A $25 million gift from the Leinweber Foundation, founded by software entrepreneur Larry Leinweber, will help fund a new 163,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility on North Campus.
In recognition of the donation, the Board of Regents on Oct. 21 voted to name the building the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building. This gift will bring the College of Engineering’s computer science and engineering division and the School of Information together under one roof for the first time.
The move will strengthen the collaboration between the two disciplines to develop breakthrough technologies, conduct innovative research, and facilitate an innovative learning environment for students.
Computer, data and information science are quickly becoming the backbone of systems that connect society. Creating a space where top scholars in computing and information can come together to help solve some of the greatest challenges in modern medicine, transportation, smart infrastructure and more will help U-M remain at the forefront of advances in computer science and information.
“Michigan has a longstanding reputation as one of the leaders and best in computer science and information,” Leinweber said. “We hope this new gift will further advance both of these fields and amplify U-M’s impact by bringing some of the brightest minds in engineering and information science together in one collaborative setting.”
CoE and SI have a long history of transformative collaboration. Michigan’s legacy of leadership in computing and information dates back to the 1950s when its graduate degree in computing was established, making it one of the oldest computing programs in the nation.
Today, U-M continues to be on the cutting edge of advances in artificial intelligence, device architecture, human-computer interaction, social networks, quantum computing, data analysis and more.
In the last 10 years, the number of students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs in both CSE and SI has quadrupled, and the new building will provide much-needed space to meet the increasing demand for computer science and information graduates for research, industry and education.
“The Leinweber Foundation gift is a tremendous example of U-M’s ability to unite philanthropy and multidisciplinary strength in the service of our students and innovative research that keeps us on the forefront of discovery,” President Mark Schlissel said.
The Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building
Currently, CoE and SI are located on different campuses a few miles apart, but the new $145 million facility will house the information school in its entirety and expand space for CoE’s computer science and engineering division beyond its current home in the neighboring Bob and Betty Beyster Building. Furthermore, it will help attract the top talent for aspiring computer science and information scholars.
The new facility will serve as a hub for computer science and information students, with flexible classrooms and the latest technology, open spaces for group learning opportunities, collaboration spaces, labs and more. The Board of Regents is expected to review construction plans for the building later this year.
“Co-location is essential to seed and sustain high impact interdisciplinary work,” said Thomas Finholt, professor and dean of the School of Information. “By joining faculty and students from multiple disciplinary backgrounds in one place, we will accelerate, enrich and increase the boundary-spanning interactions that produce innovative paths of research.
“Thanks to the gift from the Leinweber Foundation, we’ll be better able to solve the problems of the future by combining insights across disciplines in new ways.”
The new Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building will eliminate the need for top talent to choose between working in a CSE environment or an SI environment across town, thereby removing barriers between like-minded colleagues. This convergence of disciplines will also strengthen the academic culture, promoting the fusion of human-centered and technical perspectives to critical areas, such as artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction and machine learning.
“Technology is becoming more dependent on information — our products are getting smarter and require programming that is human-focused and free from bias,” said Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of aerospace engineering.
“By bringing these important fields into collaboration, this incredible investment from the Leinweber Foundation will help Michigan remain not only a top-flight university, but one that draws upon a range of disciplines and perspectives to ensure that the innovation closes societal gaps and has a positive impact on all populations.”
In addition, the new building will play a key role in the university’s mission toward carbon neutrality. The university plans a phased campuswide transition to geothermal heating and cooling systems, beginning with this new building.
About the donors
Since 2010, Larry Leinweber and his wife, Claudia Babiarz, have supported students and programs at U-M, including CoE, LSA, the Medical School and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. They created the Leinweber Software Scholars Program at CoE in 2013 and established the Leinweber Center for Theoretical Physics in LSA in 2017.
Leinweber founded and served as CEO of New World Systems Corp., a Troy, Michigan, software company providing enterprise resource planning software for city and county governments, with a primary focus on public safety software for 911 dispatch centers, law enforcement, fire departments and paramedics. Babiarz served as corporate counsel at New World Systems for more than 27 years.
Leinweber and Babiarz have two children, David Leinweber and Ashley Leinweber, both U-M alumni. Ashley Leinweber is vice president of the Leinweber Foundation. David Leinweber serves on the advisory board for CSE in the engineering college and is CEO of Ascent Cloud, a Detroit-based sales technology software company. David Leinweber’s wife, Jessica Leinweber, a U-M alumna, serves as executive director of the Leinweber Foundation. Larry Leinweber’s other three children, Eric, Danica and Lezlee, also contribute to his work.
The university should consider moving the statue of Claude Shannon from its current location into a central location in the new building’s lobby. In addition to granting pride of place to the so-called “Father of Information Theory”, such a placement should preclude further vandalism to the statue. A re-dedication of the statue during the new building’s dedication ceremony would align his contributions to information theory with the aspirations which the new building will represent: The marriage of information theory with the underlying and implementing technology.