Posted April 16, 2024

College of Engineering receives the largest gift in its history

Courtesy of Professor Emeritus Brian Butz and his wife, Susan, the gift will fund the expansion of AI research projects at the college, as well as a future endowed chair position.

Image of an engineering student with a robot.
Photography By: 
Ryan S. Brandenberg
Robotics is just one area where Temple students and faculty are leading AI research.

Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering Brian Butz and his wife Susan, CPH ’85, have made a transformative donation to Temple University’s College of Engineering that will support the expansion of artificial intelligence (AI) research at the college. The gift, which is valued at more than $2.5 million, includes an immediate investment in AI research projects, as well as a future endowed chair position to help Temple push to the forefront of the AI industry. It is the largest gift in the College of Engineering’s history. 

“This is the right time for a landmark investment in AI research,” said College of Engineering Dean Keya Sadeghipour. “It will allow Temple Engineering to not only expand our current AI research but also become a true leader in the field that will have a major impact on the future.” 

This donation is just the latest example of the Butz family’s commitment to philanthropy. In total, the family’s gifts to Temple have a value of more than $3 million. In 2020, the Butzes donated $100,000 to establish the Brian and Susan Butz Term Scholarship in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and $100,000 in support of research at the College of Public Health. 

“The Butzes’ commitment to enhancing academic and research opportunities at Temple is evident, not only in their latest donation, but in their history of giving back to the university,” said Mary Burke, vice president for institutional advancement. “Their gift will have an immeasurable impact on the advancement of a cutting-edge discipline, and it will also serve as an inspiration to others who may want to follow in their footsteps in supporting the university. 

“The importance of support for endowed chairs at Temple University cannot be overstated,” Burke added. “It’s critical to attract and retain faculty members who are at the top of their field.” 

This current gift is especially significant to the Butzes given its ties to AI, an area in which Brian was an early pioneer. 

In the early 1990s he helped launch Temple’s Intelligent Systems Application Center, where he led undergraduate and graduate AI research projects funded by the National Science Foundation. During that same era, he led a research project in collaboration with the Fox Chase Cancer Center, which used AI to develop treatments for prostate cancer patients.  

Butz led numerous other research projects and taught courses related to AI throughout the 1990s, at a time when few other institutions were offering courses on the technology. He was inspired to make this donation after witnessing firsthand the growing reliance on AI. 

“AI has become very popular. There have been a lot of recent improvements which give students the chance to participate in innovative research in an academic environment,” said Butz, who served as a faculty member at the College of Engineering for more than 30 years. “We made this gift to open doors for the students and faculty alike, through the scholarship, the research fund and the endowed chair.” 

In the decades since Butz began his work at Temple, AI research has spread throughout all departments in the College of Engineering. Faculty are investigating AI in areas such as supply chain optimization, urban planning, robotics, data science, human-machine collaboration, and predictive maintenance in infrastructure and healthcare settings. 

The gift also advances the Butzes’ mission of making a quality Temple education more accessible to students of all backgrounds. It’s a mission born from Brian’s personal experience as the first in his family to attend college. 

“Brian has always been keen on providing research and scholarship opportunities to students, because he’s a first-generation college student and he really values his education,” said Li Bai, ENG ’96, chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Bai came to Temple as an undergraduate student in 1993 when Butz was serving as chair of the department. The two formed a strong bond that has lasted throughout their Temple careers.  

“It was hard being the first in my family to go to college, because I felt a real obligation to do well. I think a lot of students experience that, too,” Butz added. “I saw myself in these students, and I knew I could help them and educate them. That is what influenced this donation the most.” 

The Butzes’ legacy will have a lasting impact, not only in the advancements and breakthroughs made at the College of Engineering, but also through the students who will lead the next chapter of AI research. 

“Computers are going to run the world one day, there’s no avoiding that,” said Jared Levin, Class of 2025. Levin was the fall 2023 recipient of the Brian and Susan Butz Term Scholarship in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He also serves as the president of Temple Robotics, and he plans to pursue a master’s degree in robotics upon graduating.  

“AI is the future of engineering, so people need to learn it,” he added. “This gift will create great opportunities for Temple Engineering students.”