PROVO -- BYU alumni David and Rachel Weidman were happy to donate $10 million to their alma mater for a global leadership center.
What they could have done without was having their name attached to it. That was the school's idea, said Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology Dean Alan Parkinson.
"Our stewardship is to raise the funds, yours is to make it happen," Parkinson said David Weidman told him.
The Weidmans spoke Thursday to assembled engineering students at the de Jong Concert Hall immediately after the donation announcement. David Weidman is the CEO of Celanese Corporation, a Fortune 500 company that produces chemical products and routinely networks at BYU to find engineers. His experience as CEO of a global company taught him the importance of engineers having more than just technical skills; they needed global agility, leadership skills and flexibility to deal with the constantly changing technical environment. This center would build on BYU's continued efforts in that regard, he said.
The center would not change how the college of engineering is set up, Parkinson said. The center would provide scholarships for study-abroad programs as well as coordinate visits from professional engineers to talk to and network with students, seek out and create internship programs and design competitions and be a resource for both students and faculty as they integrate leadership skills into their technical education. All of this already is happening, he said, but on a much smaller level.
The idea started more than a year ago. Both of the Weidmans are on the school's advancement council and participate in discussions about what the future of BYU should look like. Parkinson approached Weidman about the possibility of a center like this, given his global experience, and Weidman liked the idea. Parkinson spoke to BYU's administration and put together a proposal before visiting the Weidmans in Dallas and laying out his vision.
Then Parkinson popped the question: Would the Weidmans consider donating $10 million as an endowment for the center?
"Frankly, that's a question you don't ask very often, and it was nice to hear him say, 'yes, I would,' " Parkinson said.
For his part, Weidman said all the buildup leading to the request had him excited about the center as well.
"When he asked for the contribution, after discussing the vision, we felt very good about it," he said.
BYU has long had a reputation of producing competent engineers, and since both Weidmans have a personal connection to the school, the donation made sense. There were a couple of other reasons as well: since so many BYU students have served LDS missions, many in foreign countries, they already have language and leadership skills.
"I was twisting his arm," Ira Fulton, the man for whom the College of Engineering is named, joked.
The center will have an annual budget of about $500,000, and Parkinson said they still are hoping to get other funds. Weidman said their role is about done; they would be happy to provide suggestions if asked, but he doesn't plan on any sort management or overseeing of the center that bears his family's name.
"I have a full-time job," he said.
As for the name, Vice President of Advancement Kevin Worthen said, that's the other gift the Weidmans gave the school. Future students are going to ask who the Weidmans are, he said, and faculty members and students will be able to tell them about the generosity, their leadership and their integrity.
"These are the type of people we want you to become," he said.