June 10, 2004

The Orange County Register

Making a name for itself

By Tamara Chuang and Gary Robbins

UCI's computer school takes a new identity in honor of the Irvine Co.'s Donald Bren.

A billionaire developer who rarely speaks publicly was honored Wednesday for making a donation that will help people communicate globally. The University of California, Irvine, named a major building and a school after Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Co.

Bren also was awarded the University of California's highest honor, the Presidential Medal, during a groundbreaking ceremony for Bren Hall that attracted about 300 people, including several pioneering figures in the world of computing.

The new complex will expand UCI's fast-growing computer school, which was renamed the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences. The name change comes seven months after Bren, who says UCI is "the campus closest to my heart," donated $20 million to ICS.

Most of that gift will endow 10 professorships that will be used to recruit star faculty to a program whose professors and alumni already have made major contributions to how people communicate and work via e-mail and the World Wide Web.

The donation builds on Bren's tradition of creating endowed professorships for UCI to use to recruit and retain - and in some cases, simply honor - distinguished scholars. Bren has underwritten 23 professorships at Irvine, representing most of the $42.3 million he has given to the campus throughout two decades.

"ICS is the special link, the technological link, between the 10 schools on campus," the 72-year-old Bren said.

"(Former UCI Chancellor Jack) Peltason convinced me years ago that world-class educators, the teachers, they allow the leadership that is necessary to create the product we talked about 20 years ago."

Bren's donations also will benefit his firm, the Irvine Co., which donated 1,000 acres of pasture land to the University of California in 1960 for the creation of the Irvine campus.

The gift was made in hopes that UCI would become the heart of a master-planned community designed or built by the Irvine Co., which is exactly what happened.

The Newport Beach-based company owns or operates scores of office buildings, shopping centers and apartments in Orange County, many near UCI. The company also manages UCI's University Research Park, which has yet to develop into the research nexus once envisioned by the campus.

Until the mid-1990s, UCI's computer science program was also an underachiever, attracting comparatively little research money.

But in the past five years, ICS' research funding has soared more than five-fold, and the number of students majoring or minoring in information and computer science has more than doubled.

In December 2002, UCI made the department a school, allowing it to operate autonomously.

Campus officials say the program has grown partly because UCI has worked harder to establish or deepen ties to the business community, especially companies such as Newport Beach's Conexant Systems Inc., which makes chips for computer networks. Conexant helped UCI recruit a promising young ICS faculty member last year by giving her $100,000 in research money.

The improvement and growth was acknowledged by U.S. News and World Report magazine in 2002, which ranked Irvine's graduate-level computer science program as 15th among American public universities.

That's not good enough for Debra Richardson, the ICS dean.

"Top 10 in five (years)," Richardson said Wednesday, referring to both the graduate and undergraduate programs. "That's our vision for the Donald Bren Information and Computer Science School."

UCI's engineering school has similar ambitions and has been following a similar plan to get there.

In December 1999, Broadcom founder Henry Samueli was persuaded to donate $20 million to promote engineering, a program that was once so weak at Irvine it nearly was eliminated.

The program - known as the Henry Samueli School of Engineering - is now ranked among the top 50 engineering schools nationally.
Making a name for itself