When Nabil Nasr looks over the accomplishments of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, he has one overriding thought: None of it would be possible without Thomas Golisano.
It was a $10 million gift from Golisano in late 2007 that kick-started the sustainability institute within Rochester Institute of Technology. The founder and chairman of Paychex Inc. had been a major contributor to RIT before, having given $14 million for the RIT computer science school that bears his name, but this gift would have a more wide-ranging benefit.
Nasr, assistant provost for academic affairs and director of GIS, said the institute was envisioned as a way to take RIT’s leadership in the field of sustainable production and make it more widely available. Nasr said he knew it would need to have a good start, and organizers presented a plan to Golisano for funding. Golisano was intrigued but wanted to make sure the institute would have effects beyond the walls of RIT, Nasr recalled.
"We knew how important it would be to get that good start, and when we presented the plan to Tom and he talked to us, his commitment for the region really showed," Nasr said. "He said he would support the idea if we could show that it had a benefit to the entire community."
The organizers focused the institute on the idea of helping the community, and Golisano made a gift of $10 million. In its six years the institute has led projects in sustainable production with an emphasis on developing systems for sustainable design, remanufacturing, life cycle engineering and pollution prevention.
At the founding of the institute, Golisano emphasized its community focus, noting, "it is imperative that we accelerate strategies to promote a sustainable society and ensure future generations the opportunity to address their own needs."
He wanted GIS to produce the first generation of professionals "with the vision and know-how to deliver on the promise of sustainability."
Nasr said that already is happening. GIS introduced its initial Ph.D. program in 2008, a doctorate in sustainable production that would be the world’s first. The institute added a master of science program in sustainable systems in 2010.
The first graduates have begun to assume leadership roles elsewhere and spread the work of GIS, Nasr said.
The economic effects have been wide-ranging. The institute has worked with companies locally and statewide to reduce harmful emissions and adopt more sustainable practices.
GIS also has led to the formation of several spinoffs, Nasr said. The Center for Governmental Research Inc. estimated the institute could mean 6,000 jobs and $650 million in income added to the region. GIS also is seen as an important way for the region to retain its role as a center for applied manufacturing research.
Other individuals and organizations supported GIS at its founding. The doctoral programs were supported by nearly $1 million in grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Chester & Dorris Carlson Charitable Trust, for example. But Nasr said Golisano’s gift was transformational.
"If it wasn’t for his help, we wouldn’t be able to do what we have done," Nasr said. "He was instrumental in shaping our ideas, in saying he didn’t want help to the community coming as an afterthought; he wanted it by design. That was great for us at the start, to always focus on what we could do to help."
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