The family of Don Slawson, a Wichita businessman who died earlier this month, has donated $16 million to help build a new Earth, Energy and Environment Center at the University of Kansas, the university announced Thursday.
Slawson, a KU grad, was an entrepreneur, real estate developer and founder of Slawson Exploration, a family-owned oil and gas company.
The $16 million will “bring industry onto our campus,” said Bob Goldstein, associate dean for natural sciences and mathematics at the University of Kansas.
The gift to KU will go toward the construction of Slawson Hall, which will be one of two buildings making up the Earth, Energy and Environment Center, a news release said. The building – to be at the corner of Naismith Drive and Jayhawk Boulevard – will include auditoriums, classrooms, laboratories and multipurpose spaces.
The center will help students conduct earth science and energy research in fields such as geology, engineering, geophysics, nanotechnology and environment.
Dale Seuferling, president of KU Endowment, said it was “tremendously inspiring” to have the Slawsons give back to the university.
The gift will “make it possible for students to experience the very latest … in laboratory experience,” Seuferling said, and “for the faculty to have a modern, up-to-date environment in which to educate students on the latest technology.”
Education is changing on college campuses, Goldstein said, and the new Slawson Hall will reflect experience-based learning. Instead of a lecture-style classroom, Slawson Hall will have two rooms with round tables surrounded by chairs. On each table will be a computer monitor capable of connecting with other monitors along the walls. Once a lecturer, a professor will now be “a guide,” wandering around the room, Goldstein said.
Students “get skills working in a team, communicating, problem solving that you don’t get from a lecture,” Goldstein said. “Don cared very much about education; he was a big KU fan.”
Slawson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from KU in 1955. When he was 24, he founded Slawson Exploration, which became one of the most active oil drilling operations in the country, the news release said.
“He was very, very successful and did some very innovative things in Kansas and elsewhere,” Goldstein said of Slawson. People “care about Kansas, and they want to make sure the next generation of Kansan is familiar with how to explore for oil and gas.”
The Slawsons had five generations of KU graduates, university chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said, including two of Don Slawson’s sons – Craig Slawson in geology in 1980 and Todd Slawson in petroleum engineering in 1984, the release said.
“When you see a family like this that has had ties with the university and the industry, and they decide to honor (Kansas University) in this way, it’s very gratifying,” Gray-Little said.
Slawson served on numerous boards, according to a previous story in The Eagle, including Cessna Aircraft, Intrust Bank, the Wichita Airport Advisory Board and the Kansas Board of Regents. In 2009, the family donated $2 million to the Slawson Family Tiger Trek at the Sedgwick County Zoo.
Slawson died July 7 from Alzheimer’s complications. He was 80 years old.
“To have Don Slawson’s name associated with this, as a product of this university,” Seuferling said, “is a great story.”