Benefactors To Attend Opening Of UW Institutes For Discovery

Excitement is high on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus as a new building is set to open its doors Thursday, and those involved said it wouldn’t have happened if not for the inspiration of two UW alumni.

The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and Morgridge Institute for Research will officially open to the public this week, and the major benefactors of the facility will be on hand for the opening.

John and Tashia Morgridge are a major force behind the project. They graduated from UW-Madison in 1955, and they have donated hundreds of millions to UW-Madison over the years, but they now have a special place for the one-of-a-kind research facility.

“This is the first one that has embedded teaching labs in it. The first one that has a town center,” said John Morgridge. “We had our grandson out here for the workers’ party and he said, ‘Grandpa, this is the first science building that I’ve ever been in that I’d come and study in.'”

The Morgridges donated $50 million to build and begin a public-private research partnership. Gov. Jim Doyle spurred the concept by saying he wanted to create the institutes, and the Morgridges helped conceptualize the multi-disciplinary research area and the private involvement.

Construction on the facility began in 2008.

“When people ask me what is their role, I would say they are our inspiration,” said Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

WARF contributed $100 million to the project, and the state put forward another $50 million. Gulbrandsen said the Morgridges wanted UW-Madison to put a specific Wisconsin stamp on an idea that had been done at Stanford.

“They wanted a place that was welcoming and could draw people inside so they could get excited about science, and, well, I think this is the place that will do it,” said Gulbrandsen.

The Morgridges called the project “fun” and said they can’t believe it came together so quickly. They said they have very high hopes for what can be done there.

“Now comes the real test, as to whether or not this really creates a kind of margin of excellence in terms of stimulating not only the researchers in this building but the researchers all over this campus,” said John Morgridge. “Because certainly we would hope that it has that kind of leverage but time will tell. Certainly we’re off to a strong start.”

The Morgridges said that instead of thanks from the community they simply want everyone to feel welcome at the building located in the 1300 block of University Avenue.

“It would certainly be our hope that this building has the same kind of feel, and that’s a tremendous thank you,” said John Morgridge. “It’s not stated but you can feel it.”

“I think what we have to do is in a way thank so many people for taking a concept, creating not just a building but creating an institute,” said Tashia Morgridge. “And to me, that’s an enormous accomplishment.”

The Morgridges are natives of Wisconsin but now live in California. John was the former CEO of the technology company Cisco Systems and Tashia is an educator.

Doyle will deliver remarks at the grand opening ceremony for the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at 7 p.m. Thursday. UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin and other university leaders and supporters will also attend the event.