Gift creates Innovation studio in KU's Center for Design Research

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — When Mark Pigott, chairman and CEO of PACCAR, sought to honor his friend and retiring vice chairman Tom Plimpton, a 1971 University of Kansas alumnus, he found inspiration on KU Endowment’s website.

“The articles highlighted on the website provided success stories of philanthropic gifts that fired our imagination,” said Pigott, the fourth-generation leader of an international firm headquartered in Bellevue, Wash. A recent story in particular, about KU’s new Center for Design Research, intrigued him.

Pigott called KU Endowment and spoke to a development director who, he said, “answered the phone with a smile.”

“After a few weeks of discussions, we arrived at a wonderful solution that would assist the university and make a significant endowment in Tom’s honor, recognizing his tremendous contribution to the company for over 34 years,” said Pigott. “The gift is a real win-win.”

The $100,000 gift created two endowed funds. One of the funds will be used to maintain the Tom Plimpton Innovation Studio in KU’s new Center for Design Research. The other established the Tom Plimpton Innovation Fund, which will support the center’s interdisciplinary research projects.

Plimpton, who earned a KU bachelor’s degree in accounting, said he will always remember the moment he learned of the extraordinary gift.

“I think they were looking for something special, something that would exist 50 years from now, something that would also be memorable to me,” said Plimpton. “The night the gift was unveiled, it was just amazing — it’s one of a kind. It was a very proud moment for me and my family. I’m tremendously honored and humbled. I’ll never forget it. It was great.”

Plimpton recently relocated to Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife, Kathy, also a Jayhawk. Kathy earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from KU in 1972.

Plimpton said that though he and his wife are respectively “diehard and double-diehard” KU basketball fans, the gift has more to do with the value of education. “Education is a driving force at PACCAR,” he said. “At the core, we’re engineers, and we’re a high-tech company. Each division has its own design studio, and there are innovation labs throughout the company. We are focused on innovation and creativity in automotive design.”

“Education is important for every person and benefits all society,” said Pigott. “Increasingly complex issues face our nation, and the use of innovation and creative processes are able to generate ideas that can be applicable to a wide array of businesses and social institutions. The innovation center at KU is a national leader in empowering students and faculty to examine many ideas in a nurturing environment.”

Greg Thomas, director of the Center for Design Research, said the gift came to the right place at the right time. “In an educational environment specifically designed for sparking creativity and innovation, this funding will be a catalyst for the integration of diverse disciplines and processes in problem solving,” said Thomas. “The support will help to establish the Center for Design Research as the pre-eminent leader in integrated innovation of products and services.”

KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.