Before starting a successful career in computers and engineering, before donating millions of dollars to his undergraduate alma mater, Dwight Diercks was a student at Central High School in Red Wing.
Diercks said he was fortunate to have been taught calculus and computer programming by Ron Gray, someone he called "the best math teacher in all of Red Wing."
"Along with many great teachers in math and science," he added.
After graduating high school in 1986, Diercks studied computer science and engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering. He would later receive an honorary doctor of engineering degree from the school.
To give back to the institution that Diercks said helped shape his life and career, he and his wife, Dian, recently made a $34 million gift to MSOE for the Dwight and Dian Diercks Computational Science Hall. The proposed 64,000-square-foot facility will feature a data center, classrooms and laboratories for the study of high-tech fields such as artificial intelligence, cyber security, robotics and cloud computing.
The donation was the largest single gift by an alumnus in the school's history.
"Thanks to the generosity of Dwight and Dian Diercks, MSOE is building on our foundation of excellence and answering the call to educate the next generation of professionals needed to fill the global demand for technology experts, leaders and entrepreneurs," MSOE President John Walz said in a news release. "This new building is the first step in transforming the heart of campus to ensure current and future students, faculty and staff, and industry leaders and employers are at the forefront of evolving technology."
Diercks, who currently works as a senior vice president at California-based tech company NVIDIA, said he was very interested in science and math as a high school student. With coming advancements in self-driving cars, drones and AI, he said there are many opportunities for today's technology students.
"Students that expand their knowledge of science, engineering, math and technology are building a foundation to succeed," he said.
Occupations in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are growing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment in computer jobs is projected to increase the fastest, with nearly half a million new jobs expected by 2024.
Though STEM jobs have high educational requirements, Diercks said it is easier than ever to enhance or augment learning with online programs such as Udacity and Coursera, or even by watching videos on YouTube.
"Focusing on STEM, puts you in control of your future," Diercks said, "just focus on doing the work required to do it great."