College cashes in: How Kent Rockwell’s $27.9 million donation came to be

Kent Rockwell was not a widely recognizable name within the Lafayette community before Monday morning, but after donating $27.9 million in stock to his alma mater toward a new science and technology building, it’s unlikely members of the college community will soon forget him.

According to President Alison Byerly, Rockwell’s gift is “among the largest two or three gifts the college has received.” The story was broken Monday by The Lafayette.

“In this particular case, I said I’d like to keep it focused on some development of the science and technologies that I think young students in this country need to be able to develop to compete in world markets,” Kenneth Rockwell ‘66 said.

Currently the chairman and CEO of Rockwell Venture Capital, Inc. and the CEO of Rockwell Forest Products and ExOne, Rockwell was an economics major while at Lafayette and is serving his second term as a trustee at Lafayette. He is also an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the creator of the S. Kent Rockwell ‘66 Scholarship Fund to provide financial aid to Marquis Scholars at Lafayette.

The donation has been in the works for over a year. Rockwell conversed primarily with then-President Daniel H. Weiss and Vice President of Development and College Relations James Dicker ‘85 to make a contribution.

Rockwell’s professional career has been centered on technology; one of his companies was responsible for the construction of the Apollo space capsules and shuttle. Enhancing Lafayette’s hard science branch was an attractive option.

“[Weiss] had mentioned for a prolonged time that they had been trying to fund a new science facility, and I said ‘Well, maybe we could use the money in that regard.”

Recently, Rockwell decided to go public with ExOne, which is involved in the 3D printer business. The decision presented the perfect opportunity to piece together his generous package.

“At the time we went public, the stock was trading and it was originally offered at 18 dollars. I talked to Dan and Jim in March and said, ‘Look, about the stock, it looks like it is going to be fairly successful. And I’d be pleased to give it to the school,’” Rockwell said.

Rockwell created a trust composed of his 450,000 shares of ExOne, and listed Lafayette as the beneficiary of the trust. Lafayette then sought to sell the trust.

“In order for Lafayette to turn it into cash, rather than stock, we registered it to be sold in the secondary offering, which took place last week.” Rockwell said of the sale. “At the time we put the stock into the trust and actually completed the concept of the transaction, the stock just happened to about triple.” According to Rockwell, Lafayette monetized the entire sum at $62 per share.

“We are immensely grateful for this extraordinary and historic gift,” Byerly said. “We are deeply indebted to Kent Rockwell for his extraordinary generosity and dedication to the College.”

An interdisciplinary science building, which according to Byerly would house biology and computer science departments, has been in the works for some time.

“We are excited that we’ll be able to move forward pretty promptly,” she said. “This was a need that was identified in the 2007 Strategic Plan, but we simply have not had the funding up until now.”

Plans for the building are still preliminary as a faculty committee has yet to convene. It is not known where on campus the building will be constructed. Byerly expects more will be known in the coming weeks as more funding becomes available.

Though Byerly announced Rockwell’s gift and will oversee the new building’s construction, she described her involvement as more of a closing presence.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that this is the result of a team effort going back many years that included several people in development, and Dan Weiss of course played a key role,” Byerly said.

“I’ve known Kent Rockwell for many years,” Weiss, now president of Haverford College, said. “He has been a loyal and devoted member of our board and of our community and I’ve known him for a long time. So we knew that Kent wanted to do something very big to help the College and we have all been working together to identify the right timing.”

“It’s been a long process for a lot of people. It’s been a great process. It’s been very good interactions all the way,” Weiss said.

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