MELBOURNE, FLA. — Florida Tech’s newest building will bear the name of Gordon L. Nelson, honoring the longtime dean and professor who has pledged $5.1 million. This gift supports the university’s strategic investment in biomedical and health research and education.
During the groundbreaking on Dec. 2, 2020, Florida Tech President T. Dwayne McCay emphasized that this facility would advance work that benefits the nation and the world. It will meet the needs of students today and in the future and will support premier research programs. The 61,000-square-foot building is anticipated to open early in 2022.
The majority of Nelson’s gift will establish an endowment to sustain innovative research conducted in the building and to ensure that it remains at the forefront among facilities of its kind at top universities in the country.
The gift is the largest individual donation to Florida Tech in its 63-year history.
“We have excellent students, we have excellent faculty – but we need world-class facilities,” Nelson said. “This gift will help make that happen.”
Nelson, an accomplished polymer chemist, has spent nearly his entire career at Florida Tech and has made a difference to countless students over that time. In supporting the president’s vision, he said: “Let’s make the building the best we can.” The funds used and the endowment in perpetuity will contribute to keeping up with the high-tech demands in the field.
The program is meant to “catalyze research innovation,” Nelson added.
“Dr. Nelson has left a lasting impression on this university through his years of service as a dean and professor,” McCay said. “This philanthropic gift only elevates his impact in new and worthwhile ways. That impact will be felt by generations of Florida Tech students to come. All of his contributions are deeply appreciated.”
Board of Trustees Chairman Travis Proctor agreed.
“The Board of Trustees values the example set by Dr. Nelson’s generosity,” Proctor said. “This forward-thinking investment in Florida Tech’s future means new educational possibilities for tomorrow’s students.”
The Gordon L. Nelson Health Sciences building will be a three-story center for teaching and research centered on biomedical engineering, biomedical sciences and health sciences.
It will feature over 20,000 square feet of classrooms and research laboratories, state-of-the-art teaching laboratories in human anatomy, augmented and virtual reality teaching tools and facilities for orthopedics, tissue studies and advanced computational simulations.
The new building is expected to double the size of the undergraduate biomedical engineering program from 150 to 300 full-time, on-campus students, and increase the size of the undergraduate premedical program from 150 to 250 full-time, on-campus students.
Nelson has had a front-row seat to Florida Tech’s growth and evolution over the last three decades, as well as key roles in pushing the university to the top reaches of higher education. He was heavily involved with the construction of the Olin Physical Sciences and Olin Life Sciences buildings, which are about to welcome a new neighbor on the south campus.
Already an accomplished chemist and past president of the 160,000-member American Chemical Society, Nelson came to Florida Tech in 1989 to serve as dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts. He remained dean of the college, which later became the College of Science, for 22 years. From 2011 to 2012, he was vice president for academic affairs. He was then named University Professor of Chemistry, a position he continues to hold.
Nelson’s background is in physical organic chemistry – the how and why of organic reactions. Much of his research has been in the area of polymer flammability, where he is considered a preeminent scientist in fire safety and chemical use, and his more than 200 publications are principally in the area of the flammability of polymers, and particularly engineering plastics.
Born in California and raised in Idaho and Nevada, Nelson earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada Reno, becoming the first person in his immediate family to attend college. He then decided he wanted to attend Yale University for his graduate school, and he was accepted. That meant his first trip east of the Mississippi River. His Yale education, he said, was an influential experience well beyond the classroom.
“It was great to have gone to graduate school at Yale. It gives you a sense of what excellence looks like, and how you can make what you are doing excellent,” he said. “Florida Tech is the kind of place where you can help Florida Tech be the best it can be.”