James R. Von Ehr II, a 1972 computer science graduate and entrepreneur, has established the James Von Ehr Scholars
Program, a $1 million endowed scholarship fund to benefit College of Engineering undergraduates.
Von Ehr, who has long demonstrated his commitment to MSU and the college through service and philanthropy, made the official announcement at the College of Engineering commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 7.
“In creating this scholarship, my intention is to provide financial assistance to outstanding undergraduate students who come from humble backgrounds, as I did,” he says.
Born in Grand Rapids and raised in New Buffalo, Michigan, Von Ehr was first recruited to MSU as a National Merit Scholar and studied computer science in the era of punch cards and paper printouts. He says the immensity of MSU was quite an eye opener when he arrived as a freshman. Of Brody Complex, his first MSU residence, he says, “I was surrounded by the same number of people as the population of my hometown, but they were all my age!
“The education I got here at MSU made a big difference in my life. I want to extend some of the same opportunity that I have enjoyed to those who come after me.”
This spring, four freshmen will be selected to each receive a $4,000 scholarship for fall semester 2006. Qualified prospective students—those scoring in the 90th percentile and above on national placement exams and who have a proven financial need—will be invited to apply for the scholarships, which are renewable for four years. Incoming freshman applicants will be required to write a brief essay that describes their idea of the meaning of “free enterprise,” “liberty,” and “open world markets,” and relate how these principles help to promote creativity and the transmission of technological benefits to different world cultures and society in general.
“Von Ehr Scholars should become good communicators, because technology should be the servant of humanity, and communication is vital to society’s understanding and acceptance of technology,” says Von Ehr.
For more than 20 years, Von Ehr has made significant contributions to the computer software and nanotechnology industries.
After completing his bachelor’s degree, he was employed by Texas Instruments (TI) as a software engineer, programming computer graphics in the company’s computer-aided design division. Later, he was a manager and senior member of the technical staff. In 1981, he earned his MS degree in mathematical sciences (computer science) from the University of Texas at Dallas. He then founded his first company, Altsys Corporation--the developers of FreeHand and Fontographer software programs--and served as CEO and chairman from 1984 to 1995. He then sold the company to Macromedia, where he was subsequently a vice president and served on the board of directors.
His current interest is in the developing field of nanotechnology. He is the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Zyvex Corporation, a leading nanotechnology company located in Richardson, Texas. He is widely considered to be a nanotechnology pioneer and is regarded as an industry leader in that field. He has delivered more than 100 invited talks to well over 10,000 people worldwide and has 6 patents in software and nanotechnology. He was also instrumental in the passage of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which authorized $3.7 billion for research and development programs for four years, and he was present in the Oval Office when President George W. Bush signed the bill into law.
In addition, Von Ehr has been a long-time supporter of the College of Engineering, particularly the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE). He served on the college Alumni Board and on the CSE Board of Visitors/Strategic Partners Council. He is presently a college campaign consultant for The Campaign for MSU.
In recognition of his many achievements, he received the MSU Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004. In 2006, he received both the Computer Science and Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award and the Claud R. Erickson Distinguished Alumnus Award in the College of Engineering. He was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003, and was awarded the City of Richardson’s Ernest Randall Award for Economic Development in 2004.
“My hope is that Von Ehr Scholars will become leaders and pathfinders who improve the world by building links from technology to society by their entrepreneurial action,” he says. “I also hope, and expect, that my example leads them to give back to the next generation of MSU students and to the greater communities in which the Scholars operate.”
“Our college and our community have already benefited tremendously from Jim Von Ehr’s ongoing dedication and support. He is a remarkable alumnus,” says Satish Udpa, acting dean of the College of Engineering. “Now, this generous contribution comes at a time when recruitment of outstanding students to the fields of engineering and science couldn’t be more critical for our state and our nation. The Von Ehr Scholars Program will enable some of the top students in the country—many of whom may otherwise be unable to attend MSU—to achieve their dreams of becoming engineers.”
Tom Wolff, associate dean for undergraduate studies, adds, "Students in the top ten percent of the nation's graduating seniors are widely recruited by many, many schools. The size of these scholarships will give the MSU College of Engineering significantly more capability to attract students of this caliber to MSU.”
“And one of my wishes,” says Von Ehr, “is that all Von Ehr Scholars will enjoy the fellowship and intellectual challenge of each other while on campus.”
To that end, each fall, all Von Ehr Scholars will gather to meet each other, to network, and to select from voluntary service projects that serve the college, the community, or the engineering profession. There will be additional opportunities each semester for the recipients to interact with one another and meet with college administrators, faculty, and special visitors. A reception and dinner will also be held annually on campus to honor the new recipients of the scholarships.
Designating the fund as an endowment means that the principal of the gift will be invested and only a portion of the investment earnings will be spent annually to distribute the awards. This allows the fund to be reinvested for growth and eventually helps many more students over time, as opposed to an expendable fund, which is depleted once the original gift is spent.
“I am very grateful for the opportunities that I have had in life,” Von Ehr says. “I benefited greatly from being born in the United States, where our unique mix of free enterprise and liberty offers residents the opportunity and freedom to achieve our human potential. I hope that this gift, this program, and the Von Ehr Scholars themselves, will always promote the ideals of human advancement through the enabling factors of individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law--not only in this country, but around the world.”