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Gifts Focus on Systems and Computer Science

Barrises and Sachses give $10 million to endow two new engineering professorships

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July 24, 2013 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Two couples, who long have been active supporters of Northwestern University, have given a total of $10 million to endow two new professorships in the fields of industrial engineering and computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

With technology pervading virtually every aspect of life today, the professorships will strengthen McCormick’s emphasis on computer science and systems, which increasingly will affect the overall research enterprise at Northwestern.

Peter Barris, a Northwestern alumnus and member of the University’s Board of Trustees, and his wife, Adrienne Barris, have given a $5 million gift to endow a new professorship in McCormick’s department of electrical engineering and computer science.

Northwestern alumnus and trustee David A. Sachs and his wife, Karen Richards Sachs, also have given the University a $5 million gift, which will endow a professorship in McCormick’s industrial engineering and management sciences department.   

The two endowed professorships will add momentum to McCormick’s innovative scholarship and teaching as well as to the reach of computer science and systems across Northwestern’s campuses and a variety of disciplines. 

“We are grateful for the dedication, leadership and support of Peter and Adrienne Barris and David and Karen Sachs over the years,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said.

“We are particularly thankful for these latest gifts,” he said. “They recognize how critical computational thinking and analysis are in today’s world and, accordingly, to our students’ lives and futures.”

Enrollments in engineering fields are up at Northwestern. For example, the number of computer science majors at McCormick has doubled during the last five years. Understanding the technologies that govern our lives also is becoming increasingly important to many other students who are taking courses that used to be taken only by computer science majors.

“Peter and Adrienne Barris and David and Karen Sachs are great friends who share our considerable ambitions for McCormick,” McCormick Dean Julio Ottino said. 

“They understand that if our students are to lead, they must engage in whole-brain engineering, a McCormick emphasis, which means learning the nonnegotiable analytical skills needed to solve problems as well as engaging the critical right-brain skills needed for innovation,” he said.

“That is what today’s digital world is all about, and the generous gifts from these Northwestern friends will help us continue the innovative interdisciplinary work that is being done at a very exciting time at McCormick,” Ottino said. 

Narrative Science, a company that uses a computer program to automatically generate news stories, perhaps best illustrates the innovative, interdisciplinary work being done at McCormick.

Founded by two professors in the department of electrical engineering and computer science, the company was the result of a collaboration between McCormick and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Initially, the software automatically generated sports stories using box scores and play-by-plays and now produces articles that have been published in Forbes and other Internet sites.   

Faculty in McCormick’s department of electrical engineering and computer science are  internationally renowned, and many have cross-disciplinary appointments in fields like music and social policy. The department is home to several interdisciplinary centers that lie at the core of 21st-century product design and knowledge discovery.

“The department is poised to expand existing connections and develop new collaborations throughout the University,” Dean Ottino said.    

McCormick’s industrial engineering and management sciences department examines the design, analysis and implementation of production or service systems to improve quality and productivity. Research focuses on simulation and engineering statistics, the invention of new methodologies for optimization and the solution of difficult problems in production, logistics, financial engineering, health care and organizational systems analysis. 

Peter Barris

Since 1999, Barris has served as managing general partner of New Enterprise Associates, a venture capital firm. He specializes in information technology companies. Every year since 2007, he has been on the Forbes “Midas List,” which ranks the best global dealmakers in technology and life sciences based on the value of the companies they have taken public or sold in the last five years. Earlier in his career, Barris held various management positions at General Electric and led two public software companies. 

In 1974, Barris earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from McCormick. He has been a Northwestern trustee since 2001 and a member of McCormick’s Advisory Council since 1999 and has served as an advisor to the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN).

Adrienne Barris

Barris is a committee member of the National Fund for the United States Botanic Garden and, since 2001, has been on Northwestern’s Women’s Board. She also is actively involved with the nonprofit organization Our Military Kids, and she leads an organization that distributes handmade quilts to children’s hospitals and homeless shelters in the Washington, D.C., metro area. 

David Sachs

Sachs is senior partner at Ares Management LLC, an investment management firm he cofounded in 1997. Today, Ares is a global alternative asset manager with approximately $65 billion of committed capital under management and more than 600 employees. Ares is headquartered in Los Angeles with professionals located in 20 offices across the United States, Europe and Asia, and it invests across the capital structure in both the corporate and real estate markets -- from senior debt to equity. Previously, he was a principal of Onyx Partners, Inc.

Sachs earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from McCormick in 1981 and is a Northwestern trustee. He has been a member of the McCormick Advisory Council since 2009 and of the advisory board of the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation since 2008.

Karen Richards Sachs

Sachs is a trustee of The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles. As the former vice president of public affairs for Interscope Communications, an entertainment company, Sachs helped oversee a substantial charitable and political giving program. Prior to that, she was a television anchor/producer/reporter in Northern California. She holds a bachelor’s degree in politics from Brandeis University.

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