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Jaren Wilkey, BYU
David and Rachel Weidman speak to the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology. They announced a $10 million donation to start the Weidman Center for Global Leadership on March 3, 2011.

PROVO — From his days as a young chemical engineering graduate to his prestigious role as chairman and CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Dave Weidman has watched the world shrink.

Telex machines have been replaced by BlackBerrys, distinct international borders have become fluid and project teams now span continents. To succeed in this globally connected world, engineers need much more than just book smarts.

Which is why Weidman and his wife, Rachel, gave $10 million to BYU open the Weidman Center for Global Leadership in the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology, where students will learn global agility and leadership flexibility along with the core technical skills.

"I'm a Fortune 500 CEO, I know those skill sets are in high demand," said Weidman, who leads Celanese Corp., a Dallas-based manufacturer of specialty materials and chemical products. "I'm very confident in BYU's ability to establish a direction and a vision (for the center)."

The vision began several years ago with discussions between faculty, administrators and donors about the future of engineering at BYU.

"The challenges facing humankind in energy, sustainability, security, water resources and infrastructure all require leaders with deep technical skills who can work across national boundaries," said Alan Parkinson, dean of engineering and technology. "We believe BYU students are uniquely positioned to contribute."

With that belief, Parkinson approached the Weidmans about 15 months ago with a very specific question: "Would you consider a $10 million donation?"

"It's a question you don't ask very often," he added. "But it was nice to hear him say 'yes.'"

The donation fully endows the Weidman Center and provides an annual operating budget of nearly $500,000, which will pay for a soon-to-be-hired director, helping students get into industrial-design competitions, bringing in professional lecturers and giving professors additional funding to assist their students.

It will also be used for supporting study abroad opportunities, like the ones currently in place for students to travel to China, where they study some of the world's largest buildings, and Mexico, where they work on solutions to complex water problems, Parkinson said. The college currently sends more than 100 students abroad each year.

"You will change the world because you will make a difference to people," Rachel Weidman told the audience of engineers and technology students. "You will do that by a strong work ethic, by professional excellence and by being willing and able leaders in international settings."

Both Dave and Rachel Weidman received their bachelor's degrees at BYU and two of their sons also graduated from BYU's college of engineering.

"There are few gifts that are really transformative for the college and university and this is one of them," Kevin Worthen, BYU Advancement Vice President, told the couple.

Worthen thanked them for their gracious financial gift, as well as their willingness to share their name for the center's title, which the Weidmans only agreed to at the university's request.

"As a result of the center and coordinated efforts," Parkinson said, "BYU engineering graduates will leave the university well equipped to be leaders in addressing the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century."

email: sisraelsen@desnews.com