Sproul Estate donates $900,000 to computer, electrical engineering department


Courtesy of Brock Ascher

Iowa State’s department of electrical and computer engineering received a grant of more than $900,000 from the estate of Philip and Virginia Sproul. The money will be used to establish a professorship in the Sproul family name in order to attract faculty for research work.

Natalie Whitis

Iowa State’s department of electrical and computer engineering recently received a $900,000 donation from the estate of Philip Tate Sproul.

Sproul graduated from Iowa State in 1937. He worked for Bell Labs from 1937-80 and helped develop military radar during World War II. He is listed as the sole inventor for permanent magnet focus on picture tubes, which is a universal component of modern radar. He passed away in 2011.

“He always kept in touch. He’s provided donations to the department in the past — he’s been a great benefactor to the department,” said David Jiles, distinguished professor and chairman of electrical and computer engineering.

The money will be used to create the Philip and Virginia Sproul Endowed Professorship.

“What happens in these endowed professorships is a certain amount of money is invested and from that interest is drawn each year,” Jiles said. “That money is made available to the professor so they can advance their research.”

For instance, an endowment of $1 million could yield $40,000 to $50,000 a year in interest.

Jiles explained that the professor could use this money to travel, attend conferences, hire graduate students and buy supplies for research.

Professorships like this also give faculty more freedom in decisions, said Brock Ascher, communications specialist for electrical and computer engineering.

“It makes things easier,” Ascher said. “It gets rid of the red tape and allows them to use funds more how they think they should.”

The department plans to use this endowed professorship to attract top-quality faculty to Iowa State. It will also allow professors to compete with other universities in research.

This kind of donation is very important to Iowa State right now, because many other sources of funding have become more difficult to obtain Jiles said.

Ascher said alumni donations are very important: “It creates a virtuous cycle when alumni donate. They graduate, they become successful and then they donate back. That allows the next generation to graduate, become successful and then donate.”

This isn’t the first time Philip Sproul has donated to the department. Previously, he donated $200,000 to establish the Sproul Intellectual Center in Coover Hall.

“Obviously, we have the highest gratitude for this,” Ascher said. “It’s a big deal, and we’re very appreciative of the gift. In this funding climate, you see a lot of cuts being made. Gifts like this really help us to continue to do our work.”

Jiles explained that the department is always thankful for donations from alumni.

“We’re very pleased to get such gifts to the department. It’s incredibly important to us. It’s hard to ask for money from our alums, but we’re absolutely delighted when they come up with it,” Jiles said. “This will keep Sproul’s name in front of the faculty and in front of the university for many years to come.”