RALEIGH — Just in time for Christmas, N.C. State University is getting the biggest gift in its 123-year history.
Lonnie C. Poole Jr., who made a fortune in the garbage-hauling business, and his wife, Carol Johnson Poole, are giving the university $40 million. That single gift will swell NCSU's entire endowment by nearly 10 percent and instantly boost the profile of the university's young management college, which is getting most of the money.
"This is transformative," said NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson. "To receive this size of a gift in this economic environment and at a time when the university is really trying to elevate its stature, you know, it's just transformative."
Poole, an NCSU graduate in civil engineering and a long-time supporter of the university, founded Raleigh-based Waste Industries in 1970, using $10,000 the couple got from selling their home in Ohio. The family moved in with his parents.
His name will now grace the College of Management, which will get $37 million of the gift for its endowment.
Of the remainder, $500,000 will go to the endowment of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and $2.5 million will be used to build a clubhouse at NCSU's new golf course on its Centennial Campus, which will be named for Carol Poole. The Pooles had earlier given $3 million to help build the golf course, which was named for him.
The Pooles were expected to join university officials this morning to formally announce the gift.
The holiday season aside, their largesse could not have been more timely. Not only has the stagnant economy hurt donations to universities everywhere, but officials across the 16-campus UNC system are trying to figure out what's left to slash when the next round of cuts in state funding hits.
The gift will shine a spotlight on the university's technology-oriented college of management which, at just 18 years old, is one of the youngest in the country.
Lonnie Poole has helped lead charitable foundations at NCSU for nearly 20 years and said that he knows which colleges at NCSU get the most donations and which need more.
That's one reason Poole is steering the money toward the business school, he said in an interview. He wants to help put it on equal footing with the larger, older colleges at NCSU that can draw on a bigger donor base, and make it more competitive with the other business schools in the area, including those at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University.
NCSU has an unusual number of small foundations set up to handle gifts for individual colleges, and that has created inequities, he said.
"The end result is, when people go to North Carolina State, they expect the colleges there to be comparable to each other in excellence, in teaching excellence and research excellence," he said.
"In fact, it's a mistake to make that assumption because the colleges of agriculture, textiles, natural resources and engineering have been around for a long, long time, and they have alumni who are able to give back to the college and create very healthy foundations to fund those things that make you just a level above an ordinary land-grant college."
The management college already has some characteristics that distinguish it from competitors that focus on typical business school topics such as traditional finance, investment banking and consumer product marketing. Instead, it concentrates on subjects such as commercialization of technology, new product and service innovation, global supply chain, enterprise risk and management of biosciences.
In short, the school aims to produce graduates to fit the kinds of companies that populate Research Triangle Park and that are being spun off from NCSU research.
The Pooles' gift is a validation of that approach, said Ira Weiss, the dean of the college.
"Given the youth of our college, we feel that the size of this gift is a phenomenal testament to who we are and what we've accomplished, but it's really about the future," Weiss said. "Obviously someone is investing in that future."
The money will not only raise the college's profile, he said. It also will help it compete for new high-quality faculty members, fill endowed chairs and spend enough to keep key faculty who otherwise might be lured away.
It also will help pay for new initiatives, Weiss said, notably the creation of a new center of excellence in sustainability. That's fitting, he said, because Poole has long been an advocate for sustainable practices in the solid waste industry, and because the college is well-poised for it.
"With our areas of expertise in innovation, technology, entrepreneurship and globalization, we're primed to be a leader in that area," Weiss said. "Clearly technology is a driver of everything that's going to happen in sustainability."
No strings attached
Poole said that he is putting no strings on the endowment gift because the school's needs will inevitably change.
Discussions with Weiss and other university leaders, though, convinced him that they want to bolster the college's teaching in three key areas that keenly interest him: entrepreneurship, ethics and the intersection of business and the environment.
Poole said that when he was in school, classes on those subjects weren't available, and that they're all crucial now.
Such a big addition to the university's endowment, which can help pay for scholarships and professors' salaries, was particularly sweet for Woodson, who, even before he took office as chancellor in April, had said that boosting the endowment to make it a more stable source of funding would be one of his major goals.
The university's endowment needs to more than double, to about $1 billion, to put it on a par with similar institutions around the country, he has said.
Still to be worked out, Woodson said, are details of how the Poole gift to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences will be used. Poole is interested in an arrangement that rewards faculty excellence.
The new donation is double the size of the second-largest gift to NCSU, a $20 million donation in 2005 by a foundation endowed by High Point businessman Randall B. Terry Jr. That pledge was to help build a new animal hospital at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
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