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You are here: Home Spring 2009 Philanthropy Counts Largest private gift will support energy research

Largest private gift will support energy research

University of Louisville engineering and business alumnus Henry Conn and his wife, Rebecca, have pledged more than $20 million to the J.B. Speed School of Engineering to foster research on alternative energy technologies. The gift is the largest individual donation ever to a public university in Kentucky.

University of Louisville engineering and business alumnus Henry Conn and his wife, Rebecca, have pledged more than $20 million to the J.B. Speed School of Engineering to foster research on alternative energy technologies. The gift is the largest individual donation ever to a public university in Kentucky. 

Researchers at the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research and Environmental Stewardship will study alternative energies like solar and wind power as well as biofuels. 

“We were looking for one cause to significantly support in an effort to make the needle move, to really make a difference,” says Henry Conn, senior executive adviser for corporations around the world, author and former vice president of the global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney Inc. He and his wife are both Louisville natives now living in Atlanta. 

The ConnsHenry Conn earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Speed School in 1964 and 1972. Sandwiched between those are his MBA from UofL in 1969.

“The vision of the Conn Center at the J.B. Speed School of Engineering, and for a cause that I have advocated in all of my recent writings, speeches and a book in process, was so compelling that we bought in full-bore,” he continues. “Obviously, the fact that Speed was the genesis for all of our success in this world didn’t hurt, either.”

The Conn gift drew immediate praise statewide. “Congratulations to Henry Conn and his wife, Rebecca, for their generosity and insight,” editorialized the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“President Obama has promised to double renewable energy production over the next 10 years. The Conns’ pledge will help put UofL, and its partners on other Kentucky campuses, on the path of a historic initiative.”

The Conns’ vision for the center is to establish a place “where the science, the research, can take place,” regardless of whether there is a market yet for such technologies, Henry Conn says. “Otherwise, when gas is $6 a gallon in five years, everybody will stand around and say ‘Now what will we do?’ ”

The Kentucky General Assembly established the center in 2007 to provide leadership, support and policy development in renewable energy but provided no money for the project. “This is going to help put us on the map for years to come in the whole energy arena,” Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said at a news conference on Jan. 26.

It looks like Conn is going to use more than his money to fight for the causes of the center that bears his name. When a spokesman for the coal industry expressed skepticism about the center’s prospects for success in the state by saying “we just don’t have the wind or the sun,” Conn said Kentucky doesn’t need much wind or sun to become a leader in renewable energy.

“Why can’t we manufacture solar panels that are—from a scientific standpoint, an engineering standpoint—better than anybody else’s,” he asked in an interview with the Courier-Journal. “What about wind machines? General Electric is probably the leader right now and they have a presence in Louisville. Why can’t we do a lot of things?”

 

 

 

 

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