The University of Wisconsin-River Falls announced it received a $1 million challenge gift to support its new Science and Technology Innovation Center (SciTech) from UWRF alumni Jeff and Kristi Cernohous.
“Modernizing aging learning environments is an absolute must but transforming the student experience is equally important,” said Jeff Cernohous, CEO and chairman of Interfacial, Inc. “We would like to see this gift used to create an ecosystem where UWRF students, faculty and industry are engaged in meaningful scientific collaboration year-round.”
“We are grateful not only for Jeff and Kristi’s gift, but for their long-standing support and shared vision for SciTech,” said UW-River Falls Chancellor Connie Foster. “They have helped us advocate for SciTech from the beginning and have been incubating the possibilities ever since.”
The Cernohous’ have been long time supporters of SciTech, funding a feasibility study in 2014 which identified the significant gaps science and technology education at UW-River Falls, specifically in the classroom and lab settings. They have also funded an innovative Joint Visiting Professorship where a member of the UWRF chemistry faculty splits their expertise between the UW-River Falls classroom and Interfacial, Inc.
“Technology based businesses have a tremendous need for students with STEM-field education, but at the current rate of technological change, graduates need to be ready to contribute the minute they begin their career,” Cernohous said. “We believe that SciTech can help meet this market need, significantly differentiating UWRF graduates via this unique experience.”
Full construction funding for the SciTech project is included in the $1.2 billion UW System capital budget request put forth by President Tommy Thompson for the 2021-23 biennium. At a cost of $116 million, SciTech is ranked highest of the handful of STEM facility construction funding requests on the list.
In an example of private-public partnership, philanthropic support for the project spearheaded by the Cernohous’ will help demonstrate the value of SciTech to the region’s STEM employers and entrepreneurs, as well as inspire other business and industry leaders to contribute.
“This is not about the building, this is about an environment that induces collaboration and blurs the lines between academia and industry,” said Jeff Cernohous. “SciTech is a unique opportunity for UW-River Falls to help students gain hands on experience and knowledge of a what a future STEM career actually looks like once they are in the workforce, very early in their tenure at UWRF.”
It is anticipated that the Cernohous gift will result in an endowment from which instrumentation, endowed faculty, student scholarships and internships may be funded.
Jeff and Kristi are UWRF grads with chemistry degrees who have gone on to become successful entrepreneurs with several companies in the River Falls area.