By NATE DOUGHERTY
Rochester Institute of Technology has the largest college of computing and information sciences in the nation, but just 10 years ago it had two separate computing schools with few opportunities to interact or create new academic programs.
That changed in 2001 when Thomas Golisano made a $14 million gift that allowed RIT to incorporate computing and the Internet with information sciences, creating a comprehensive school known as the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. The school opened two years later as the largest comprehensive computing school in the nation and today has more than 3,000 students.
For his contributions to RIT-both monetary and otherwise-the university’s Nathaniel Rochester Society gave Golisano its highest honor at a ceremony Thursday. The award is given to "individuals who have contributed to the university’s advancement in an outstanding and significant manner," RIT officials said.
"I’m honored to receive this recognition," Golisano said. "RIT is a world-class university, and I’m proud of my association with this fine institution. May it continue to attract and graduate the best and brightest to tackle the complex issues facing the next generation of world leaders."
A member of the RIT board since 1998, Golisano made another large gift in 2007 when he gave $10 million to create the Golisano Institute of Sustainability. The institute focuses on education and research in areas such as sustainable design, pollution prevention, remanufacturing and alternative energy development.
The gifts Golisano has made to RIT have benefited the entire region, spurring economic development as they also have allowed RIT to take a national position of intellectual leadership, said William Destler, RIT president. Golisano’s gifts took courage because they were for innovative programs with little precedent nationally, Destler said.
"Tom for the most part wants to make transformational gifts, things that move the ball down the field in a meaningful way," Destler said. "We didn’t have a college of computing before this and now have what is arguably the biggest in the country. There wasn’t an institute of sustainability anywhere else in the world, and now we have one."
Because of Golisano’s gift, the college of computing has become a leader in curriculum innovation, said Jorge Diaz-Herrera, dean of the computing college. RIT was the first in the nation to create a bachelor’s program for information technology and also at the forefront for computer game design and development.
"That program has a capacity to accept 120 students each year, and we get 900 or almost 1,000 applicants for those positions," Diaz-Herrera said.
Bringing the computing disciplines under one roof has allowed RIT to use "the mosaic of talent we have here," Diaz-Herrera said. At a biannual meeting of the Computing Research Association, deans of other schools across the country are always curious to know what new programs RIT is working on, he added.
The strength of the program has helped RIT withstand the ebb of student interest that other computing schools experienced not long after the dot-com crash in the early 2000s. The entire country had a drop in computer science enrollment of close to 50 percent during that time, while RIT’s school consistently has grown, Diaz-Herrera said.
"The secret is our ability to have diverse programs and an innovative curriculum, not just teaching how to operate a computer but things like new media interaction and infomedicine," he said.
Golisano’s gift helped RIT craft what could be the largest computing program in the world, Diaz-Herrera noted, with 150 faculty members in all and 18 degree programs.
His contributions stretch beyond dollars, said Donald Boyce, chairman of the RIT board of trustees. Golisano also helped RIT elevate its reputation from a regionally known university to one with a more national stature, Boyce said.
"RIT now gets more and more attention from students all over the country and the world for the education we offer in computing sciences and sustainability," Boyce said.
A supporter of the William J. Clinton Foundation, Golisano also used his close relationship with Clinton to bring the former president to campus twice-once in 2005 and again in 2007 to make the keynote address at the university’s commencement.
In a span of a little more than 10 years, Golisano has given more than $145 million in philanthropic gifts to non-profit service organizations, colleges and universities and hospitals in Upstate New York and Florida.
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