Back from Abroad: Why This Alumnus Gave Big To University of Illinois

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently received a $12 million gift from alumnus Sidney Lu to build a new innovation center within its Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering.

The gift will help construct the Sidney Lu Center for Learning and Innovation in conjunction with the renovation of the Mechanical Engineering Building. The planned 36,000-square-foot center will feature an open-architecture common area, active-learning classrooms, and areas for student collaboration, study groups, and project team work.

Before we go any further, it's worth noting how many funders are backing new and innovative approaches to learning, especially approaches that involve technology. It's not just your Arnold Foundations, and Dell Foundations working in this space either. As Lu's gift here shows, considerably more modest operations are working in the space as well. According to the university, these active learning classrooms "will incorporate new ways of integrating teaching, learning, and technology—advanced concepts for solving real-world challenges with hands-on design that complements theory and instruction better than ever before."

Key to this gift is its donor, Sidney Lu, who hasn't exactly spent his years since attending Ullinois close to home. Rather, he's been working for the Taiwan-based Foxconn Interconnect Technology for some 20 years, and currently serves as its chair and CEO. Foxxconn is the world's largest electronics contractor manufacturer, and notable products that the company builds include the BlackBerry, the iPad, and the PlayStation 4.

I've written in past about how a couple with deep ties to Florida, spent much of their working career in Wisconsin, before returning to Florida and giving to USF. Another component of that story, as well, was that the couple was getting up in age and retiring from business.

Related - Back Home From the Cold: How Deep Roots Shaped a $25 Million Gift to USF

Given that Lu graduated from U llinois in 1981, he's still a relatively young guy and is very much engaged in business, but Lu's gift here serves as an important reminder of how large a school can loom in an alum's life, even as he or she gets pulled to another state, another city, or even halfway around the world. In addition, it's worth noting that Foxxconn has a facility in nearby Indianapolis and is poised to build another in Pennsylvania, so Lu's ties back stateside are growing.

Another factor is Lu's prior giving. In 2013, a $5 million gift from Lu supported creation of the Tungchao Julia Lu Professorship in Mechanical Science and Engineering, which was named in honor of his mother. As we often say, past giving leads to more giving, particularly in an escalating way. In just a couple of years, Lu has almost given $20 million to his school.

College development officers ought to keep their prospect lists open not just for alums who've moved a few states away from their school, but for those who've spun completely out of orbit.