KU, Garmin Leaders Dedicate Min Kao Engineering Design Studios

Innovation and creativity have found a new home at the University of Kansas Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

 About 100 engineers, students, faculty, KU officials and industry leaders gathered on Oct. 30 to dedicate the newly renovated Min Kao Engineering Design Studios. The revamp of the three senior design studios in Eaton Hall was made possible through a generous gift earlier this year from Dr. Min Kao, founder of Garmin Int’l, and the Min Kao Family Foundation.

 Cliff Pemble, president and CEO of Garmin, spoke on behalf of Kao, who was unable to attend.

 “As we were touring around a little earlier, I had a little flashback and I remembered some of ‘the whys’ of why we are here,” Pemble said. “This all happened when Min decided to establish his foundation. He briefed me of his plan that he would donate a significant number of his shares of Garmin to found a foundation that would really have two objectives. One was to encourage students to pursue careers in engineering. He thinks that’s very important because as a society we need people who are driving innovation and creating things. Then the other thing that he wanted to do was to create an environment of entrepreneurship where more people could pursue their passions and create companies that would create jobs and useful things for people. Engineers are critical to that.”

 The studios – which serve seniors in electrical engineering, computer engineering and computer science – represent the physical connection KU has with Garmin and Dr. Kao.

 “These renovated and revitalized facilities will give about 100 students each academic year access to the latest technologies as they complete their capstone design projects,” said Michael Branicky, dean of the KU School of Engineering. Branicky further outlined the extensive relationship that KU, Garmin and Kao have developed over the years – numerous interns, dozens of scholarship recipients, distance education graduate courses for Garmin’s engineers, and a modest student workforce at KU’s Bioscience and Technology Business Center. And then there are the graduates. “Over 100 KU Engineering alumni are working at Garmin, making Garmin the fourth largest employer of KU Engineering alumni worldwide.”

 While offering thanks to Kao and Garmin, Branicky also credited the efforts of EECS faculty members Professor Glenn Prescott, past chair of the department, and Distinguished Professor Victor Frost, current chair, in shepherding the design studio concept.

 Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jeff Vitter also was on hand to commend the gift from Dr. Kao and the creation of the design studios.

“That’s just a tremendous contribution to KU so our future generation of student leaders will go out and make their mark.”

 Following remarks, the assembly took tours of the newly remodeled and equipped studios on the third floor of Eaton. Dozens of engineering and computing students were on hand to showcase their capstone projects. Garmin leaders and engineers were able to talk with the seniors about their projects and processes in the three studio labs. The breadth of projects on display included innovations in gaming, optical systems, electric vehicles and much more. 

 Computer science senior David Ménager – whose team capstone project is an artificial intelligence for the real-time, open-source strategy game O A.D. – said the CS studio is conducive to teamwork.

 “I think the coolest aspect is the openness of the lab,” Ménager said. “You can see what other people are working on and it makes it really easy to collaborate with other individuals. … It’s really easy to go from table to table and interact with other groups.”

 The Topeka native added that the fresh look and feel of the studios entices him to stay on task.

 “That does make a difference in its appeal to work there by choice,” he said. “So there have already been occasions where I'll use senior design lab as my personal quiet study space. It really is a nice environment for studying and work.”

 If Ménager’s inclination to use the space is shared by classmates, it will give a whole new meaning to the adage: Location. Location. Location. It also means the Kao Family Foundation Gift is right on target.

 “It’s a great honor to see what’s being done here today at KU,” Garmin CEO Pemble said. “It’s something that will extend into the future generations.”

 — Story by Jill Hummels