An entrepreneurial idea to expand training for 21st-century careers, hatched on a working ranch in Montana and in Carnegie Mellon University’s advanced manufacturing laboratories, has sparked a $10 million gift to support mechanical engineering at the institution.
Trustee and alumnus David Coulter and his wife, Susan Coulter, have made the transformational commitment that will endow the headship for the Department of Mechanical Engineering, as well as support the construction of a new Scaife Hall, which will house the department. The endowment to support the department head will provide critical funds for emerging priorities in mechanical engineering, and is the first endowed headship announced in the college. The department is ranked in the top 10 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, which also places the College of Engineering at number 6.
“David and Susan have been outstanding university citizens for decades,” CMU President Farnam Jahanian said. “Their latest act of generosity that will benefit the Carnegie Mellon community promises to advance one of our leading programs—one that is driving manufacturing innovations for our modern world.”
The inspiration for the gift began on the Coulters’ ranch outside of Bozeman, Montana, where David Coulter saw the need for workers with high-tech skills to operate and maintain modern machinery related to the local mining and agriculture economy. Following a conversation with Carnegie Mellon Provost Jim Garrett, then dean of the College of Engineering, he began working with the NextManufacturing Center, part of the college’s advanced manufacturing initiative, which includes additive manufacturing or 3D printing, as it is commonly known.
There, the center’s leadership, including Sandra DeVincent Wolf, Jack Beuth, and Anthony Rollett, helped Coulter evolve his initial vision of vocational training into an expansive idea that combines traditional skill development with new technology such as additive manufacturing. A facility where locals will be able to train for manufacturing careers at the leading edge of the new economy is now under construction in Montana.
The positive collaboration between the Tepper School of Business alumnus and mechanical engineering faculty became the foundation for the Coulters’ generous gift.
“At Carnegie Mellon, we often speak about how our strengths in deep disciplinary knowledge truly take flight when we collaborate across disciplines,” Coulter said. “I feel like we're doing that real-time with this project, and I see our involvement as an alumni prototype for these cross-disciplinary projects. We’re proud to support both the Tepper School of Business as well as the College of Engineering, and am excited to see what the Mechanical Engineering Department will achieve.”
The Coulters’ commitment to a new Scaife Hall follows a lead grant from the Allegheny Foundation in October. When complete, the new building will more than double the size of the existing building, and will include expanded, technology-rich labs; modern, flexible classrooms; and spaces that facilitate formal and informal collaborations. Following demolition of the current building, the $75 million facility will be constructed on an expanded footprint at the same location on Frew Street, near Flagstaff Hill on the CMU campus.
“Mechanical Engineering is a leader in emerging fields such as soft robotics and advanced batteries. We need world-class facilities in the department to support the exceptional work of our faculty and students,” said Allen Robinson, department head and professor. “We are so grateful for David and Susan’s extraordinary generosity, which will impact the department for decades to come.”
Robinson, who will become the first Coulter Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, will continue to hold the Raymond J. Lane Distinguished Professorship in Mechanical Engineering.
The Coulters’ past CMU support includes a $5 million contribution to the recently completed first building on the David A. Tepper Quadrangle. The David and Susan Coulter Welcome Center, housed in the Tepper Quad building, is the new front door to campus, a one-stop destination for all visitors, including prospective students and their families.
A 1971 alumnus of the Graduate School of Industrial Administration, now the Tepper School of Business, David Coulter is a special limited partner with Warburg Pincus LLC in New York City. Previously, he was vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase and Co. and chairman and CEO of Bank of America Corp. In 2018, he was honored with the Tepper School Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award.