The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation has donated $194.7 million to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for the establishment of a research institute designed to spur economic development across multiple fields.
The gift marks one of the largest single, private grants of its kind ever awarded to an institution of higher learning, the university said in a statement released Tuesday. The five-year grant will create the UA Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research (I3R), to be constructed on campus. No details were provided concerning its specific location.
In a statement, Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz said the gift will enable the UA to further distinguish itself as a top-tier research institution. The university is classified by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as a Research 1 (R1) school, a designation currently shared by less than 3 percent of all U.S. universities. The institute will not be attached to a specific college or administered by existing academic units.
The new I3R building will become “the hub and focal point of integrated activity with strategic outward spokes on campus such as our major research facilities, that will still house important disciplinary work in the clusters, and throughout the communities we serve. Faculty, students and staff who are part of the Institute will have appointments in both the centrally managed Institute as well as in traditional colleges and schools,” according to the UA release.
Steuart Walton, chairman of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation Board, said the grant “will support the University of Arkansas as it seeks to drive innovation and transform entrepreneurship and research to commercialization for industries nationwide.”
Innovation clusters housed at I3R will include food and technology, data science, materials science and engineering, bioscience and bioengineering research in metabolism and integrative systems neuroscience. In addition, the Walton gift will establish an I3R Bentonville campus.
The funding breakdown of the gift is as follows: $89 million for the construction of an I3R research facility, which will “distinguish the University of Arkansas among research universities by creating a space designed to facilitate the integration of research across five overlapping disciplines”; $88 million for establishment of I3R itself including endowed chairs and faculty positions; $14 million for the creation of the Bentonville campus to serve as a spoke of the I3R hub, subject to UA System board approval; and $3.5 million for entrepreneurship education including the launch of a global startup competition and support for the UA Honors College as well as graduate fellowships and commercialization internships.
Heather Larkin, president and CEO of the Arkansas Community Foundation and board member of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, said the grant comes at an especially good time.
“Even during this time of uncertainty – in higher education and beyond – we know the University of Arkansas is positioned to become a national leader in research and innovation,” she said. “This grant is a step toward building a stable economy and a future where we are better equipped to respond to a changing environment.”
An R1 research institution since 2011, the UA reported $172.6 million in research expenditures and $112 million in research awards in fiscal year 2019. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the enhancement of UA research afforded by the grant will have a lasting impact on the state, its business and its economy.
“The funding is a clear position of confidence in the University of Arkansas and will strengthen its position as a leading public research university,” he said in a statement.