The groundbreaking Ceremony for the Rustandy Business and Engineering building at the University of Colorado Boulder. From left, Regent Lesley Smith, Provost Russell Moore, donor Tandean Rustandy, Business Dean Sharon Matusik, Engineering Dean Bobby Braun and Chancellor Philip DiStefano.
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University of Colorado Boulder Deans Sharon Matusik and Bobby Braun stood alongside other university officials Wednesday as they dug their shovels into the hot dirt between CU Boulder’s Koelbel building and Engineering Center. Lifting their shovels to throw the dirt onto a collective pile, the group had officially broken ground on the soon-to-be connecting building between the Leeds School of Business and the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

“I am super excited,” Matusik said in an interview before the ceremony. “This is something that has been two years in the making.”

The idea for the 45,000-square-foot expansion between the two colleges first came about in 2017, when Matusik, dean of Leeds School of Business, and Braun, dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences, talked about ways the two colleges could better integrate their students.

“The building to us is so much more than (space),” Matusik said. “It’s the symbolic bringing together of different disciplines.”

Both Matusik and Braun acknowledge that students can feel isolated in their colleges. The expansion for them is about breaking down barriers.

“There’s a real thirst from our students for that collaboration space and also for skills that allow them to function in a technology driven world,” Matusik said, adding that students needs to have more well-rounded skills in a dynamic and changing work environment.

At the “heart” of the expansion will be a startup hub where students can meet and collaborate with others on entrepreneurial projects, as well as what Matusik describes as a “genius bar.”

The building also will include a cafe and four new classrooms and a 200-seat auditorium, space  Matusik said was “desperately” needed. The space will cater to students from all majors and backgrounds, not just those from business and engineering.

“It’s for the campus,” Braun said.

During his address at the groundbreaking, Braun said  the challenges of today cannot be solved with “just technical knowledge alone.”

“In engineering we prepare our students technically, but frankly they need more than that,” Braun said.

Braun used the example of a scientific breakthrough that an engineer might have and how, with the collaboration between the two colleges, an idea can move “from the lab, to the market and to impact.” For Braun, the expansion represents CU’s move toward an entrepreneurial culture.

It’s a culture CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano is pushing for all of the campus’ colleges.

“To solve complex problems of today, one discipline, one school or college really can’t do that,” DiStefano said.

Students in the campus’ summer-long startup program, Catalyze, took that message to heart as they assembled a team of people from varying backgrounds and education.

Kathy Vega, and engineering student, is working alongside her team to create a bike light that illuminates riders for increased visibility. She said she will “absolutely” be using the new space for further collaboration

“Allowing a space where people with different backgrounds can come together really reduces that barrier,” Vega said. “You don’t know if they’re an engineering or business student until you start talking to them and by then you’ve already made a connection.”

Business student and entrepreneur Taylor Brooks-Murphy is excited to meet new students in engineering through the expansion. Brooks-Murphy said when he launched a business in high school he struggled to find the needed resources. But at CU Boulder, he is met with support and spaces where ideas can thrive.

“(The expansion) is going to be really awesome for students to be able to have meetings in the middle of the day, particularly students who are running businesses,” Brooks-Murphy said.

For students like Paula Pulido, who majors in civil engineering with a double minor in business and leadership, education often tells students to find “one passion” and stick to it.

“When I first got to CU I thought ‘maybe (business and engineering) are competing with each other and they might take away from each other,’” Pulido said. “I think (having both) is a really big strength now and I think there are a lot of students like me who just need to know that they don’t fit into a box and they can embrace being a part of both.”

Colombian native Pulido is headed to Brazil after winning a grant from CU to work on bringing electrical grids to rural areas.

While Matusik and Braun enjoyed a day of reward, bridging the worlds of technology and business was not without challenge. The project cost $45 million, the majority of which was donor funded by alumni and corporate leaders. Though most of the money has been raised, Matusik said there is still a “little bit of a funding gap to go.” University cash reserves might still be used to finish the project, but according to Matusik, student fees were not increased to pay for the expansion.

A major donation came from Indonesian businessman Tandean Rustandy, for whom the expansion is named. Rustandy, a graduate of the Leeds class of 1987, said he is “speechless” about the project.

“When I was a student here, I did not even think I could finish school,” said Rustandy, who struggled to pay tuition as an undergraduate. “Boulder is the place that encouraged me to be what I am today. It’s been a long, long journey to where I am today … having a building named after me is way beyond my wildest imagination.”

Rustandy, along with Matusik, Braun and the campus community look forward to the future that the connection means for the two colleges.

Matusik, quoting Winston Churchill, said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

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