A donation to UC Irvine‘s engineering school from philanthropists and Anaheim Ducks owners Susan and Henry Samueli will help the university launch three research institutes for health, society and the environment.

Susan and Henry Samueli, who UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering is named after, gave the university a $50 million gift which will allow the university to create the research institutes under the banner “Engineering+.”

“The gift is actually going to really transform how we think about the role of engineering broadly,” said Magnus Egerstedt, dean of the engineering school. “What this gift is allowing us to do is set up a structure that allows us to really become deeply collaborative and multidisciplinary in a way that you really haven’t seen much.”

The three institutes — Engineering+Health Institute, Engineering+Society Institute and Engineering+Environment Institute — and what they should address came about through a “deeply collaborative effort” between the university and the Samuelis, Egerstedt said.

Researchers from various departments will be able to study ways to address issues facing society today, according to a UCI press release.

At the Engineering+Health Institute, professors will look at how to take health solutions to “all corners of the planet,” Egerstedt said. Researchers will also explore how to bring medical care to underserved communities at low costs.

“It will involve things like new devices that are much cheaper than what we have today and will also involve things like remote and digital health so that you can diagnose things not necessarily where the patients are but halfway across the world,” Egerstedt said.

Additionally, research will involve “making models of things that we today don’t understand,” he said. For example, researchers at the Engineering+Health Institute can work to better understand depression by building devices and sensors to monitor brain activity, Egerstedt said.

Professors will tap into UCI’s “very strong environmental engineering program” within the Engineering+Environment Institute to “understand what is happening to the beaches in Southern California because they are early indicators of climate change,” Egerstedt said.

Understanding climate change through Southern California’s coastline, which is “a core part of our culture, such a core part of our economy,” Egerstedt said, will make research “driven locally” and help it gain traction with the greater Orange County community.

“If we can make it concrete and point to something in our own backyards, like our beaches, which are so important, then it’s no longer a partisan issue, it’s no longer a rich versus poor issue,” Egerstedt said. “It’s an issue that matters to us locally so it’s easy to get people excited about it.”

Researchers working with the Engineering+Society Institute will focus on how technology can improve lives, Egerstedt said, “where we really use technology to create societies that work for everyone, and we don’t increase … inequities.” The institute, he said, will explore “the connection between technology and broader societal questions.”

Egerstedt said he is fascinated by the rise of artificial intelligence and how that is displacing some jobs, and research will explore how “ChatGPT doesn’t basically wipe out an entire sector of the economy.”

In addition to the research institutions, a portion of the Samuelis’ gift will be used to create the Office of Inreach within the Henry Samueli School of Engineering for undergraduate students. The goal is to ensure students are part of a “cohort,” like a club or society,” to help them finish their degree.

UCI’s engineering program is “remarkably diverse in terms of the incoming student population,” said Egerstedt. It includes first-generation students and minority students, Egerstedt said, “but students from these groups leave engineering at a much greater rate than students from over-represented groups.”

The office, Egerstedt said, will track and gather data on how many students leave engineering and why.

The Samuelis’ $50 million gift to UCI is not their first.

In 2017, the couple pledged $200 million to create the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences. A $30 million gift from the Samueli Foundation funded the construction of the Samueli Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building. In 1999, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering received a $20 million naming gift that partially endowed 10 chairs and professorships and funded two scholarships and a graduate fellowship.

“Susan and I continue to invest in the University of California, Irvine as an expression of our belief in it as a world-class research and educational institution — and in the invaluable role that public universities play in innovation,” said Henry Samueli. “Engineers are hard-wired as problem solvers; we hope our new gift will allow them to focus their problem-solving skills on some of our world’s largest, most intractable issues.”

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