Largest Gift in SUU History to Endow COSE

Published: January 20, 2012 | Read Time: 4 minutes

Southern Utah University announced today the largest single gift in its 115-year history: $4 million from Walter M. and Alice Gibson. The funds are designated for the College of Science and Engineering (COSE) and will help fund an endowment for student and faculty research initiatives and scholarships.

“This is truly a game-changing gift for one of our largest and most dynamic colleges,” stated SUU president Michael Benson. “We are extremely grateful to the Gibson family for their commitment to and support of the advancement of science at SUU. Their generosity will benefit the educational pursuits for countless students for generations. This is truly amazing.”

In recognition of this historic donation, SUU will be naming the College of Science and Engineering in honor of the late Walter Maxwell Gibson, who graduated from the Branch Agricultural College (now SUU) in 1952 with an associate’s degree in chemistry.

While the late Walter Gibson furthered his studies at the finest institutions, he oft spoke of his time at the BAC as a life-changing opportunity, according to his son, David Gibson.

“My father loved his time at the College,” said David. “He felt it helped him develop a love of science and discovery that continued the rest of his life and prepared him for a meaningful and successful career in academia and business. He was very excited to give back to SUU in a meaningful way.”

According to the dean of COSE, Robert Eves, similar results will play out year after year among SUU’s science students thanks to the Gibson gift. “This endowment will make it possible for SUU to deepen the experience and expand the opportunities for thousands of College of Science and Engineering students yet to come.”

Eves adds, “There are clearly some new opportunities that this kind of gift can provide that have previously been unattainable.” Moving forward, he hopes to “honor the Gibson family’s commitment to improving education and providing real life experiences where students can apply their theoretical knowledge to deepen the learning experience.”

And that is exactly what Walter would have wanted, according to Gibson’s wife, Alice.

“We are so pleased to support Walter’s beloved college and hope this gift will help students best prepare for successful careers in science and engineering — just as the BAC did for Walter so many years ago.”

After graduating from the BAC, Walter Gibson continued his studies at the University of Utah, earning a bachelor’s degree and then completing his doctorate in nuclear chemistry at the University of California-Berkeley in 1956, under the tutelage of Nobel Laureate Glen Seaborg. After a career in research at Bell Laboratories, he served as Physics Department Chair, Dean of Graduate Studies, and VP of Research for University at Albany, State University of NY. In 1990, Walter co-founded X-Ray Optical Systems (XOS), later serving as its chief technology officer until his death in 2009.

Gibson and his family originally pledged $3 million in 2007 for the construction of the new Science facility at SUU. However, Dr. Gibson’s valiant struggle with cancer and his untimely death prevented the family from completing the pledge during the construction of the building.

Other donors stepped in at a critical juncture to help with the completion of the new facility. “Without those generous donors, the new facility would never have been completed,” stated President Benson. “But Walter’s initial pledge was absolutely vital to getting the ball rolling with the State and eventually securing the Legislature’s support for the bricks and mortar.”

SUU administrators continued to apprise the Gibson family of the progress made on the facility. Walter’s widow, Alice, visited campus to view the progress on the new structure. Walter’s son and president of XOS, David Gibson, worked tirelessly to see that his father’s initial pledge was fulfilled. When he called Benson to inform him of the forthcoming gift, he had a caveat: the original pledge of $3 million would now be a gift of approximately $4 million, and would be placed in an endowment to benefit students and faculty for years to come.

The Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Science and Engineering will have its official unveiling in May, just before SUU’s 113th annual Commencement.

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