Engineering Education and Research Center Moves Closer to Reality

UT Austin cleared a major hurdle in its effort to build the new EERC, as the UT System Board of Regents approved a $310 million funding plan for the building.

eerc atrium
eerc exterior

Three years ago, the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin set out to replace the 50-year-old Engineering-Science Building (ENS) with the Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC), a modern facility that would meet the needs of engineering students and faculty for decades to come.

In a unanimous vote at special meeting held on Sept. 12, the UT System Board of Regents gave final approval to the Cockrell School to move forward on the construction of the $310 million, 430,000-square-foot EERC. Once finished in 2017, the EERC will boast flexible classrooms, state-of-the-art teaching laboratories and new research space that will foster collaboration among disciplines across campus and redefine engineering for the 21st century.

“I would like to thank the Board of Regents for their commitment to our vision for the future of engineering education, and for seeing that the EERC is far more than a bricks-and-mortar project," said Gregory L. Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School. "The EERC will be a modern engineering teaching facility, a gathering place for science and technology research across disciplines and a launching pad for discoveries and inventions that can change the world."

“This day would not have been possible without the support of President Bill Powers,” Fenves added.

The EERC will usher in a wave of exciting changes for students and faculty, including increases in interdisciplinary research, entrepreneurial programming and industry-sponsored research, Fenves said.

Eventually, the EERC will allow the Cockrell School to increase enrollment by 1,000 students to a total of more than 6,000 students, as well as increase its number of engineering faculty members.

During the meeting, former Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell made a special point to thank President Powers and Dean Fenves for their work in getting this project off the ground. Powell and current Regents Chairman Paul Foster are also key figures in the EERC’s advancement.

“The EERC, combined with the medical school, will put UT Austin at another level,” Powell said.

With this project, the Cockrell School is making history, having raised $65 million so far in funds and pledges from generous donors — the highest amount ever raised for a new building at UT Austin.

Additionally, the highly anticipated EERC will be one of the largest buildings ever constructed on the UT Austin campus. It will replace the ENS building, a half-century-old structure that is cramped and functionally obsolete, as well as temporary facilities in the Computer Sciences Annex and the Academic Annex. ENS houses the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“The Cockrell School is one of the great schools of engineering in America. That it has accomplished so much with facilities that are 30 to 50 years old is astonishing,” said President Powers. “This new center will propel UT Austin to the highest tier of engineering education and research and will serve our state well into the future.”

Over the next year, the school will begin relocating the electrical and computer engineering department. The Ernest Cockrell Jr. Building (ECJ), which is adjacent to ENS, and other campus buildings will undergo minor renovations to accommodate the department. UT Austin plans to begin demolishing ENS in late 2014.

If all goes as planned, the building will be finished and ready for occupancy in fall 2017.

Students, Projects and Groundbreaking Discoveries

Not only will the EERC change the skyline of the UT Austin campus, it will transform the academic experience for engineering students and faculty, as well as others across the university.

Students, faculty, leadership and the school’s Engineering Advisory Board have contributed to every facet of the building’s design and programming. And driving each EERC decision was the idea of improving the learning experience for future students.

Among the first differences students can expect is curriculum changes. The EERC will give undergraduates the opportunity to engage in one hands-on research project each year. By the time they graduate, students will have collaborated on at least four projects alongside graduate students and world-class faculty members in areas such as aerospace, mobile technologies and energy. In comparison, some engineering students today receive only one opportunity in their four years to work on a hands-on project — the senior-year capstone project.

“The EERC will help ensure that our students get invaluable experience working on projects that solve global problems, so that when they graduate, they are prepared to enter the workforce,” said Sharon L. Wood, chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering and incoming interim dean of the Cockrell School.

Beyond classrooms, study areas and labs, the EERC will house the Center for Innovation — the school’s first dedicated space for entrepreneurship and commercialization programming. Professor of innovation Bob Metcalfe’s Longhorn Startup Program, a two-year-old program that has nurtured dozens of student- and faculty-led startups, will be housed in the Center for Innovation.

The EERC’s state-of-the-art facilities are also anticipated to strengthen partnerships with industry, which have been vital to the success of the school. Sponsored research allows faculty and students to work closely with industry to find solutions to pressing problems, identify promising research and spin out technologies to the benefit of society.

While the detailed planning efforts for the EERC began three years ago, the vision was set in motion about a decade ago. During that time, the Engineering Advisory Board saw the need to keep up with changes in modern learning and to plan ahead. To that end, the school’s leadership and EAB put together a sweeping Master Plan for Facilities, of which the EERC will be the first building in a multiphase plan.

“The EAB has been instrumental in the success of this project so far,” Fenves said. “While we are all proud of reaching this milestone, we know there is more work to be done. I look forward to seeing the progress that Dr. Wood and the EAB make in the coming months.”

Engineering Education and Research Center

Find out more about the EERC, a transformative facility that will drive our country’s economic growth by fostering groundbreaking discoveries.

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News Release

Visit UT Austin's news page for the Sept. 12 announcement of the UT System Board of Regents' approval.