Ribbon cutting at engineering center

Diane Bryant ’85 cuts the ribbon to open the Engineering Student Design Center that bears her name as Chancellor Gary S. May, mechanical engineering major Tichada Tantasirikorn and Dean Richard Corsi look on. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

An Engineering Center for All

by | May 11, 2023 | On Campus, Technology

UC Davis students now have expanded access to advanced engineering equipment, in a space all their own, largely because of a woman who looked beyond the career paths her parents laid out for her.

“When I was young, my parents would say that when I graduated from high school, I was either going to get married and have children or I was going to go to beauty school and be a hairstylist,” Diane Bryant ’85, CEO and chair of medical robotics company NovaSignal, said on May 5 at the grand opening of the Diane Bryant Engineering Student Design Center. She contributed $6.5 million to the project — the largest outright gift ever by an individual to the College of Engineering.

Construction took just under two years and cost $22 million, all donor funded, to create a 23,000-square-foot design center (more than 2½ times the size of the old one) with instruction and meeting rooms, along with a variety of specialized tools and spaces for prototyping and manufacturing.

“This is a historic moment for this campus,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “After all, this is a space where the Aggie engineer will be born.”

Student demonstrates equipment at engineering center

Rowan Glenn demonstrates a coordinate measuring machine, which can be used to make a digital model of a physical object. (UC Davis photo)

Students using the center praised its size and equipment, saying it will provide for easier access.

“There’s a lot more space, a lot more opportunity,” said Christopher D’Elia, a graduate student in mechanical and aerospace engineering who was overseeing demonstrations of two of the center’s computer numerical control, or CNC, machines. More than $500,000 in new machinery was added during the renovation, bringing the total to 11 lathes and 15 mills.

Anthony Aguilar, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, was demonstrating a class project with three other students that was 3D printed at the Craft Center across the street. The center’s new Electronics and Rapid Prototyping Lab also features 3D printing, laser cutting, soldering stations and other electronics, which students of all majors can access with just one hour of training.

“Here there can be more people learning at the same time,” Aguilar said.

The student design center features a welding room, a carpentry and plastics room, a composites wet lab and more.

Students who are members of the “Baum Squad” — named for John Baum ’69 and his wife, Mindy, who gave an early gift of $5 million to the project — will be on hand to provide assistance and guidance with the equipment.

“The ESDC, as we lovingly call it, will no doubt have a transformational impact on our students through extraordinary, hands-on learning experiences,” Dean Richard Corsi told attendees at the grand opening.

The center isn’t just for engineering majors, either — students from across campus can visit the co-located Student Startup Center and gain access to training to use the machines and tools in the space.

Equity in engineering

From that cross-disciplinary access to the large windows where students can be seen at work, the center was created to bring new people into engineering — an idea Bryant and others championed.

“We need to create an environment that is more inclusive and inviting of diverse students, whether that’s diversity in economics, gender, race, in life experience in general,” she said, recalling how she was one of only eight women in her 200-person basic engineering course.

Rowan Glenn, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering demonstrating a coordinate measuring machine, said the field has improved since then.

“It has definitely become more inclusive, not just for women but for queer people,” said Glenn, a rainbow painted on the side of their safety glasses. Glenn, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, said they have felt welcomed into the new design center. “When I’m here I’m just an engineer.”

Tichada Tantasirikorn, also a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said as a woman of color she was worried about fitting in as an engineer, but hasn’t had any issues at UC Davis.

“UC Davis is one of the best universities in the nation for women in engineering,” she said.

Thousands of students will be reminded of that fact whenever they pass the center, which faces the busy bike pathway south of the South Silo.

“Seeing Diane’s name on the building every day shows students from all backgrounds that they can achieve anything they work for,” May said.