Special Feature

The McKelvey Challenge continues

Beth Miller  • Spring 2021 issue
Steve Lowy, Laurie Bowen, Michael Lefenfeld
Steve Lowy, Laurie Bowen, Michael Lefenfeld
“We are grateful to Jim and Anna McKelvey for their generosity and continued support of our school through the McKelvey Challenge, as well as to all of those who have participated in the Challenge so far. McKelvey Engineering is working hard to focus on education, fundamental research and innovation. With these and future gifts made through the McKelvey Challenge, we are strengthening those areas and providing new opportunities through scholarships, faculty investment and hands-on experiences.” — Dean Aaron Bobick

On a cold, snowy day in January 2019, the Washington University School of Engineering & Applied Science became the James M. McKelvey School of Engineering thanks to a generous gift from alumnus and tech entrepreneur Jim McKelvey Jr. and his family.

In the more than two years since the name change took place, many alumni and friends have participated in the $30 million McKelvey Challenge. Jim McKelvey Jr., who earned degrees in computer science and economics at WashU in 1987, established the challenge with his wife, Anna, to expand opportunities for students, bolster cutting-edge research and provide modern facilities for Engineering. The multi-year challenge was designed to provide matching funds to support endowed scholarships, endowed professorships, the school’s annual fund, the recently opened James M. McKelvey, Sr. Hall and the Henry A. and Elvira H. Jubel Hall, and for other engineering projects.

The McKelvey Engineering Challenge will match all gifts, pledges, estate gifts and bequest commitments for the McKelvey School of Engineering made through June 30, 2022 — or until the challenge funds are exhausted. Additional contributions during the remaining time period will trigger matching funds that will combine with the gifts into a powerful investment in Engineering at Washington University.

One of the most innovative programs included in the McKelvey Challenge is the support of multidisciplinary Computing + X professorships, an initiative to connect computational thinking with other fields across the university. Through Computing + Music, Computing + Political Science or Computing + other disciplines, McKelvey Engineering is breaking down barriers between academic disciplines, transforming how research is conducted and pioneering new ways to integrate computer education across campus.

Steve Lowy

Among the donors who have already participated in the McKelvey Challenge is Steve Lowy, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968 and a master’s degree in 1970 in chemical engineering from Washington University. Lowy, with his wife, Susie, gave a gift in 2020 that will provide 31 additional scholarships to the Washington University Scholars in Engineering Program. Previously, Lowy had established three endowed scholarships and four annual scholarships, and this new donation will bring the total number of Lowy scholarships to an unprecedented 38 scholarships each year.

“It’s a great program that dramatically changes lives by making it possible for students from low-to-moderate income families to get an outstanding education at Washington University McKelvey School of Engineering that they could not afford without a Lowy scholarship,” he said.

“I enjoy giving to this so much more than any other charity where you don’t really know what your money goes to. I get much more satisfaction out of this program.”

Lowy, who is chairman of Envision LLC, a St. Louis-based IT firm that provides staffing to Fortune 500 companies, began contributing to the scholarship program in the 1970s, when he worked for his family’s wholesale carpet business. Since then, 79 students have benefited from his generosity.

Lowy remains very involved with the university through the Eliot Society and serving as chairman of its Patron Committee for the past three years. He also served on the executive committee of his undergraduate class’s 50th reunion in 2018. He received the McKelvey Engineering Alumni Achievement Award in 2018.

Laurie Bowen

Laurie Bowen’s participation in the McKelvey Challenge focuses on scholarships, particularly for women in Engineering.

“I appreciate the opportunity to help talented people who can’t quite afford to make it to WashU but have the drive and capability to succeed,” Bowen said. “I especially want to support women in engineering because there just aren’t enough in the workplace!”

Bowen spent more than 30 years in telecommunications and wireless communications around the globe with companies including Tata Communications, British Telecommunications and IBM. Most recently, she was CEO for the Americas companies of Telecom Italia Sparkle. She now sits on the boards of directors for Ricardo plc and Chemring Group plc, which often faces the challenge of recruiting women engineers.

Bowen, who earned bachelor’s degrees from WashU Engineering in computer science and in electrical engineering in 1983 and an MBA from Olin Business School in 1989, said her experience at WashU helped her learn about herself and where she was headed in life. “I am so grateful for the foundation that WashU provided for me,” she said. “If possible, I want to help provide that opportunity for other students.” 

She said she has enjoyed seeing the changes and impact that WashU has been making over the years and really appreciates the heightened profile the McKelvey name and challenge bring.

“This massive investment that has come from Jim McKelvey puts the Engineering school on a different level,” she said.

Bowen also serves on the school’s National Council.

Michael Lefenfeld

Michael Lefenfeld, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from WashU in 2002 and master’s degrees from Columbia University in 2005 and 2007, is president and CEO of Houston-based Cyanco, the world’s largest producer of sodium cyanide, used in the gold and silver mining industry to extract metal from rock. Previously, he co-founded SiGNa Chemistry, which manufactures highly active, environmentally friendly chemicals used to improve production processes in the energy recovery, petrochemical refining and chemical manufacturing industries. He holds more than 100 patents and has received numerous awards and recognitions for his professional and charity work, including the Engineering Entrepreneurship Award from McKelvey Engineering in 2017. He also serves on the school’s National Council.

Lefenfeld participated in the McKelvey Challenge by investing in scholarships and making a major contribution to help construct a hands-on learning lab for chemical and environmental engineering.

“Any way to support the Engineering school with shared support is always an important factor,” Lefenfeld said. “The McKelvey family is contributing a lot to engineering, and to be a part of this challenge is a great way to add to that.”

As an entrepreneur, Lefenfeld wants to promote that spirit among Engineering students.

“The school and the Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering Department have given so much to me, so I have tried to give back to ensure that students will have interactive, hands-on tools, entrepreneurial experience and interdisciplinary collaborations that make up a well-rounded education.”

The McKelvey Engineering Challenge will match all gifts, pledges, estate gifts, and bequest commitments for the McKelvey School of Engineering made through June 30, 2022 — or until the challenge funds are exhausted.

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