M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Student Center Dedication

(Urbana-Champaign, Illinois – September 23, 2011)  The Civil and Environmental Engineering Department (CEE) proudly dedicated the new M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Student Center after nearly five years of planning and construction.  Dr. Geoffrey Yeh gave the keynote address at the dedication ceremony in front of administration, faculty, students, and invited guests.  For video of the event, click here.

“Today is a very special day for me. It is special because I am returning to an institution I am indebted to. It is special because I have the chance to meet our future engineers and leaders.  It is special because I am standing in this beautiful facitily, thanking hte donors whose generosity enabled me then as a student to follow my passion and transformed my life” said Dr. Yeh.

The $7 million M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Student Center is a 20,500-square-foot addition to Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory. Completed in July, the Yeh Center provides state-of-the-art classrooms, meeting rooms and informal gathering space for the department’s 1,300 students. The project was funded entirely through private gifts, led by a challenge grant from Dr. Geoffrey Yeh, a particular accomplishment given the economic challenges of recent years, said Professor Amr S. Elnashai, CEE department head.

“Our success in raising the required funds and providing our students a state-of-the-art facility is a testament to our vision and drive, and to the faith our alumni and friends have in us,” Elnashai said. “Through economic peaks and troughs, CEE at Illinois has remained the top-ranked department. When many departments were contracting, we were building a new student structure that was donated entirely by our alumni, faculty and friends.”

According to the University of Illinois, the construction of the Yeh Student Center fulfilled the original vision for Newmark Laboratory, built in the 1960s, which included plans for an additional structure for classrooms. At that time, budget constraints prevented its realization. Before this year, civil and environmental engineering students have attended class in various buildings across the campus. In addition to state-of-the-art classrooms, the Yeh Student Center provides CEE students with a designated home on campus where they can hold student group meetings, study, collaborate on projects, and meet informally. It features sustainable design, including a green roof.

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois is the nation’s top-ranked program for undergraduate civil engineering education. Research led by the department’s approximately 55 faculty members addresses such critical societal issues as infrastructure renewal, water purification, environmental protection, transportation safety, sustainable development, risk mitigation, and disaster response.


Full text of Dr. Geoffrey Yeh’s dedication speech:

Thank you, President Hogan, Chancellor Easter, Dean Adeside, Vice-Chancellor Schroeder, Professor Elnashai, Professor Dodds, other members of the faculty, my fellow alumni, friends of the CEE, and students.

Today is a very special day for me.  It is special because I am returning to an institution I am indebted to.  It is special because I have the chance to meet our future engineers and leaders.  It is special because I am standing in this beautiful facility, thanking the donors whose generosity enabled me then as a student to follow my passion and transformed my life.

Some 60 years ago, I was offered a once-in-lifetime opportunity by the University of Illinois – a scholarship to study Engineering.  Although my parents wanted me to become a doctor, I was more enthused by constructing a building than the inner workings of a human being.  Maybe it was because my father allowed me as a child to play on his construction sites during his site visits.  Not the safest thing to do but certainly provided me hours of fun and helped generate the passion of a lifetime.

As I stand before you today, I marvel at how much this University has grown and the incredible resources available to our students and faculty.  The University is still abuzz with the same vitality, energy and excitement as when I first set foot on campus.  I still remember my own eager anticipation – tinged with a sense of awe and fear – when I sat in my first structures class.

In 2006, Prof. Robert Dodds and John Kelly, Director of Advancement and Alumni Relations, approached me with the University’s vision for a CEE student center, a place where CEE students are afforded opportunities outside the classroom to mingle and learn from their colleagues, professors and mentors.  I thought it was a fitting way to continue the path of my benefactors – a center focused on students and an environment to spark intellectual and social discourse.  In the years to come, I hope to be regaled by stories of entrepreneurship, engineering breakthroughs and lifelong friendships – all starting from impromptu gatherings here.

When I was offered the chance to name the Center, I decided that the name must be one which enables future generations of the Yeh family to remember our modest beginnings and continue to contribute to society.  My dream is for them to recognize and experience the joy of giving back – the same feeling I have now.

That is also why I recently established the Yeh Family Philanthropy.  My hope is that the Philanthropy will stand as strong as this Student Center to affect change in young people, much as the donor changed the life of a young, naïve but eager student from Hong Kong some 60 years ago.  Our Philanthropy’s mission is to build the capacity of promising young minds through education and social entrepreneurship.  This Center is an important first step in that direction.

Thank you, Benefactor!  Thank you, University of Illinois!  And thank you all for joining me here today.