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Duke receives $5 million from Charles LaFitte Foundation to support Science and Technology initiative

<p>The Wilkinson Building, Pratt School of Engineering's newest addition.</p>

The Wilkinson Building, Pratt School of Engineering's newest addition.

Duke recently received a $5 million donation to support its Science and Technology initiative.  

The donation is from the Charles LaFitte Foundation, a family foundation established by Duke parents Jeffrey and Suzanne Citron. The Citrons also donated to Duke in 2018, where they donated another $5 million to the University to support similar endeavors; they recently renewed over $2 million in funding from this donation.

“The Charles LaFitte foundation has a history of generously supporting Duke programs across campus over the years, so there was an ongoing dialogue,” wrote Jeff Glass, interim dean of Pratt School of Engineering, in an email to The Chronicle. “Duke’s interest in advancing computing education at the University aligned with the foundation’s vision to impact Duke students and faculty.”

The gift will be used to bolster the initiative’s core research efforts—studies of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, financial technology and more—though the money itself is to be divided and distributed across a number of areas.

In general, the $5 million “provides significant support for our growing programs in cutting-edge fields where computing is transforming both organizations and society,” Glass wrote.

One of the initiatives is supporting a new professorship in Pratt: the Charles LaFitte professor of the practice/executive in residence. This role will involve teaching, recruiting experts and spearheading the initiative’s main objectives. 

Another part of the $5 million will be used for the creation of a “big-tech” internship training program for undergraduates. This is especially valuable for students looking for opportunities in software engineering and technical consulting. This program transcends typical classroom material; students will gain useful knowledge and applied skills needed for future internship opportunities. 

The donation will also go towards hiring a liaison to work between Pratt and Duke’s Office for Research and Innovation, marking part of a larger effort to develop useful connections between the University and companies across the country. 

Earlier this year, Pratt launched the Institute for Enterprise Engineering with the goal of creating new opportunities for education and industry partnerships in areas such as financial technology, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, “where there is high demand for technological expertise," Glass explained.

Not all contributions to the University are made with specific purposes or targets in mind. Pratt occasionally receives donations for unrestricted access, such as donations to the annual fund, which Glass wrote is key for the operation of the college.

Glass noted that Pratt generally welcomes donations that “align with the goals and mission of Duke and Duke Engineering,” including those meant for restricted access.

Pratt is far from the only beneficiary of the foundation. The foundation has also provided funds to support Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Jewish Life at Duke and the Duke Gardens.

“We are very grateful to all those who choose to invest in Duke Engineering through their philanthropy,” Glass wrote.

Gautam Sirdeshmukh | Staff Reporter

Gautam Sirdeshmukh is a Trinity senior and a staff reporter for the news department. He was previously the health & science news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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