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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the GIX announcement on Thursday.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the GIX announcement on Thursday.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee put things in perspective during the announcement yesterday of the Global Innovation Exchange, or GIX, a new technology institute to be created in Bellevue, Wash., as an equal partnership between Seattle’s University of Washington and China’s Tsinghua University, with the initial help of $40 million from Microsoft.

“We are going to celebrate the U.S. Open for about a week, and GIX for about 100 years,” Inslee said.

Ana Mari Cauce
Ana Mari Cauce

That was a common theme at the event, as political, university and industry leaders emphasized the long-term potential of this first-of-its-kind collaboration. But what about the short term? Who will be able to attend this new tech grad school, and how much will it cost to attend?

Many of those questions are still being worked out, but Ana Mari Cauce, the UW’s interim president, told GeekWire after the event that the initial students are expected to come from the two participating universities. The institute will start in the fall of 2016, with 30-35 students in a 15-month Master of Science in Technology Innovation program.

Over the next decade, however, organizers say GIX will expand its programs and enrollment to accommodate as many as 3,000 students.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said he’s committed to ensuring that resources are available to provide financial aid to Washington state students to attend GIX. This is part of a longstanding push by community leaders to provide computer science and technology education to students from the state. Smith is also chair of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship board, and he cited that initiative as an example of what can be done.

The GIX partnership is unique in part because it marks the first time that a Chinese research institute will establish a U.S. location.

“Bringing together a leading university in China with a leading university in the United States is an ambitious project with incredible promise,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, during his remarks at the announcement yesterday. “This gets even more exciting for us given the expectation that other universities from other parts of the world will join in.”

A rendering of the interior of the planned GIX building.
A rendering of the interior of the planned GIX building.

GIX will be based initially in a temporary location, yet to be announced, while its permanent home at the new Spring District development in Bellevue, Wash., is constructed. The 100,000-square-foot building is expected to break ground in the third-quarter of 2016 and be ready in time for the 2017-18 school year.

The Spring District is a 36-acre development — the equivalent of 16 city blocks — with retail, office, hotel and housing space slated to be built over 15 years. The vision is to provide highly sustainable, walkable environment, with the feel of “a nice, dense urban neighborhood,” said Greg Johnson, president of Wright Runstad & Co., the longtime Seattle company that is developing the project.

“It’s as significant for us as it is for the region,” Johnson said of the announcement that GIX will be located in the project. The institute promises to become an anchor tenant of the Spring District, helping to attract other businesses and residents.

A rendering of the Spring District in Bellevue, Wash., showing future development access points to the new neighborhood. Click to view larger version on Spring District site.

The project is built around a light rail transit station that will connect to the Microsoft campus and downtown Bellevue and beyond. Shuttle service to the UW is also a possibility. In addition, a bike lane on the new 520 bridge will connect to a new bike trail that will run to the project site.

GIX isn’t positioned as an undergraduate computer science school, and in that way it doesn’t promise to alleviate the current shortage of space in the UW’s Computer Science & Engineering department. Smith, who had the initial idea for the GIX partnership, said in a interview that the institute will bring in other companies and non-profits to help students tackle “grand challenges” for society, pulling from the Seattle region’s expertise in areas including life sciences and biotech, aerospace and transportation.

“Industries go through cycles,” Smith said. “Great universities not only flourish for centuries; they help the metro regions around them flourish for many, many decades and centuries.”

Here’s a video introducing the new institute, via the UW’s official GIX site.

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