CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- MIT will honor two of Pittsburgh's leading philanthropists and their children by naming its planned new undergraduate residence hall for the family.
The dormitory will be called Simmons Hall in honor of Richard P. Simmons of Sewickley, a 1953 graduate of MIT; his wife, Dorothy; and their children, Brian and Amy (Sebastian). Members of the family will be on hand for the official groundbreaking at 1pm Friday.
MIT chose the name for the 350-student residence in recognition of the Simmons' many contributions to the Institute. Their most recent gift, in 1999, was for $20 million to be used to improve the quality of student life at MIT. Making the gift jointly, the couple believes that the Institute must make quality of life issues a high priority in the coming years.
They have also endowed a scholarship fund for MIT students who are from western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia, or who are the offspring of Allegheny Technologies' employees, the company Mr. Simmons previously headed. Other key contributions have been made for the renovation of MIT's chemistry building and in support of the 40th reunion of his class. A chair in metallurgy was established by Allegheny Ludlum and Mr. Simmons's colleagues when he retired as CEO in 1990.
The couple is honored to have the MIT residence hall named for the family. When he was a freshman living on campus in 1949, Mr. Simmons noted, "there was nothing Institute-driven to help incoming students adjust to the rigors of MIT -- no house proctors, no mentors, nothing of that kind." The new dormitory is specifically designed to make sure that isn't true today. Besides quarters for a housemaster and graduate tutors, it includes several apartments where faculty can live and interact with students. It will also have special rooms for residence-based seminars and team projects.
Mr. Simmons, a life member of the MIT Corporation (board of trustees), believes this type of innovation makes sense. "I am totally supportive of the need to make investments that will improve the cohesiveness of the MIT community," he noted.
MIT President Charles M. Vest praised the Simmons's role at the Institute. "Dick and Dottie Simmons's support for financial aid, education and campus life at MIT is extraordinary," he said. "We are delighted to recognize their commitment, vision and generosity by placing the Simmons name on our new undergraduate residence. Simmons Hall will embody and reinforce the concept of a learning community as central to our students' MIT experience."
The Simmons's many contributions to MIT are consistent with their involvement in, and contributions to, the Pittsburgh region. The couple has been active in many Pittsburgh charitable organizations, including United Way (Mr. Simmons is past chairman), the Pittsburgh Symphony (he's past chairman and currently serves as honorary chairman), Carnegie, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development (he's a director and former chairman), the University of Pittsburgh (past trustee), as well as several other non-profit organizations.
The Simmonses have also established undergraduate scholarship programs at several local universities, including the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.
To aid the region in its transition from an "old economy" to a high-tech one, the family -- through its Birchmere Fund -- has invested $20 million in high-tech start-ups and middle market companies in the Pittsburgh region, and has committed $20 million more.
Mr. Simmons said he and his wife have long felt a sense of responsibility to offer time and resources to the quality of life in the Pittsburgh region. "My unique success remains the great wonder of our lives," he said, "and it has put Dorothy and me in a position where we can make these kinds of commitments."
Of his MIT experience, Mr. Simmons said, "Was it tough? No question. Was it worthwhile? Absolutely. MIT teaches you how to think and solve problems. It also teaches you to be humble. At MIT, you find out there are many people who are smarter than you are. That's a good lesson for life; I credit those lessons, my education and MIT with being major ingredients in my success."
When Mr. Simmons graduated from MIT, he had a good set of skills and was $2,000 in debt -- at that time, a full year's expense at MIT. He went to work at what was then called Allegheny Ludlum in Pittsburgh. After a 10-year stint with other steel firms, he returned to Allegheny in 1968.
In 1972, Mr. Simmons became president of Allegheny Ludlum -- 18 years after graduating from MIT -- and in 1980 he led a group of other managers and private investors in taking the company private. Though it would undergo other changes, including its 1996 business combination with Teledyne, Inc., Mr. Simmons's key contribution was introducing state-of-the-art technologies and management techniques.
"Dick Simmons has shown how one can be financially successful, innovative, and still provide jobs in basic industry" said MIT Professor Thomas W. Eagar, former head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "The fact that he led the most successful specialty materials manufacturer during turbulent and difficult times is a tribute to his management skills, his technical knowledge and his concern for the welfare of his employees."
Mr. Simmons has received many metallurgical awards, including Distinguished Fellow of the ASM. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1998.
Currently, Allegheny Technologies employs roughly 11,500, primarily in the Pittsburgh area, and has annual sales of approximately $2.5 billion. It is one of the largest and most diversified producers of specialty materials in the world. Mr. Simmons retired as the firm's president and CEO last year, and decided not to stand for reelection as chairman this year. The Simmonses remain the largest shareholders in Allegheny Technologies and its two spin-offs, Teledyne Technologies and Water Pik Technologies.
The architect for the new student residence is New York-based Steven Holl. Mr. Holl and his associates worked closely with a student-faculty team in developing plans, and many of the proposals from the team have been incorporated into the design.