This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
Utah philanthropists John and Marcia Price put the University of Utah’s College of Engineering in the driver’s seat Tuesday with a $50 million donation that will fuel scholarships and a new building.
The Utah businessman and his wife had earlier committed $15 million from the Price Family Foundation toward construction of a new building for its nationally recognized computer science school. That later grew to be the largest donation the engineering school has ever received, and one of the largest ever on the U. campus.
The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon at the U.’s Warnock Engineering Building in a ceremony attended by Gov. Spencer Cox, U. President Taylor Randall and Utah legislative leaders.
“The University of Utah has an international reputation for innovation in engineering and computer science. Marcia and I want to help ensure that opportunity for this and future generations,” said John Price.
“This is going to cause another inflection point in the ascent of the college and the growth of Utah’s technology sector,” said U. Engineering Dean Richard Brown.
Randall said the gift means the U. is joining the “elite” group of schools that have named colleges of engineering.
“We need more engineers. We desperately need more engineers,” said Cox, who called it a “red letter day” for Utah.
Born to a Jewish family in Spandau, Germany, in 1933, John Price and his family fled Nazi rule in 1939, making it to the United States in 1940. He eventually came to Utah, and graduated from the University of Utah in Geological Engineering in 1956.
Price went into the construction business and became a developer of shopping centers across the West. His company, JP Realty, was listed on the New York Stock Exchange before it merged with another firm.
“With hard work, perseverence and good timing, I had a lasting, successful business career. I truly lived the American dream,” Price said. “ ... We hope the students attending the college will recall the story of a small immigrant boy, and remember that everything in life is possible.”
Price was a major fundraiser for George W. Bush during his first run for president in 2000, and Bush named him ambassador to Mauritius, Comoros and the Seychelles – islands off the southeast coast of Africa.
His love for engineering shows in the more than 30 cars he has collected. Housed in the Price Museum of Speed in Salt Lake City, the collection includes vintage race cars and the Mormon Meteor III, the Ab Jenkins-built car that launched world speed record pursuits on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
For the Prices, the commitment to the university has been deep and diverse, with donations across campus. The $50 million is the single largest gift the U. has received outside of donations to the Health Sciences campus.
Marcia Price, who grew up in Salt Lake City and graduated in English from the U., has been a driving force for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts for decades. She chairs the board of directors for the museum, which is located on the U. campus in the Marcia and John Price Museum Building.
She is a former chair of the Utah Arts Council and was a former trustee of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. She is a vice chair on the Kennedy Center’s Corporate Fund Board.
The couple also committed $3.5 million to the U.’s Theater Department. The old law school building on University Avenue has been renovated and renamed the John and Marcia Price Theater Arts Building, with an adjacent Price Family Amphitheater.
Their son, J. Steven Price, CEO of Price Real Estate, serves on the U.’s Board of Trustees.
The Engineering College has 5,244 undergraduate students, 665 masters students and 717 Ph.D students. The 214 tenure-track faculty members bring in nearly $100 million annually in research funding.
U. Engineering faculty and graduates have gone on to start several notable companies, particularly in computer software. They include Silicon Graphics, Netscape, WordPerfect, Novell, Atari, Adobe and Pixar.
Last fall, the U.’s School of Computing, which is part of the engineering college, received a $15 million donation from the Kahlert Foundation, and it is now the Kahlert School of Computing.