer and pushing to support dramatic growth in the number of female students who graduate with engineering and computer science degrees.

“Union is obviously very special to us; in retrospect, it was the foundation of our lives together,” Mary Templeton said as Union President David Harris and the couple announced the gift at the end of a broader fundraising event on campus Friday. “[We want to] strengthen engineering for decades to come.”

Harris announced the gift at Memorial Fieldhouse during the public launch of Union’s latest major fundraising campaign. The campaign, dubbed “Powering Union: The Campaign for Multiple Tomorrows,” aims to raise $300 million to support financial aid and scholarships, endowed professor positions, technology and facility upgrades and new programs for students. So far the campaign has raised $221 million, including the Templeton gift, mostly from major donors.

Harris said the gift would enable the college to meet growing demand in engineering and computer science programs and allow more students majoring in other fields to take engineering and computer science courses as well.

“It doesn’t just make sense,” Rich Templeton said of the school’s focus on melding the sciences and engineering with the arts and humanities. “It makes absolute sense.”

The broader fundraising campaign is focused on supporting scholarships and financial aid, including financial support for the many overlooked costs once at school, expanding academic programs and professorships, and developing new experiences for students when they are not in the classroom.

The Templeton gift will serve as a foundation as the college looks to take its engineering and computer science programs to the next level. Harris said the college soon will begin recruiting for a new dean position to helm the engineering and computer science programs. The gift will also support about 14 new faculty positions. The new faculty positions will help keep up with growing student demand as well as offer new courses, Harris said. In time, the college may also use the funds to expand into a new field of engineering, potentially civil engineering or environmental engineering.

“We haven’t kept up as much as we need to with additional faculty in those [fields],” Harris said.

About 29 percent of Union’s graduates in engineering and computer science fields are women, Harris said. The Templetons, as part of the gift, set a goal of lifting the disciplines’ share of women graduates to 50 percent or more.

Rich Templeton, who graduated Union with a degree in electrical engineering, is the CEO at Texas Instruments, a major technology company based in Dallas, where he has worked since graduating from college. Mary Templeton, who graduated from Queensbury High School as Mary Haanen and earned a degree in computer science at Union, is a community volunteer and philanthropist in Dallas. She worked at GE for 14 years before moving to Dallas.

During the event Friday, Harris recalled visiting the Templetons at their Texas home a few months after starting in his role as Union College president. He said he was a little intimidated visiting a CEO of a Fortune 500 company and even more intimidated by the gated entrance to their home. But as soon as the door opened, he felt welcomed.

“There was Mary with a big smile and I don’t even know how many dogs,” Harris said.

He said the couple’s life experiences embodied what he hopes for and expects of all Union students: They demonstrate leadership; they are deeply involved in their local community, supporting others; and they appreciate their importance of having both technical knowledge and the broader perspective of the liberal arts. The fact that they met at Union and dedicated their lives to one another also serves as a reminder of how important the relationships made in college can be, he said.

The Templetons also represent a resiliency to the challenges of life. While on a family trip to the beach in 2013, Mary was paralyzed when a giant wave slammed her on her back.

“Life is going to deal you some surprises, some good and some bad, but life is going to go on,” Mary said during a commencement address the couple delivered at the 2016 graduation at Southern Methodist University. “And if you want to be involved, which I do, and if you want to make a difference, which I do, then you just have to move forward even after big setbacks.”

During that same speech, which the couple delivered side by side just as they did Friday night, Rich said the accident made the family even stronger.

“Her resiliency reinforced mine and our kids’,” he said during the 2016 speech. “It made use stronger, more aware, and even more appreciative, and I think it’s made us better.”

As a leader in the semi-conductor business, Rich has earned praise as a supporter of STEM – science, technology, engineering and math -- education. In the past five years, TI and its foundation have invested $150 million in education programs primarily focused on attracting women and underrepresented groups into the field, according to a Union College release.

Prior to the Templeton gift, the $20 million donation by longtime Union donors John Wold and his wife, Jane, was the college’s largest donation. The Wolds' donation helped fund the school’s 35,000-square-foot Peter Irving Wold Center and endowed professorships in religious studies and geology.

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