After more than two years of construction, the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science has a striking new home on the south side of campus.
The five-floor, 130,000-square-foot facility is modeled in part after modern coworking spaces that foster chance meetings between entrepreneurs in related fields. The building, which features $1 million in new equipment, is a cornerstone of a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiative at the University to prepare graduates for business and entrepreneurship.
“Buildings matter in the life of a university. In this day and age, we kind of forget that,” says JB Holston, dean of the school. “They really are part of how you become a platform for a broader range of constituents. They’re invaluable from a marketing point of view, and they center the conversation around the topics they represent in a way that you can’t do if you don’t have a physical place.”
The new building also provides facilities for the engineering school’s growing focus on entrepreneurship and collaboration. A first-floor “maker space” — an area where students and faculty can collaborate informally or as part of their course work — features a variety of machines that can be used to make rapid prototypes, including laser cutters, 3-D printers and electronics workstations. “If you were an innovator and you wanted to create the next Fitbit, in theory, all the stuff you need to make the prototype will be sitting in the maker space,” Holston says.
The building’s open design provides vastly expanded research and instructional spaces, flexible classrooms, community areas and a café that provides a further potential collaboration point for students and faculty from multiple programs. Large meeting areas will allow for a variety of STEM-related events and speakers that weren’t possible under the school’s previous multibuilding setup.
The top floor of the new building is home to the Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging, a separately funded, crossdisciplinary enterprise that supports research and scholarship on aging and aging-related conditions. The institute also will provide research and other opportunities for faculty and students at the Ritchie School, as well as other schools across campus.
“Because so much of the innovation that occurs in the aging field is related to engineering, we are especially happy to be housed in this amazing new building,” says Lotta Granholm, the institute’s executive director. “We are excited to develop interdisciplinary research teams providing new solutions to problems related to aging.”
The building is made possible by donations totaling more than $41 million, including a gift valued at $27 million from Chancellor Emeritus Daniel Ritchie and additional funds from Betty Knoebel, widow of Denver food-service pioneer Ferdinand “Fritz” Knoebel, and the late Bill Petersen (BSEE ’69), an alumnus of DU’s engineering program. It joins the Anna and John J. Sie International Relations Complex, which opened in May, as one of two high-profile buildings to open on campus this year.
Matthew Gordon, chair of the mechanical materials engineering department, says the new building will finally give the engineering and computer science program a home equivalent to campus buildings that house programs like business, education and social work.
“I always knew we had a good program; we’ve got great people; we’re doing a great job, but it hurt us that we didn’t look the same as the rest of campus,” Gordon says. “Now it really looks like we are part of the DU family.”
The grand opening celebration for the new home of the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science is scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 14. The grand opening of the Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging will follow at 1 p.m. Oct. 15. Both events are part of Homecoming & Family Weekend, Oct. 14–15. Visit homecoming.du.edu for more information.