The Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center was dedicated in front of a crowd of 150 on Tuesday, inaugurating the latest addition to the Science and Engineering Quad. Amid recessed lighting and modular furniture, the crowd watched as the University’s brightest minds in engineering discussed the center and its potential role in Silicon Valley innovation.
The formal dedication of the $30 million building was held in the Huang Center Amphitheatre and featured School of Engineering Dean Jim Plummer, President John Hennessy, lead donor Jen-Hsun Huang M.S. ’92 and Board of Trustees Chair Leslie Hume.
Prior to the dedication, the crowd watched from a screen in the newly christened Nvidia Center of the building as Plummer moderated a symposium among Hennessy, Huang and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang ’90 M.S. ’91. Entitled “Technology Innovation in the 21st Century,” the symposium centered on the importance of engineering as a discipline and the need to train engineers who possess business skills and are cognizant of social issues. Plummer emphasized the need for engineers to develop a multidisciplinary approach as they tackle current energy and technology challenges.
“We have narrowly defined academic disciplines, but we need to find ways to educate students more broadly or to create teams that are interdisciplinary,” he said.
Nancy Peterson, director of communications for the School of Engineering, echoed Plummer’s sentiments, saying the center will equip students with the tools to become not only excellent engineers, but also savvy entrepreneurs and community activists.
“We’re emphasizing both breadth in a discipline and broad skills,” she said. “As Dean Plummer says, we want to create T-shaped people, where the vertical bar is depth in a particular discipline, and the horizontal bar is breadth — things like communication, leadership, cultural awareness.”
Quoting Ronald Reagan, Hennessy voiced the need to “break down these walls” that separate the hard sciences and engineering from other aspects of society. The key, he argues, is to put power in students’ hands.
“If we let students drive learning, they will build cross-disciplinary collaboration,” he said.
The Huang Center was designed with collaboration in mind. The building features an open floor plan, conference rooms with transparent glass walls and modular furniture, meant to be moved around during group projects. Proponents hope that the open, modular design, similar to that of Wallenberg Hall in the Main Quad and the Peterson Building at the Institute for Design, will facilitate fruitful collaboration.
Huang pointed out that the culture of innovation at Stanford also facilitates groundbreaking discovery.
“At Stanford, you have permission to fail,” he said. “At some places, there’s a deep sense of disappointment. Here, we just want to know, ‘What did you learn from your failure?’”
Peterson, too, believes that such a bold and fearless spirit will be necessary as engineers prepare to tackle the technological problems of the new millennium.
“The Huang Center is an outward and visible sign that we are focusing on engineering education for the 21st century,” she said.