June 23, 2015

$50M gift creates Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering

Nancy and Peter Meinig
Lindsay France/University Photography
Nancy and Peter Meinig

A decade after its creation, Cornell’s Department of Biomedical Engineering has received a $50 million endowment gift that will expand and elevate it as the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering. Representing the largest single philanthropic commitment by individual donors to one of the university’s colleges in Ithaca, the gift is made by Nancy Meinig ’62 and Peter Meinig ’61, along with daughters Anne ’87, Kathryn, MBA ’93, and Sarah and their own families.

“This is a pivotal moment for Engineering at Cornell,” said Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of the College of Engineering. “The Meinig family’s gift is a game changer, in terms of both its size and the effect it will have. To provide some historical context, the college’s only other named school is the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, which traces its roots to the 1800s.”

According to Collins, the establishment of the Meinig School is happening at “exactly the right time in the evolution of biomedical engineering at the university.” The BME program is the centerpiece of Cornell Engineering’s new strategic push to advance the wider multidisciplinary field of bioengineering, which impacts the university broadly, from Engineering and the College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca to Weill Cornell Medical College and Cornell Tech in New York City.

President David J. Skorton lauded the Meinig family’s many contributions to Cornell over the decades and pointed to BME’s ability to strengthen connections among schools and campuses. “This gift is an incredible continuation of the Meinig family’s generosity to Cornell and will strengthen the university in countless ways, not the least of which is by enhancing research synergies between Ithaca and Weill Cornell,” he said. “By its very nature, biomedical engineering bridges medicine, engineering and the basic sciences while addressing some of the most daunting health issues of our time. There is no more important investment the Meinigs could make.”

Cornell President-elect Elizabeth Garrett added: “The Meinigs – individually, as a couple and as a family – have made a tremendous difference in so many areas for Cornell. Their new gift sets us on a course for increased impact in biomedical engineering and the convergent biosciences, an interdisciplinary effort that will drive advances in health and well-being over the next decades. The Meinig School will be a powerhouse of teaching and research with consequence for generations to come.”

Marjolein van der Meulen, the James M. and Marsha McCormick Chair of Biomedical Engineering and the Swanson Professor of Biomedical Engineering, added that the Meinig School is especially timely in light of New York state’s recent approval of the biomedical engineering undergraduate major.

“As we launch the major in the fall and develop the undergraduate BME program, this transformational gift will provide resources that we previously could only dream about for hiring faculty, recruiting graduate students, and supporting teaching and research excellence,” van der Meulen said. Some of that research includes BME’s innovations and cross-campus collaborations in the diagnosis and treatment of a range of complex illnesses, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The gift was borne out of the Meinigs’ long and close relationship with Cornell and their engagement in several university milestones. Peter Meinig is chairman emeritus of the Cornell Board of Trustees, and he and Nancy Meinig are both presidential councillors and co-chairs of the university’s sesquicentennial committee. “The stars were all aligned for us,” said Nancy Meinig, referring to the couple’s energizing experience with the sesquicentennial celebrations across the nation and in London and Hong Kong and their desire to contribute even further to the university’s current capital campaign, which is nearing the $6 billion mark. Their gift also is inspired by Peter Meinig’s growing involvement with Engineering, where he has been partnering with the dean to help guide and articulate the college’s future strategic direction.

“A big part of why we made this gift is to motivate other people to make gifts to BME, the College of Engineering and Cornell, large or small,” Peter Meinig added. “There are many great opportunities to support and engage with the university.”

Supporting Cornell is truly a family affair, according to daughter Kathryn, executive director of the Meinig Family Foundation whose focus is on youth, education and the arts. “Ever since my parents established the foundation, it was very important for all of us to be involved,” she said. “My two sisters and I are all trustees, and we are trying to instill in the next generation a sense of service and the obligation we all have to give back.”

Jose Beduya is a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.