Howard County native gives $31 million to UM for computer science center

Brendan Iribe's gift is largest in College Park's history

September 11, 2014|By Liz Bowie | The Baltimore Sun

He didn't even finish his degree at the University of Maryland, College Park, but entrepreneur Brendan Iribe found other creative geniuses and best friends as he tinkered in the computer science department there.

So on Friday, he will give the university $31 million — the largest gift the university has ever received — to build a new computer science building with a focus on virtual reality.

"It is transformational for our university and our college. What Brendan Iribe is doing is creating a center. It significantly boosts academic excellence. It will impact the lives of many of our future students," said Jayanth Banavar, dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

The new center will be designed as a hub for research in the field and will encourage collaboration in "hacker/maker" spaces, where students can come together to work on new ideas.

"It will be like a playground with lots of devices and circuits and machine tools. You play around with it and make great new inventions," Banavar said.

Undergraduate enrollment in the computer science department has doubled in the past eight years and is now at about 2,000 students.

In addition to the gift by Iribe, his mother, Elizabeth Iribe, is donating $3 million to establish two endowed chairs in the computer science department. And Michael Antonov, a 2003 UM graduate and Iribe's business partner, will give $4 million to support the construction of the building and fund scholarships.

Iribe, Antonov and another College Park friend started their first company together while still in college. They sold that company and moved on to another and then another. This summer, their latest venture, Irvine, Calif.-based Oculus, was purchased by Facebook for about $2 billion. The company designed a virtual reality platform.

Iribe graduated from Atholton High School in Howard County and then attended College Park for one academic year, from the fall of 1997 to the spring of 1998.

In a statement, Iribe said: "I truly believe virtual reality is the future of computing, with an impact that will be as big, if not bigger than the jump to 3-D graphics or mobile devices. This gift positions Maryland to be one of the leading institutions for virtual reality in the world."

The gift grew out of a tragic event that brought Iribe and Antonov together with their college professors and current students.

Banavar said that in May, Andrew Reisse, another College Park partner in Oculus, died in a car accident while driving back to the office from lunch. Iribe and colleagues decided to fund a scholarship in Reisse's name at College Park and later came to the university to speak and work for a day with students.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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