Research Center

Celebration attendees cheer as the Cockrell School of Engineering broke ground on its new Engineering Education and Research Center on Thursday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Andy Nguyen | Daily Texan Staff

The Cockrell School of Engineering celebrated the groundbreaking of its new Engineering Education and Research Center on Thursday.

The 430,000 square-foot center, which will cost approximately $310 million to construct, will be one of the largest structures ever constructed on campus and will include two connected eight-story towers. The groundbreaking ceremony for the center took place on its construction site, which is directly adjacent to the Cockrell School. 

The center is one of the most important facilities the University has constructed in decades, according to President William Powers Jr., who spoke at the ceremony.

“As we know, engineering is critical to the advancement of the state,” Powers said. “We need more engineers, and we need research in engineering, and this building will do both of those. Our facilities needed to reflect the 21st century.”

Having a world-class engineering school is crucial for a flagship university such as UT, according to UT System Chancellor William McRaven, who also spoke at the ceremony.

“We all know the field of engineering is inextricably linked to the economic success of Texas, and the Cockrell School is the epicenter of engineering education,” McRaven said. “Maintaining the status quo is not good enough for this school.”

Detailed planning for the center began three years ago. Powers said despite initial challenges in fundraising, the project is currently under-budget, and the University has raised $65 million for the center.

Powers said the center will have modern project rooms with open glass windows and feature hubs for engineering students to create and share ideas.

It will replace a 50-year-old Engineering-Science Building that was overdue for change, Cockrell School dean Sharon L. Wood said.

“Our facilities had not kept up with the technology,” Wood said. “It’s very hard to attract excellent students and faculty, telling them that you’re doing cutting edge research, if your facilities can’t support it, so that’s why we’re so excited about it. It’s going to really showcase engineering.”

Wood said the center will allow the Cockrell School to increase enrollment by 1,000 students, from its current enrollment of roughly 7,700 students. 

The old Engineering Science Building strongly lacked basic modern resources, such as electrical outlets in study locations, according to Anuj Kudva, biomedical engineering senior and Student Engineering Council president.

“It was ironic in the sense that there was world-class research going on there, yet it was more than 40 years out-of-date,” Kudva said. 

Qualcomm Technologies Inc. donated $1 million to the Cockrell School of Engineering to help fund the school’s Engineering Education and Research Center, which will house the Wireless Networking and Communication Group and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the University announced last week.

Associate engineering dean John Halton said a combination of independent donations and state grants is crucial to the development of school programs such as the communication group, which is an interdisciplinary center for research and education, although the companies that give these gifts also benefit.

“It’s a nice balance between philanthropy, wanting to do something good to help a top quality institution like UT … and to hire students,” Halton said. “In the case of Qualcomm, there will be students working in the wireless area, which is Qualcomm’s heart-and-soul technology. Qualcomm already employs many of these graduates.”

The research center, which is scheduled to be completed in 2017, will be 430,000 square feet, including a 299-seat auditorium, cafeteria and engineering library. It will accommodate approximately 65 faculty members, 650 graduate students and 1,300 undergraduate students.

According to Ahmed Tewfik, chair of the electrical and computer engineering department, the EERC building will cost more than $310 million and will provide labs and other research spaces for 30 to 40 percent of engineering graduate students who will work in the building.

“The donation is actually for space that is going to be used by our wireless net research center,” Tewfik said. “It’s going to pay for some of the labs and offices for students and post doctorates and meeting rooms. It will essentially provide infrastructure that our wireless research center needs to do its work. The EERC is, at the moment, one of the best in the nation.”

The communication group is working on specific projects, which include 5G networks for wireless devices and enhancing social networks, transportation and video processing. Ioannis Mitliagkas, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student and member of the group, said the research center, as well as the equipment that will come with it, will help his fellow engineers complete work more efficiently, as well as aid their research.

“In my case, I don’t need a lot of specialty equipment because most of what I do is math, but my lab mates would really need it,” Mitliagkas said. “The specialized equipment for communication, for example — it makes our lives much easier.”