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This picture was taken at the official opening of the O’Donnell Building for Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences in 2013. (From Left to Right) Former vice president for research, Juan Sanchez, Tinsley Oden of the Oden Institute, UT president emeritus, Peter T. Flawn, Edith and Peter O’Donnell, and former UT president, William C Powers Jr. (Credit: Oden Institute)
The Oden Institute Remembers Edith O’Donnell
On November 14, 2020, Texas lost a champion of education, science, and the arts. Edith O’Donnell was a well-respected philanthropist whose generosity, vision, and commitment to education have made lasting impacts on The University of Texas.
One of Edith’s enduring legacies is the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. Edith, together with her husband Peter O'Donnell Jr., played a pivotal role in the creation and building of the Oden Institute. Over more than two decades, the O’Donnells’ generosity led to the creation of multiple endowed faculty chairs, graduate fellowship programs, postdoctoral fellowship programs, endowed visitors’ programs, excellence funds, and even the building the Oden Institute calls home – the O’Donnell Building for Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences. Most of these gifts were made anonymously.
“The generosity of Peter and Edith O’Donnell led to the creation of an institute that was ahead of its time in challenging the traditional boundaries between mathematics, computing, and scientific and engineering applications,” said Omar Ghattas, John A. and Katherine G. Jackson Chair in Computational Geosciences and Director of the Oden Institute’s Center for Computational Geosciences and Optimization. “The result has been remarkable in advancing both the foundations of the field of computational science and the applications of computational science to achieve tremendous societal impact across engineering, science, medicine, and the geosciences. None of this would have been possible without Peter and Edith’s vision and support.”
In 2018, the Peter and Edith O'Donnell Distinguished Chair was established at the Oden Institute. This chair helped enable the recruitment of two new assistant professors. “Not only were Edith and Peter O’Donnell there at the very beginning, but they have continued to support the Oden Institute as it evolves and grows,” said Karen Willcox, Director of the Oden Institute since 2018. “Bringing two outstanding young faculty members into our community – Bo Zhao in the area of computational medicine and Joseph Kileel in the area of data science – is a key part of building for the future and investing in areas where computational science will have significant future societal impact. Research and education in these important areas are growing priorities for the Oden Institute, and we will proudly continue Edith’s legacy through their continued growth.”
Kileel and Zhao echoed that sentiment. “I am very grateful for the endowment from the O'Donnell family, with which I had a chance to join the Oden Institute at UT,” said Zhao.
“I am grateful to Edith O’Donnell, and her husband Peter, for her support of my early career at the Oden Institute through the Peter and Edith O’Donnell Distinguished Chair. Thanks in part to Edith's generosity, I have outstanding resources to launch forward,” said Kileel.
The Oden Institute faculty remember not just Edith’s generosity and her vision for Texas leadership, but also her kindness.
“I shall remember Edith as a person of gentility, and cherish her private words of encouragement to me, during the visualization lab inauguration,” said Chandra Bajaj, the Computational Applied Mathematics Chair in Visualization and Director of the Oden Institute Center for Computational Visualization. “Every generation that visits the visualization lab, and the Oden Institute, owes her and Peter, enormous thanks.”
“All of my colleagues at the Institute share my feeling of great loss due to the passing of our beloved Edith O’Donnell,” said J. Tinsley Oden, the founding Director of the Oden Institute and long-time friend of the O’Donnells. “Her generous and unfaltering support of our faculty, students, and major programs over many years were instrumental in creating the unique environment in which we live and work. We are forever indebted to her and Peter O’Donnell Jr. for their vision and generosity and their extraordinary commitment to enrich science and engineering, and particularly computational science and engineering, in Texas. We send our sincere condolences to Peter and her family. We are honored to have known her and will always remember her kindness and special commitment to education, to the University of Texas at Austin, and our institute.”