$5M Gift Launches Arts and Engineering Institute

Donna and John Krenicki, both UConn Class of 1984. (Submitted Photo)
Donna and John Krenicki, both UConn Class of 1984. (Submitted Photo)

University of Connecticut alumni John and Donna Krenicki gave $5 million to the university’s Schools of Fine Arts and Engineering to launch the Krenicki Arts and Engineering Institute, an innovative, interdisciplinary nexus that will offer groundbreaking classes in areas like entertainment engineering and industrial design.

The pairing of arts and engineering will provide a space where different types of creativity can lead to imaginative solutions and radical breakthroughs, said those involved. It will allow students to explore such fields as robotics, music and sound engineering, digital media, and product design.

“We are incredibly grateful to John and Donna Krenicki for their support of this exciting new institute, which will push UConn to the forefront of innovative design and technical solutions,” said UConn President Thomas Katsouleas. “This collaboration will give students new opportunities, a competitive edge, and strong marketability, all while helping to fuel our state’s economy and meet workforce needs.”

Deans from both schools said bringing artists and engineers together could lead to such possibilities as virtual characters taking the stage alongside human actors, puppets animated by robotics, therapeutic inventions that can read and respond to emotions, and products designed with an innovative aesthetic. Students will gain the technical knowledge and enhanced creativity to tackle design challenges, skills that are increasingly in demand across the employment spectrum.

“You can find pieces of this at some universities, but there is no place that I know of that has brought everything together under one academic institute. Our institute will be the first of its kind in the country,” said Kazem Kazerounian, dean of the School of Engineering.

School of Fine Arts Dean Anne D’Alleva said the institute responds to student demand. She noted that a fine arts course in technical theater has attracted so many engineering students that the school doubled the size of the class.

The Krenickis’ gift challenges the Schools of Fine Arts and Engineering to raise $5 million in matching gifts from corporate partners.

While the Krenickis, who both graduated in 1984, have given generously across the university before, this gift honors their personal UConn story, uniting John’s major in mechanical engineering with Donna’s, in graphic design. The Krenickis met in the fall of their junior year. The couple has raised three children and carved out careers that have crossed industry, private equity, and the arts.

Donna (Samson) Krenicki is an artist and a member of the UConn School of Fine Arts Advisory Board. She also has served on the UConn Foundation Board of Directors and is a former trustee of the Berkshire Museum. John earned a master’s degree in management from Krannert Executive Education Programs at Purdue University in 1991, and received an honorary doctorate from UConn in 2007. He is a senior operating partner with the private equity investment firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, a firm recognized for its commitment to operational excellence and improving business performance. He is chairman of several of the firm’s portfolio companies and is an independent director of Devon Energy Corp. and a member of the National Petroleum Council. Prior to joining Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, he spent 29 years at General Electric Co., where he was a former vice chairman and former president and CEO of GE Energy. He is also a former member of the UConn Foundation Board of Directors.

In addition to giving two undergraduate scholarships, the Krenickis have created endowed professorships in biomedical engineering, genomics and personalized medicine, digital media and design, and, most recently, chemistry.

“This investment plays to the strengths of both schools and gives UConn a dynamic, competitive edge,” Donna Krenicki said. “This partnership will give students far greater career marketability and a foundation for life-long learning and enjoyment.”