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The planned UW Computer Science & Engineering Building. (LMN Architects)

Amazon is putting $10 million toward a second building for the University of Washington’s Computer Science & Engineering program, helping to increase the pipeline of technology talent in the Seattle-based tech giant’s hometown.

EXCLUSIVE: Amazon expanding outside Seattle with giant new Bellevue office lease

UW and Amazon officials are announcing the donation this morning, describing the donation as a “significant boost” for the $110 million fundraising campaign for the building. Amazon joins Microsoft, which kicked off the campaign last year with a $10 million donation of its own.

Including the Amazon donation and a state contribution, about $86 million has now been committed to the fundraising campaign.

A 250-seat auditorium in the new building will be named the “Amazon Auditorium and Gallery.” The new 130,000-square-foot building, on the main University of Washington campus, will double the capacity of the program, allowing it to award more than 600 degrees annually, university officials say.

Jeff Bezos. (GeekWire File Photo)
Jeff Bezos. (GeekWire File Photo)

“The University of Washington is a world-class institution, and we are lucky to have thousands of UW graduates inventing and pioneering in Seattle – including right here at Amazon,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in a news release announcing the donation. “We’re proud to support UW as they expand their computer science program, which will benefit the whole community.”

It’s the latest example of Amazon increasing its corporate giving in its hometown, where it is growing rapidly in the South Lake Union neighborhood and the northern edge of downtown Seattle. In years past, the company was criticized for its lack of involvement in philanthropic and charitable activities and organizations in the Seattle region.

University officials describe Amazon as a longtime supporter of the UW computer science program, noting that Amazon previously supported the UW computer science program with two $1 million endowed professorships in machine learning for star computer scientists Carlos Guestrin and Emily Fox. (Guestrin sold his machine learning startup, Turi, to Apple this summer.) Amazon also launched its Amazon Catalyst program at the UW last fall — working with selected universities to identify and support “bold, risky, globally impactful projects.”

“Our state’s economy — and the world’s economy — depends on innovation and on innovators. UW graduates with skills in computer science are highly sought after, yet we are turning away excellent students who want to pursue studies in the field because we simply don’t have enough room,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce, in a news release. “This generous gift from Amazon brings us closer to doubling our capacity and allows us to better meet both student and workplace needs, which will benefit our state and nation.”

In making the case for the new building, UW officials cite a Washington Student Achievement Council study showing demand for computer science graduates outstripping program capacity more than in any other area — part of a broader talent gap across the tech industry.

This year, Computer Science & Engineering became the leading “first-choice” major among confirmed incoming UW freshmen, surpassing the longtime leading preferred major, Business Administration.  The UW says it can currently accommodate just one in three qualified student applicants in the Computer Science & Engineering department.

The new building is scheduled to break ground in January 2017 and open in 2019. Here’s a video from the UW about the donation.

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