$10 million gift expands Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program

A $10 million gift will benefit KU students in the School of Engineering. The gift, from alumni Madison “Al” and Lila Self, of Hinsdale, Ill., brings the total they have donated to KU Endowment to more than $44 million, making them the university’s largest individual donors.

In late March, they contributed $6 million to expand the Madison A. and Lila Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program, which provides enrichment and financial support to select students studying engineering and computer science. The Selfs committed an additional $4 million over the next three years.

Madison "Al" and Lila Self

“Through my years in business and industry, I’ve been able to identify key attributes such as leadership, interpersonal communications, motivation and problem solving ability that lead to success,” said Al Self. “Lila and I are happy to be able to contribute to the personal growth of these KU students with the goal that they continue on as exceptional leaders working to build positive change in the American economy.”

The SELF Program is designed to develop engineering and computer science graduates who are goal-oriented and bring the entrepreneurship, business skills and vision needed to guide technology-based corporations. The program enables students to refine their skills through mentoring and academic and leadership opportunities.

The students also attend exclusive meetings with some of the world’s top leaders in business and industry, including KU alumni Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford; Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for Google; and Linda Zarda Cook, former executive director of natural gas and power, Royal Dutch Shell Co.

“We are grateful to Al and Lila Self for their continuing support of KU students,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “Their remarkable generosity is helping the School of Engineering shape the next generation of leaders for a challenging technological field that is vital to our state and nation.”

The latest donation from the Selfs supports the School of Engineering’s long-term vision titled “Building on Excellence Initiative.” The gift allows the SELF Program to expand the number of students selected each year. Moreover, beginning in fall 2011, freshmen admitted to the program will be eligible to receive up to $24,000 over four years. Students will participate in additional educational opportunities, including workshops, retreats and lectures from guest speakers. The donation also provides funding for an additional staff member to coordinate program activities.

There are 43 students in the SELF Program; the first class started in fall 2007. That class is due to graduate in 2011. In a typical year, 16 to 18 incoming freshmen are admitted to the program. Several additional students are selected to join the program in their junior year. With the gift, the program will be able to expand to a total of 80 students.

“The SELF Program has had an amazing impact on the School of Engineering, the students and the university,” said Stuart Bell, dean of engineering. “The enhanced program will follow this success and we will build one of the foremost leadership programs in the country.”

Both Al and Lila Self are native Kansans. They met as KU students and married in 1943, the year Al Self earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. In 2000, Self was honored with the School of Engineering’s Distinguished Engineering Service Award. The university awarded him a Distinguished Service Citation in 1997. Last month, he was recognized as a life trustee of KU Endowment. Other areas in which the Selfs have supported KU include the Self Graduate Fellowship, the Mossberg Pharmacy Professorship and the Society of Self Fellows.

In 1947, the Selfs acquired Bee Chemical Co. in Lansing, Ill. Self used his technical and business skills to guide the firm from a three-person operation to an international producer of polymers and polymer coatings for use on plastics. When they sold the company 37 years later, it had five U.S. manufacturing sites and operations in Japan and England. Al later served as chairman and CEO of Tioga International. He currently is president of Allen Financial, LLC.

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