Duke University alumnus J. Michael Pearson recalls a design contest in which he and other Duke undergrads had to figure out how to drop an egg from the top of the engineering building without breaking it. A lofty challenge, particularly for those of us who couldn't even pass the "Egg as Baby" portion of Home Economics 101.
A few weeks ago, Pearson made good on all of his formative engineering and business experiences with a $30 million gift to Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. Pearson is a Blue Devil through and through. He sits on a board and two of his children are at Duke. The University itself is in the thick of a campaign called Duke Forward, aimed at raising $3.5 billion by 2017.
Pearson and his wife Christina, a graduate of Duke School of Nursing, have already given $15 million to the School of Nursing and another $7.5 million to the Fuqua School of Business. To date, the Pearsons are the fourth largest contributors to Duke Forward, with gifts totalling $50 million.
The $30 million gift itself is aimed at supporting interdisciplinary programs and courses at Pratt Engineering, as well as collaborative and joint classes within the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. Applications at Pratt are up 20 percent this year, which makes the donation especially timely. But more than that, the donation illustrates a commitment to supporting STEM education even for those in other majors and with different career goals. Some will take the egg challenge and leave it at that, and those like Pearson will be solving engineering paradoxes for a lifetime.
Speaking of which, here's a brief rundown of what Pearson has been doing since graduating from Duke: He worked for 23 years at consulting giant McKinsey and Company, climbing through the ranks to serve as director and head of the mid-Atlantic division. In 2008, he was tapped to serve as CEO of Valient Pharmaceuticals, a Canadian based drug company that specializes in neurology and dermatology drugs. Valient's stock has soared in recent years, become one of the most potent stocks in all of Canada, achieving $2.5 billion in sales and acquiring 21 companies in less than four years.
Valient's Research and Development division is located conveniently in Durham, allowing for frequent visits to his alma mater.