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In fact, he said, he didn’t even major in it.
How times have changed.
On Wednesday, Schmidt and his wife, Wendy Schmidt, made an undisclosed donation to Princeton that will substantially rebuild and expand Guyot Hall to be the new home for computer science at the school.
Planned for completion in 2026, the building will be renamed Eric and Wendy Schmidt Hall and will consolidate the computer science department — which is currently spread out over nine different buildings — into one purpose-built space.
That’s something, Schmidt noted, he didn’t have.
“I majored in electrical engineering, because computer science was barely an option,” he said. “Now, it’s the largest department at Princeton and data science has the potential to transform every discipline and find solutions to profound societal problems.
“Wendy and I are excited to think about what will be possible when Princeton is able to gather students and faculty in one place, right at the center of campus, to discover now-unimaginable solutions for the future century.”
President Christopher L. Eisgruber said the school is thrilled to continue its relationship with Schmidt.
“Eric Schmidt’s brilliant career as a computer scientist makes the Schmidt name especially fitting for the new home of Princeton’s world-class Department of Computer Science,” he said.
“We are deeply grateful to Eric Schmidt ’76, his wife, Wendy Schmidt, and Schmidt Futures for their spectacular vision and generosity.”
Earlier this year, Princeton announced the gift establishing the Schmidt DataX Fund, which will advance the breadth and depth of data science impact on campus, accelerate discovery in three large, interdisciplinary research efforts, and create opportunities to educate, train, convene and support a broad data science community at Princeton.
In 2009, the Schmidts established the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund, an endowment that supports the invention, development and utilization of cutting-edge technology that has the capacity to transform research in the natural sciences and engineering at Princeton.
“Their extraordinary commitments to this new facility, to the Schmidt DataX Fund and to the Schmidt Transformative Technology Fund have powerfully enhanced Princeton’s capacity for teaching, innovation and collaboration that open new frontiers of learning and improve the world,” Eisgruber said.
Princeton’s computer science department has grown to become the largest undergraduate major at the school, with approximately 25% of students majoring or earning a certificate in the discipline. Around 60% of undergraduates enroll in COS126, the introductory computer science course, and the university will have 44 tenure-track computer science faculty members in the fall semester of 2019.
More than 36% of the department’s undergraduate majors are women, about double the national average.
Stu Feldman, a 1968 graduate and Schmidt Futures’ chief scientist, said the gift will have major impact.
“Princeton University’s computer science department is already one of the best in the world, and with this beautiful and larger purpose-built space, it is exciting to imagine how its stature will continue to grow,” he said.
Jennifer Rexford, a 1991 graduate, the Gordon S. Wu Professor of Engineering and chair of Princeton’s computer science department, agreed.
“Princeton recognizes that computational thinking as a mode of scholarship, inquiry and critical thinking is essential across campus,” she said. “We are deeply grateful for Eric and Wendy Schmidt’s gift, which makes it possible to have a central location for computer science in which we can create intellectual collisions and serendipitous encounters between faculty and among students, creating human connections that spark new ideas across campus and beyond.”
Guyot Hall was built in 1909 and was named for Princeton’s first professor of geology and geography, Arnold Guyot, a member of the faculty from 1854 to 1884. The building’s construction was supported with proceeds from gifts made to Princeton by Cleveland H. Dodge of the Class of 1879 and his mother, to benefit the University’s programs in geology and biology.
Renovations will preserve the original collegiate Gothic architectural details of the building’s exterior, and the Guyot name will be recognized in a new-built space located elsewhere on campus, which will be associated with Princeton’s environmental science programs. The Schmidts’ gift will come to Princeton from the Schwab Charitable Fund.
The renovation of Guyot Hall will increase the square feet assigned to the computer science department and will also build in capacity for future growth of the department’s faculty and student body. During renovation of Guyot, Princeton will provide additional interim space in the Friend Center for the department. Construction is planned to begin in early 2024, with the computer science department projected to move into the renovated building in mid-2026.
Schmidt was CEO of Google from 2001-2011 and then served as executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company; he is a member of Alphabet’s board of directors through June. Schmidt has also previously served as a trustee of the school.
Wendy Schmidt is a businesswoman and philanthropist. She is the president of The Schmidt Family Foundation and cofounder of Schmidt Ocean Institute.