New engineering building to be named for school's former dean

Washington University in St. Louis has announced that the next building in its engineering complex will be named in honor of James M. McKelvey Sr., for 27 years the dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

Front row from left: Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, Judith McKelvey, James McKelvey Sr. Back row: James McKelvey Jr., Anna McKelvey, Robert McKelvey

James M. McKelvey, Sr. Hall, to be located south of Preston M. Green Hall, will house the Department of Computer Science & Engineering and support Washington University’s data science efforts. The new building is made possible by a lead commitment of $15 million from Washington University alumnus and McKelvey’s son, Jim Jr.

“We are tremendously grateful for the McKelvey family’s deep and lasting contributions to our university,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “They have been involved in nearly every way imaginable. With this generous gift, Jim Jr. further enhances his family’s commitment to the university and helps us honor his father’s remarkable legacy at the School of Engineering & Applied Science.”

“Washington University has played a pivotal role in my life and in my father’s life,” said McKelvey Jr. “I am excited to be able to recognize my father’s incredible service at the School of Engineering & Applied Science in a way that will continue to impact faculty and students for generations to come.”

The McKelvey family’s university roots run deep. The former dean grew up in University City. After earning an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla, he returned to St. Louis, earning his master’s in chemical engineering in 1947, and a doctorate in chemical engineering in 1950, both from Washington University.

After his doctoral studies, McKelvey Sr. joined DuPont, where he researched polymer processing, becoming a pioneer in the field. In 1954, he joined the faculty of Johns Hopkins University, and, in 1957, he returned to Washington University as an associate professor of chemical engineering. In 1960, he became a full professor, and in 1962, he was named department chair. Two years later, McKelvey became the seventh dean of the university’s engineering school, a position he held from 1964-1991.

McKelvey Sr.’s vision helped transform the School of Engineering & Applied Science from a regional program to a nationally recognized research institution. During his more than quarter century tenure as dean, he led the school to prominence in engineering research, education and innovation. He launched the Engineers’ Scholarship Program, the Dual Degree Program and the Cooperative Education Program. Under his visionary leadership, three new buildings — Bryan, Lopata and Jolley Halls — were constructed. The school’s endowment grew more than tenfold, from $4 million to nearly $52 million, and research expenditures grew substantially. Although he officially retired in 1996, McKelvey continued teaching in the chemical engineering department through the 2007-2008 academic year.


James McKelvey Sr., dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University 1964-1991, visits with the 1972 Langsdorf Scholars. Established by Dean McKelvey, the merit-based fellowship provides full tuition for engineering students who show exceptional academic promise.

Washington University has honored McKelvey Sr. with the William Greenleaf Eliot Society’s Search Award and with an undergraduate research award established in his name. His contributions have also been recognized throughout the years by the School of Engineering & Applied Science, which has bestowed upon him its Alumni Achievement Award, Distinguished Faculty Award, and Dean’s Award. In 2003, John F. McDonnell and the JSM Charitable Trust established the James M. McKelvey Professorship in his honor.

Continuing his steadfast commitment to the university, McKelvey Sr. serves on the Planned Giving Committee and is a volunteer for the engineering school’s efforts in Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University.

McKelvey Jr. is an accomplished engineer, artist and entrepreneur. He earned bachelor’s degrees in computer science and economics from Washington University in 1987, during which time he also authored two computer programming textbooks. Following graduation, he took a job with IBM and a side position as a teaching assistant in glassblowing.

A serial entrepreneur, McKelvey Jr. is a co-founder of Square Inc. He also co-founded LaunchCode, a non-profit organization that helps companies find skilled workers for the growing number of tech jobs, and provides free coding courses for those seeking a technology career.

McKelvey Jr. currently serves as a partner for Cultivation Capital, a venture capital firm he co-founded in 2012 that focuses on investing in technology and life sciences companies. He has also continued to pursue his interest in glassblowing. In 2000, he co-founded Third Degree Glass Factory, one of the most successful glassblowing schools in the world. He is the author of “The Art of Fire: Beginning Glassblowing,” the leading textbook for novice glassblowers.

He has served Washington University as a member of the Alumni Board of Governors and has returned to campus to speak about entrepreneurship. In 2012, the School of Engineering & Applied Science honored McKelvey Jr. with its Alumni Achievement Award. He resides in Miami with his wife, Anna, and their young son, Jimmy.

“McKelvey Hall will allow the School of Engineering & Applied Science to further promote research in computing and data sciences, and also expand collaborative opportunities with other schools at Washington University,” said Aaron Bobick, dean and the James M. McKelvey Professor. “As holder of the endowed professorship named in honor of Dean McKelvey, I am excited that a magnificent building dedicated to the future of engineering and computing will bear his name. It will be a lasting reminder of his innovation, and how he always looked for new ways in which engineering can impact both our local community and the world.”

McKelvey Hall will be home to the Department of Computer Science & Engineering and will include faculty offices, research laboratories and student learning spaces. The new building will be an important part of the transformation of the east end of the Danforth Campus. A celebratory groundbreaking for the east end transformation project will take place in 2017. Construction of McKelvey Hall is expected to be completed in 2020.

James M. McKelvey, Sr. Hall

  • Groundbreaking in 2017
  • Opening in 2020
  • James M. McKelvey, Sr.'s vision helped transform the School of Engineering & Applied Science from a regional program to a nationally recognized research institution.