Public genius-school founders are helping to give UNR something it hasn’t had in 40 years.

A spiffy new math and sciences center is underway, largely courtesy of Bob and Jan Davidson

Davidson Academy founders Bob Davidson, above, and his wife, Jan, are bringing a math and sciences center to UNR.

Davidson Academy founders Bob Davidson, above, and his wife, Jan, are bringing a math and sciences center to UNR.

Photo By Heather Anderson

What’s $16 million between friends?

“It probably started with [former University of Nevada, Reno president] John Lilley, and with our interest in profoundly gifted students,” says philanthropist Bob Davidson. “We decided that we probably could develop a unique school for the profoundly gifted. … That got us to learn a lot more about the campus.”

Davidson and his wife, Jan, both of whom are educational software designers, are responsible for the Davidson Academy of Nevada, a public school that serves profoundly gifted students in grades six through 12. By “profoundly,” we’re talking the top one-tenth of the top 1 percent of students, judged by SAT and ACT scores. It is the only free public school of its kind on a college campus in America.

Cream of the crop, so to speak.

This school, which is located in the Jot Travis building on the UNR campus, was made possible by a $5 million donation from the Davidsons.

The other $11 million is going toward the new Davidson Math and Science center. Scheduled to open in Aug. 2010, the center will be the first new math and science building on campus in 40 years.

“It’s truly a fabulous thing for the university,” says Jack Hayes, interim associate dean of college of science at UNR. “One: It will give us safer labs. And it will also give us more space so we can meet the demands we have for our students.”

Hayes says that, right now, UNR can’t meet student demand. Simply put, there are not enough classrooms to accommodate the nearly 17,000 student population. Since students studying any major at UNR are required to take basic math and science classes as a core requirement, officials estimate that about 80 percent of UNR’s student population will take at least one course in the Davidson Math and Science center.

With the “investment from the Davidsons and others, the University raised the $18 million capital investment to meet the required match of a $32 million appropriation by the Nevada Legislature,” says a press release issued by UNR.

The classrooms in the new center will be equipped with “smart technology,” meaning that instructors will have access to multimedia programs to enhance lectures, says Hayes.

The center will have 27 new teaching laboratories, each holding about 25 students; four classrooms holding about 75 students each; and one 500-seat auditorium.

“I think that UNR is an undiscovered treasure on some levels … not everybody knows how talented we are,” says Hayes, adding how grateful UNR faculty members are of the Davidsons and other donors.

“We decided we would focus on this population we felt was being terribly underserved in the school,” says Bob Davidson. “It was almost like a missing tooth, where the university didn’t have a major math and science center. … We were especially happy to fund the math and science building. We do know there’s national need and a state need in Northern Nevada.”

What’s good for UNR is good for Nevada, is the idea.

“Hopefully they’ll stay here and attract companies,” says Davidson of the students who study math and science at UNR. “I’m quite optimistic our university is going to play a positive role in helping to diversify the economy in a positive direction.”