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$30 million gift from Alex Molinaroli and Kristin Ihle Molinaroli for College of Engineering and Computing
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$30 million gift from Alex Molinaroli and Kristin Ihle Molinaroli for College of Engineering and Computing

The University of South Carolina is naming its engineering college the Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing after a $30 million donation from former Johnson Controls CEO Alex Molinaroli and his family.

Molinaroli, who graduated from USC with a degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1983, began working at Johnson Controls’ Columbia office soon after. He worked his way up to serving as the company’s CEO from 2013 to 2017.

In South Carolina, he most notably oversaw the opening of a battery recycling plant in Florence. While serving as president of Power Solutions, Molinaroli called the site “the most innovative battery recycling operation in the world.”

With Molinaroli’s eight-figure donation, the university plans to fund new programs, support research and recruit faculty and staff. He hopes it will be the first step in creating a “virtuous circle” where the university offers unique and relevant programs that improve economic development and bring quality engineering jobs to the state.

The engineering college will offer new programs like industrial engineering while also providing students with a more well-rounded education, Molinaroli said. The former CEO’s donation will also support a partnership with USC’s business school so students can gain leadership and business management skills.

“We have a great technical set of resources, great work environment, but we don’t necessarily have the high-tech skills,” Molinaroli said. “So I think that a different set of jobs can come in that creates opportunity for a student so they don’t have to leave the state in order to get a job.”

During a ceremony on June 6 unveiling the new name, Dean Hossein Haj-Hariri said the donation — and Molinaroli’s guidance —will help enhance the college’s educational opportunities and inspire future students. He noted the college is already setting records with 1,000 incoming freshmen submitting deposits to attend in the fall. The engineering college will also set a university record in fiscal year 2024 with more than $70 million in competitively awarded research funds.

“It is a tremendous level of generosity that will take a while for me to process personally,” Haj-Hariri said. “But the fact is that it’s not just the gift that is incredible, but the partnership and the shared vision that Alex has for this college and what we can do for our state going forward.”

The University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing offers 40 degree programs, including the state’s only aerospace, biomedical and graduate nuclear engineering programs.

Melanie Barton, Gov. Henry McMaster’s deputy chief of staff and senior education advisor, said the investment will help fuel South Carolina’s “booming economic engine.”

USC President Michael Amiridis, who served as the dean of the College of Engineering and Computing from 2006 to 2009, said the Molinaroli family’s donation is part of a “new era” for the college.

“Their generous commitment will empower the college to enhance its academic stature and explore its fullest potential for exceptional education, research, workforce development and economic impact in South Carolina and beyond,” Amiridis said.

The Molinaroli family boasts seven USC graduates. Molinaroli said he fondly remembers attending sporting events and walking through campus. While his work took him out of state, Molinaroli said South Carolina and the university have always been his and his family’s home.

Adding “Molinaroli” instead of “Alex Molinaroli” to the college’s name was a specific choice that Molinaroli said creates an added weight for him.

“Our family’s name is gonna be sitting on this college,” Molinaroli said. “You just want to make sure that you do something that is impactful, that matters, that helps people — kind of meets the promise.”

Molinaroli plans to continue working closely with university leadership to provide insight and guidance as the college continues to improve.

“The university and the college have been open to not only just say, well, thank you for the gift, but also, you know, help us figure out how to make this work,” Molinaroli said. “I also have the time to be engaged.”

The Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing is the fourth academic building to be named after a donor, joining the Darla Moore School of Business, Arnold School of Public Health and, most recently, the Joseph F. Rice School of Law. The Mount Pleasant attorney also donated $30 million when USC added his name to the school of law.

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