The gift that keeps on giving


The Russes gave the largest donation to Ohio University. It is still being used today.

Ian McKenzie / For The Post

In the 2017 fiscal year, Ohio University received $22,511,557 from alumni donations. However, in 2008 the largest donation, which was by Fritz and Dolores Russ, totaled about $124 million.

The Russ Gift was the largest donation given to a public engineering college in the U.S at the time. Their donation was $124 million, which makes Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ the donors who have donated the most money in OU history. In addition to the $124 million, the Russes donated another $8 million before.

Even though the gift was given in 2008, the money is still trickling down through different programs, scholarships and renovations.

The college faced several challenges at the time the Russes gave their gift such as low enrollment due to students wanting to attend colleges closer to their homes, Dennis Irwin, dean of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, said.

There was also a large number of faculty retirements approaching, and the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio changed its policies for retirement. About 20 faculty members were looking at retirement at the time, Irwin said.

When Fritz Russ died in 2004 and Dolores Russ died in 2008, they did not liquidate any of their assets, and they gave their estate to the college, Irwin said. There were parts of their estate the college did not know the value of, such as stock portfolio that was not publicly traded. Originally, the gift was thought to be worth about $95 million but once re-valued, it increased to about $124 million.

“The Russ Gift has really been able to change the nature of the college,” Irwin said.

Since the gift was donated, there has been about a 70 percent increase in enrollment.

Fritz and Dolores

Fritz Russ graduated from OU with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1942 and also earned an honorary degree in 1975. That same year, he married Dolores. As a result of Fritz and Dolores’ years of donations and innovations, the Russ College of Engineering and Technology was named in honor of the Russ family in 1994.


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Fritz developed a missile guidance and control system when the two moved to Dayton to work at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Fritz and Dolores founded Systems Research Laboratories (SRL) in 1955, which was one of the nation’s leading electronic and automation corporations before it merged with Arvin Industries in 1987, according to OU’s website.

Both Fritz and Dolores were dedicated to the field of engineering.

Irwin said he once heard Fritz say, “I want the Russ College to be the best college of engineering in the country.”

Before Fritz and Dolores died, they wanted an oversight committee to determine where the money would go. Currently, the committee meets three to four times a year to discuss where the funds are being used and the budget for the next year, Irwin said.

The oversight committee consists of the president of the university, the dean of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, the director of the Cutler Scholars Program, the chairperson of the Russ College advisory board and another engineering representative from the community, Irwin said.

The Russ gift has contributed to many areas of the university, such as scholarships, faculty enhancements, student organizations, facilities and the Russ Prize.

Awards and scholarships

The Russ Gift provides about $1,375,000 annually for scholarships, Irwin said. There are two scholarships that come from the Russ gift: the Russ Vision Scholarships and the Russ Impact Scholarships, according to Ken Sampson, the associate dean for Enrollment Management and Accreditation.

The Russ Vision Scholarship is renewable for four years and can provide $2,000 to $5,000 a year per student, and there are about 300 students who win the award per year, Sampson said. The scholarships are based on the abilities of the students, and the requirements change each year. The Russ Impact Scholarship is given to about 100 students, Sampson said. These students receive scholarships from the OHIO Signature Awards, and then the Russ College of Engineering and Technology adds the difference to equal full in-state tuition.

With the scholarships, the engineering college is trying to improve the overall quality of students, but also the diversity of the college, Sampson said. Because the college is about 85 percent men and 15 percent women, according to a previous Post report, the gifts have tried to help recruit more women to programs.

In addition to scholarships, the Russ gift supports the Russ Prize, which is an award given to a professional in the field of engineering. It is given every other year and averages about $400,000 a year.

“The Russ Prize is awarded by the National Academy of Engineering, and we work with them to make the award … the world’s top award in bioengineering,” Irwin said.

College enhancements

When faculty members retire, the college uses faculty “startup” packages that cost about $375,000 a year in order to recruit potential faculty. Provided by the Russ Gift, those packages typically include lab enhancements and even new facilities, Irwin said.

When replacing a faculty member, the college looks to recruit recent Ph.D. graduates from the top 50 engineering colleges in the country, Irwin said.

“Everybody in the world is competing for these people so we do have to pay a competitive salary,” Irwin said.

Once those members are hired, the college wants them to start their research very early. Some new professors require different instruments to conduct research. For example, Irwin pointed to one new hire who needs an instrument that costs well over $100,000.

Something that the Russ gift helped pay for is the Ohio University Mobile Civil Infrastructure Lab. This gives researchers like Shad Sargand, a Russ Professor in civil engineering, the ability to take a lab to research sites, giving OU researchers an advantage over any other researchers, Sargand said.

The lab has thermal cameras, a weather station and instruments to test asphalt and concrete, Sargand said. Before the college had the mobile lab, researchers had to take the materials back to the lab, which was a problem because they would often get damaged.

“(The Russ Gift) was a huge help in giving funds to our research,” Sargand said.

The Russ Gift also helped solve the problem of too many students and not enough space. Labs had to be open until 11:00 p.m. because enrollment had increased so much, and only 20 students could be in the lab at once. The department was able to duplicate the labs to allow students to work during normal hours. The Russ Gift paid for it entirely, costing $200,000.

Engineering Technology and Management has a robotics lab that had some robots that were more than 20 years old. The Russ Gift was able to provide about $250,000 to purchase 12 new robots.

“About three years ago the department purchased four 3D plastic printers to our design lab,” Myers said.

With that purchase, the school also acquired two coordinate measuring machines. For the printers and the coordinate measuring machines, the gift provided $130,000.

The college spends about $815,000 annually on different facilities projects, all from the Russ Gift. The gift also allots $850,000 of funding for “special instructional enhancements,” which includes tailored math instruction for students, Irwin said.

The money for the Academic and Research Center, which is shared with the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, was in part due to the Russ gift, Irwin said. There were other sources of funding as well.

The college has also used the gift to refurbish interior spaces in Stocker Center, such as hallways, Irwin said.

Extracurricular Activities

Other than scholarships and facilities enhancements, the gift provides about $170,000 annually for student organizations.

When he was a student in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, Cody Petitt was part of starting the BattleCat in 2014, an organization that builds robots and fights other robots in a national competition, Petitt said.

“They built their wealth to give away (to the college)”Dennis Irwin

The following year, there was another graduate student who wanted to start a human-powered vehicle team through the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, Petitt said. The Russ Gift helped with purchasing resources, materials and the money to travel to Florida.

In 2016, OU hosted the American Society of Mechanical Engineering human-powered vehicle event and about 40 schools were involved, Petitt said.

The Russ Gift has supported the organization in two ways. It supported the team, but it also enabled the group to host the event, Petitt said.

The Russ Gift is also helping to fund student trips, Todd Myers, the chair of the department of Engineering Technology and Management said. The students and department are asked to raise 50 percent of the cost, and the gift will match it. Students have been to Chicago, Cincinnati and Kansas City for plant tours, trade shows or conventions.

The Russ family was committed to the college of engineering with research, innovations, and of course, financially.

“They built their wealth to give away (to the college),” Irwin said.

Development by: Megan Knapp / Digital Production Editor

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