The UNLV Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering recently received a $3 million gift to permanently fund its successful undergraduate Senior Design Competition.
The Fred and Harriet Cox Endowed Senior Design Fund will cover the costs associated with the bi-annual competition and yearly awards banquet, and it will give students access to the materials and supplies needed to complete their design prototypes.
The competition started at UNLV in 2001 and has become a rite of passage for aspiring engineers. The culminating project for undergraduates, senior design encourages students to apply what they've learned to solve engineering or computer science challenges.
Fred Cox, who passed away in August 2014, was a successful engineer/entrepreneur and ardent supporter of the College of Engineering. He was instrumental in the design competition's growth over the past decade as a donor, advocate, role model, and mentor. In 2002, the contest was formally named the Fred and Harriet Cox Senior Design Competition.
"When the program began it was a much smaller endeavor and it needed a lot of help and incentive," said Harriet Cox, Fred's widow and longtime supporter of the college. "The possibility of taking prospects to market and the entrepreneurship really excited Fred; it was in his blood."
Unlike similar competitions at other universities -- and thanks to the leadership of Fred Cox -- UNLV's is judged by local industry representatives and involves students across engineering disciplines. With thousands of dollars in prize money on the line, the inventions have to be created with marketability in mind.
Winners of the Senior Design Competition have teamed with students from UNLV's Lee Business School to create business plans that have won the Dominic Marrocco Southern Nevada Business Plan Competition and the Governor's Cup. Ideas from the competition have also sparked successful businesses, including Skyworks Aerial Systems, a local drone company.
Cox was a member of the Mendenhall Innovation Program at the College of Engineering, which introduces hands-on education at all levels of undergraduate education. He also helped to create a minor in technology commercialization at the college.
"It is Fred's legacy for the college to emulate his aspirations and vision and create tech entrepreneurs," said Rama Venkat, dean of the College of Engineering. "This vision creates another pathway for our students. They create their own company and become employers, not employees."