Local tech entrepreneurs give Portland State $4.5 million to kickstart upgrades to aging science building – OregonLive


By BETSY HAMMOND

Tech entrepreneurs Christine and David Vernier have given Portland State $4.5 million to help remake its 50-year-old science building into a modernized and lively hive for hands-on science and technology education, the university announced Wednesday.

The Verniers’ gift, one of many they have made to the downtown Portland university, represents nearly half the money the university would likely need to raise to qualify for $73 million from state borrowing for the science building update.

The Legislature is expected to give serious consideration to awarding more than $300 million in bond proceeds to Oregon’s seven public universities to remodel and expand aging campus buildings. Under a proposal vetted and endorsed by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, PSU’s science building would be the largest beneficiary.

Portland State science building

This building, known by the exciting name Science Building One, dates to 1967 and is slated for a major modernization and expansion.Portland State University

Opened in 1967, the hulking seven-story building houses classrooms, labs and offices for biology, chemistry, environmental science, physics, electron microscopy and nanofabrication. It is located near the west end of the downtown campus on Mill Street. If the renovation and expansion happen as planned, the building will also house a new center devoted to helping Latino, black and Native students and students of all backgrounds whose parents and grandparents never attended college to thrive in the sciences.

Christine and David Vernier

Christine and David Vernier, founders of Vernier Software & Technology, have given another multi-million dollar gift to Portland State University.Courtesy of Portland State University

The plan is to rename the building, which currently goes by the exciting name Science Building One, the Vernier Science Center, in honor of the couple’s decades-long commitment to the urban university. Neither of them attended Portland State, but Christine Vernier has served for years on its board of trustees. The couple made their money by founding and running an eponymous Beaverton-based company that manufactures scientific instruments, software and sensors.

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Portland State officials said the building redevelopment could be a boon to the Oregon economy because more than 80 percent of Portland State graduates in the fields of science, math, engineering and technology remain in Oregon.

In a statement, the university’s associate dean for research predicted more innovation and discovery would result from the upgraded laboratories and learning spaces.

“We know a culturally competent state-of-the-art science center will help students nurture their curiosity and develop the skills and confidence to empower discovery,” Todd Rosenstiel said. “Diversity of thought and experience is the foundation of real innovation and discovery.” David Vernier, also in a written statement, shared that prediction that more PSU students will try and stick with science.

“We are thrilled that our contribution to new PSU classrooms and research spaces will improve the teaching and learning experience for instructors and students alike and help give students from every background a great opportunity to learn science,” he said.

If lawmakers approve bond funding for the package of building upgrades the higher ed commission has endorsed, the second largest pool of money — $54 million – would go to upgrade a similar-looking early 1970s science building at the University of Oregon.

— Betsy Hammond; betsyhammond@oregonian.com; @ChalkUp

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