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$10 million gift to kickstart Westminster science lab

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Westminster College President Michael Bassis announces John and Ginger Gore Giovale's gift, the school's largest single donation.

Westminster College President Michael Bassis announces John and Ginger Gore Giovale’s gift, the school’s largest single donation.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

Westminster College science students will soon have a state-of-the-art lab, thanks to the largest donation in the school's history.

The $10 million donation by John and Ginger Gore Giovale kickstarts a fund-raising process for the 60,000-square-foot science center with a $30 million price tag.

"They understand that America is in grave danger of losing its preeminent position as the leading producer of scientific talent," Westminster President Michael Bassis said of the donors during the announcement Monday. "This gift helps to address that problem, for it is a long-term investment in a program with a wonderful track record of preparing the next generation of scientists."

About $8 million of the gift will go directly toward construction of the science center, while $2 million will endow a science chair. Bassis hopes to have the remainder of the funding in place by July.

"I have always believed that a good education can not only have a positive influence in transforming an individual's life, but also the country and, indeed, the world," Ginger Giovale said.

The Giovales met in 1961 at Westminster, where Ginger Giovale majored in math and John Giovale studied pre-engineering. Ginger Giovale, who has served as chairwoman of the college's Board of Trustees, was the third generation in her family to attend Westminster after her parents also met at the college. Her parents, the late Wilbert L. "Bill" Gore and Genevieve Walton "Vieve" Gore, who founded the company that invented GORE-TEX waterproof clothing fabric, were longtime benefactors of the school.

"In a sense, I suppose their gift can be seen as a contribution to ensuring the continuation of the family line," Bassis joked Monday.

The new science center will replace older existing science classrooms with new technology, including wireless computing, image-capturing microscopes and nuclear magnetic resonance capability. Those new technologies will enable students to work side by side with professors to do research and learn in a hands-on lab, said Paul Hooker, associate professor of chemistry.

"Gone are the days where we as teachers can expect to inspire students with two-hour lectures and chalkboard scratchings on physical chemistry," he said.

Instead, Hooker said students will "move seamlessly" from actual experiments to computerized classrooms.

The science center, which will sit next to Foster Hall on the Westminster campus, will hold 14 undergraduate research labs, 14 regular labs, two seminar classrooms, two general classrooms, an informatics lab, a greenhouse and a rooftop garden.

The building will also follow environmentally-friendly building principles, Bassis added, to maximize heating and lighting systems.

"It is more than a building; it is an extension of our philosophy that the most powerful learning takes place when it is active, experiential, collaborative and cross-disciplinary learning," he said.

Currently, the school has 11 full-time undergraduate faculty in science and majors including biology, chemistry and physics. Student enrollment in those fields has more than doubled in the past eight years at Westminster, a sign to Myriad Genetics CEO Peter Meldrum that the college is actively working toward churning out well-qualified scientists. The greatest challenge to producing those future scientists, he added, is the lagging technology in classrooms.

"I hope everyone appreciates that this wonderful gift is not just about bricks and mortar — it's about transforming the lives of our young people," Meldrum said.

E-mail: estewart@desnews.com