Staying Grounded: A Big STEM Gift Focuses on Bricks and Mortar

STEM education may be all the rage across higher education nowadays, but a recent gift to the University of Kentucky sets its sights on slightly more practical matters, namely, the building to house its ever-growing cadre of STEM students.

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto announced a $10 million gift from the Don Jacobs Sr. Charitable Foundation for undergraduate science education. A majority of the donation—$8 million, in fact— will go towards the new Don & Cathy Jacobs Science Building, while the other $2 million will fund future academic and research investments.

"This gift extends a legacy of philanthropy to the University of Kentucky. Collectively, Don and Cathy Jacobs have contributed their support in excess of $20 million to U.K.," said Capilouto. "This announcement is not only about today. It's not about bricks and mortar. It's about the faculty, staff and students empowered by the gift we have been given by Don and Cathy Jacobs."

Now, we must chime in here for a second to suggest that at least semantically speaking, the gift, to some degree, is about bricks and mortar, and of course there's nothing wrong with that. Across the country, many universities are facing a dilemma that we'd like to inelegantly describe as "building the ship while sailing." In other words, while there are no shortage of schools fast-tracking academic STEM investments, in many cases universities can't keep up with unsexy but critical capital expenses.

We'd also like to strike the aforementioned term "unsexy" from the record. Now that we think about it, the newly renamed Don and Cathy Jacobs Science Building, which officially opened its doors in August, is kinda sexy. The three-story, 263,000-square-foot building has 21 teaching labs for basic science education and research space with sophisticated new microscopes for graduate students and faculty.

Jacobs, meanwhile, founded a successful Lexington-based car dealership, and passed away at the age of 81 in April of 2015. Throughout his life and and his wife Cathy gave generously to many Lexington-based causes including $1 million to the Hope Center, a service provider for the area's homeless population. "Anywhere that you would see him, he would be there, but he'd kind of be in the background," Hope Center Executive Director Cecil Dunn said. "All that Don and Cathy did for the Hope Center has helped hundreds and hundreds of people."

Don and Cathy Jacobs' support to U.K. included the Gatton College of Business and Economics, the U.K. College of Medicine, and the Markey Cancer Center. U.K. awarded Don Jacobs an honorary doctorate in humanities in December 2014 in honor of those and other contributions.

Now we know what you're thinking. "Shiny new buildings? Massive checks? Cutting-edge microscopes? How can my university get in on the STEM gold rush?" We're glad you asked. Click here for some helpful tips.