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Viniks Give $10 Million for Duke Faculty Who Engage With Engineering Challenges

Fund will support up to 10 endowed chairs dedicated to addressing major societal challenges

Duke University alumnus Jeffrey N. Vinik and his wife Penny have given Duke $10 million to establish a faculty challenge fund that will be used to hire and retain professors who focus on complex societal challenges such as engineering and related areas in energy, global health, brain sciences and the environment, President Richard H. Brodhead announced Tuesday.

"Universities will be at the forefront in developing creative solutions to the most pressing problems of our time," Brodhead said. "We're tremendously grateful to the Vinik family for building Duke's research and teaching capacities in this crucial area." 

The Vinik Faculty Challenge Fund, a dollar-for-dollar matching fund, will be leveraged to create up to 10 associate or full professorships dedicated to addressing problems that affect the quality of life.  Many of the faculty will have primary appointments in the Pratt School of Engineering; some will be jointly appointed between Pratt and another school or institute at Duke to foster interdisciplinary collaboration. 

"None of the greatest challenges of our time can be solved by one field of study or by technology alone. They require collaboration across multiple disciplines and the development of innovative tools and resources," Pratt School Dean Tom Katsouleas said. "The professorships created through this challenge will span all fields of engineering and have broad connections to disciplines across the entire Duke campus. This gift will not only help Pratt continue on its trajectory of growth, it will advance Duke's broader mission to use knowledge in service of society."

The Pratt School has added 250 new undergraduate students since 2005. Enrollment in the master's programs has increased by 324 percent and in the Ph.D. program by 30 percent over the past decade.

In recent years, the school has made grand challenges in engineering a crucial component of its curriculum and programming. In 2009, it was one of the three founding schools to establish the NAE Grand Challenge Scholars, a program backed by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) that has become a national model for combining curricular and co-curricular activities to prepare students to solve global problems. The Pratt School also launched with North Carolina State University in 2010 the Grand Challenge K12 Partners Program, which offers engineering curriculum support for elementary and secondary school teachers. 

"The problems facing society today create immense opportunities for students who are capable of bridging their science and engineering education with complementary skills in economics, humanities and policy," Jeff Vinik said. "Faculty members are the key to providing these students with an exceptional educational experience and for engaging them in hands-on research projects and independent studies that will give them the skills to become leaders in their fields and make a positive difference in the world.

"Duke has a very strong engineering program and some of the brightest and most talented professors and students in the world," Vinik added. "It's critical that we continue to invest in the fields and in the people who will shape the world's future."

In recognition of the gift, the deanship of the Pratt School will be named in honor of the Viniks.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the Pratt School, Jeff Vinik earned a bachelor of science degree in 1981 and received an MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1985. The founder of the Boston-based Vinik Asset Management, he owns the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning and the Arena Football League's Tampa Bay Storm. He is also a minority owner of Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox.

In 1998, Jeff and Penny Vinik gave Duke $1.25 million to endow the Jeffrey N. Vinik Professorship at the Pratt School. A year later, they gave $5 million to help the school expand and improve its facilities with the naming of the Jeffrey N. Vinik Building, which is part of the Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences. They have also been a long-time contributor to supporting scholarships in both Pratt and Duke Athletics. Jeff Vinik was awarded Duke's Distinguished Young Alumni Award in 1994. 

Penny Vinik is a homemaker and actively involved in several nonprofit organizations in the Boston area, including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Meadowbrook School, where she was chair of the board for five years. 

The Viniks currently live in Weston, Mass., and plan to move to Tampa, Fla., this fall. They have four children, including a son, Daniel, who is completing his junior year at Duke.