A render of the planned interior of the Interdisciplinary Engineering Building with many students gathering, relaxing, and working inside.
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The University of Washington is dramatically expanding its AI program

  • Hope Reese

A new $90 million investment opens a home for its AI Education Institute.

The University of Washington is making more space for AI. A new $90 million Interdisciplinary Engineering Building — which will offer support in engineering to the ten different departments — will be the new home for its AI Education Institute, which will help the college integrate AI and machine learning into its current engineering curriculum, from mechanical engineering to chemical engineering to aeronautics.

The project, which is partly funded by a $10M gift from the aeronautics giant Boeing, is an attempt to meet the growing demand for engineering education. Since 2009, the UW College of Engineering has doubled the number of graduates with engineering degrees (it’s now 1,300), while students and faculty have been using the same physical space. The Interdisciplinary Engineering Building, at 70,000-square-feet, will greatly expand this space.

Boeing has a history of investing in UW — the company launched in Seattle in 1916 and one year later, donated to UW’s wind tunnel. It believes that the research performed at this new building could be “nearly as significant to our second century as the wind tunnel was to our first century,” according to Bill McSherry, Boeing’s vice president of state and local government operations. It also believes that this could be an opportunity to create a new cohort of engineers. Over the last five years, 1,200 UW engineering grads have been hired by Boeing, of the company’s 6,500 total UW alumni.

Nancy Allbritton, dean of the college of engineering, also sees this as a primary goal of the project. “This building is going to help us prepare more engineers. It creates a future of opportunity. It’s a pipeline of local talent,” she said in a statement.

Through this new building, UW is following a growing trend in universities investing in AI: Across the country, universities are rolling out new degree programs, centers and other initiatives to help train students in the subject. Many of them are also being partially funded by companies with an interest in creating a new class of future employees.

The University at Albany recently unveiled Albany AI, for instance — a $200 million public-private supercomputing program housed in UAlbany’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences building. And in 2021, Indiana University announced its new $35 million Luddy Center for Artificial Intelligence — another interdisciplinary research center for AI and machine learning, based in a new 58,000-square-foot facility on campus.

The new building at UW, located in the middle of campus, may also be used for purposes outside of class such as student advising, job fairs, tutoring, and collaborations. According to Albritton, it “will be like a one-stop shop for our engineering students.”

Ground will break on this new project next month, with the aim to complete the building by 2024.