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MSU announces a $50 million gift from the Gianforte Family Foundation

Will further computer science, electrical and computer engineering, cybersecurity, optics and photonics, and creative industries
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Posted at 4:03 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 18:03:45-05

BOZEMAN - Montana State University today announced a $50 million gift from the Gianforte Family Foundation, continuing more than 20 years of philanthropy to the university. The Gianforte Family Foundation's gift is dedicated to constructing a new building to house the Gianforte School of Computing and computing-related fields such as cybersecurity, optics and photonics, electrical and computer engineering, and creative industries. The gift ties for the second largest in the university’s history and is one of the largest philanthropic gifts in the history of Montana.

Over the years, the Gianforte Family Foundation has provided significant support to Montana State University that enabled its computer science program to boost enrollments, award scholarships and provide competitive startup packages to six new faculty members. In 2016, the foundation donated $8 million to Montana State University, which established the Gianforte School of Computing.

The new building will significantly benefit students in the high-demand field of computing and its technologically related creative industries, said John Paxton, director of the Gianforte School of Computing at Montana State University.

“A new building will bring our students state-of-the-art classrooms, computer labs, research facilities and innovative collaborative spaces,” Paxton said. “Not only will a new building help our students be more successful, it will also attract more students to study a variety of areas that involve computing technologies, which provide boundless opportunities for graduates, especially those wishing to live and work in Montana.”

Having a single building will help foster interdisciplinary opportunities for students and faculty alike, Paxton continued, as the Gianforte School of Computing’s personnel are currently dispersed across five buildings. It will also continue to strengthen opportunities for dual enrollment computer science courses for high school students in Montana.

“This building will be a tremendous benefit to our students as well as to the state’s rapidly growing high-tech industry, which needs more graduates with technology and digital skills,” Paxton said.

In addition to computer science, the building will also house classrooms for high school students to take dual enrollment courses and get a hands-on taste of the many complementary fields that rely on computer science, such as electrical and computer engineering, cybersecurity, optics and photonics. This facility will also help tomorrow’s students engage with technology-driven creative industries supporting interdisciplinary teaching and research in animation, film production, digital photography and music technology.

Computer science graduates are in high demand both in Montana and nationally. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment of computer and information research scientists is projected to grow 22% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. A 2021 report by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana found that members of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance expected to add 1,500 jobs in 2021 and that “growth projected in member and nonmember high tech businesses significantly exceeds average statewide economic growth.”

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, average national salaries of computer science graduates jumped 7.1% last year to $72,000.

“The Gianforte Family Foundation has demonstrated tangible commitment to furthering the interests of students and education at Montana State University in a consistent manner,” said Montana State University President Waded Cruzado. “This gift will continue that commitment in an unprecedented way, allowing us to dramatically expand our computer science and complementary interdisciplinary offerings, putting Montana State on the map as one of the premier computer science universities in the nation. We are deeply grateful for the Gianforte Family Foundation’s generosity.”

“We have been very pleased to support Montana State University's computer science program for over two decades,” said Susan Gianforte, trustee of the Gianforte Family Foundation. “The school’s staff and leadership have grown it to the point where a building is the logical next step, and we couldn’t be happier to help make that happen. This will provide so many opportunities for students to learn, thrive and be prepared to enter the workforce of today and tomorrow.”

“The Gianforte Family Foundation’s mission is to support organizations that equip people to improve their lives in a sustainable way,” said Chris Murray, president and CEO of the Montana State University Alumni Foundation. “The Gianforte Family Foundation’s desire to construct a new building to house the School of Computing is a natural extension of their support of students in this area, helping them get a superb education and strengthen our local, state and national economy.”

Montana State University's Gianforte School of Computing offers many computing related credentials to students. A student can earn a computer science Bachelor of Science degree, Bachelor of Arts degree, master’s degree, doctorate or minor. In partnership with other MSU academic units, a student can earn a data science minor, a computer science teaching minor or a data science master’s degree. The school has also established dual enrollment courses for Montana high school students through a prior collaboration with Bozeman High School. More information is available online at cs.montana.edu.

“The Gianforte Family Foundation deeply believes in the power of education to transform students’ lives,” said Brett Gunnink, dean of the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering in which the Gianforte School of Computing is administratively housed. “They have been stalwart supporters of our program and our students. We are so grateful for this tremendous gift to help take the program to a new level.”

In recognition of the significance of the gift, Montana State University will begin the process for the new building to be named Gianforte Hall after notifying the Montana Board of Regents at its March 10-11 meeting. The university will initiate a process of seeking public feedback, as described in Board of Regents policy 1004.1, on the naming proposal. After providing opportunity for public input, a proposal to name the new building will be brought before the Board of Regents for consideration and final action at a future meeting.