Ex-Google CEO to create new home for computer science at Princeton University

Ex-Google CEO to create new home for computer science at Princeton University
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Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy Schmidt, have given Princeton a gift large enough for the university to rebuild and expand Guyot Hall into a new place for its Department of Computer Science, the New Jersey-based Ivy League university said on 29 May.

When completed in 2026, the renovated building will be called the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Hall, and will consolidate the computer science department — which is currently spread out over nine different buildings — into one purpose-built space.

Earlier this year, the University announced the gift establishing the Schmidt DataX Fund, which will advance the breadth and depth of data science impact on campus, accelerate discovery in three large, interdisciplinary research efforts, and create opportunities to educate, train, convene and support a broad data science community at the University.

Guyot Hall was built in 1909, and was named for Princeton’s first professor of geology and geography, Arnold Guyot, a member of the faculty from 1854 to 1884. The building’s construction was supported with proceeds from gifts made to Princeton by Cleveland H. Dodge 1879 and his mother to benefit the University’s programs in geology and biology.

According to the university, renovations will preserve the original collegiate Gothic architectural details of the building’s exterior, and the Guyot name will be recognized in a new built space located elsewhere on campus which will be associated with Princeton’s environmental science programs.

The university expects the renovation of Guyot Hall to increase the square feet assigned to the computer science department and will also build in capacity for future growth of the department’s faculty and student body.

During renovation of Guyot, the University said it will provide additional interim space in the Friend Center for the department. Construction is planned to begin in early 2024, with the computer science department projected to move into the renovated building in mid-2026.

The Schmidts also established the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund in 2009, an endowment which supports “the invention, development and utilization of cutting-edge technology that has the capacity to transform research in the natural sciences and engineering at Princeton”.

Eric Schmidt was formerly chief executive officer of Google from 2001 to 2011 and then served as executive chairman of Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company. He is a member of Alphabet’s board of directors through June and has also previously served as a Trustee of Princeton.

Wendy Schmidt is a businesswoman and philanthropist, and the president of The Schmidt Family Foundation and co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute.

Schmidt’s “career as a computer scientist makes the . . . name especially fitting for the new home of Princeton’s world-class Department of Computer Science,” President Christopher L. Eisgruber said in a statement. “We are deeply grateful to Eric Schmidt, his wife, Wendy Schmidt, and Schmidt Futures for their spectacular vision and generosity.

“Their extraordinary commitments to this new facility, to the Schmidt DataX Fund, and to the Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund have powerfully enhanced Princeton’s capacity for teaching, innovation and collaboration that open new frontiers of learning and improve the world,” he added.

“Princeton recognizes that computational thinking as a mode of scholarship, inquiry and critical thinking is essential across campus,” Jennifer Rexford, Professor of Engineering and chair of Princeton’s computer science department, said.

“We are deeply grateful for [the] gift, which makes it possible to have a central location for computer science in which we can create intellectual collisions and serendipitous encounters between faculty and among students, creating human connections that spark new ideas across campus and beyond,” she concluded.

Schmidt noted that when he earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton in 1976 he “majored in electrical engineering, because computer science was barely an option. Now it’s the largest department at Princeton and data science has the potential to transform every discipline, and find solutions to profound societal problems”.

“Wendy and I are excited to think about what will be possible when Princeton is able to gather students and faculty in one place, right at the centre of campus, to discover now-unimaginable solutions for the future century,” he added.

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