BOZEMAN — Montana State University today announced a $5.6 million gift from Larry and Anne Hambly that will enhance the university’s offerings in the rapidly growing field of computer science, enabling groundbreaking research and expanded opportunities for graduates whose skills are increasingly in demand in Montana and nationwide.

The donation will establish the Hambly Chair in Computer Science, an endowed professorship that enables MSU to hire an additional faculty member with demonstrated expertise that will benefit MSU students, according to John Paxton, director of the Gianforte School of Computing in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. Paxton anticipates the new professor would start in fall 2023.

"The Hambly Chair will enable us to provide students with additional cutting-edge research opportunities and expanded course offerings in fast-growing areas such as data science or cybersecurity," Paxton said. “Our students have an increasingly broad set of computing interests, and the industry need for students with computing skills has never been higher. The Hambly Chair will be an accomplished professor who can help our organization better serve students, expand our research portfolio and better meet workforce needs.”

Larry Hambly earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from MSU in 1968 and a master’s degree in physics from California State University, Los Angeles in 1972. He pursued a 35-year career defined by the rise of computing, first in the aerospace industry and culminating with 20 years at Silicon Valley-based Sun Microsystems, where he held numerous executive positions in sales, marketing and services.

“My physics degree provided an excellent foundation for my career in aerospace and computer systems development,” Hambly said. “Endowing this professorship allows us to return something of value to MSU and the state of Montana.”

While Hambly was at MSU, computing was so primitive by today's standards that the university had only one computer, a blue box that could be laboriously programmed to perform numerical calculations, he recalled. Students could use the machine as part of a one-credit class, the only computing course then offered. Graduates with any amount of engineering, science or computing experience were highly sought after during the Space Race and the Cold War. Hambly had a job offer from an aerospace company months before he finished his studies.

“Each wave of computer advancement has totally revolutionized our lives,” Hambly said. “Computer science has such a high impact in today's world, and MSU is making great strides to grow its educational capacity in one of the most critical intellectual disciplines of the 21st century.”

The number of computer science students at MSU has more than doubled in the past decade, to 530 this spring, driven by the availability of high-paying jobs, according to Paxton. Companies in the Montana High Tech Business Alliance were expected to add 1,500 jobs last year, according to a 2021 report by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana. Average national starting salaries for computer science graduates jumped 7.1% last year to $72,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment of computing professionals is projected to grow 22% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

MSU has responded to this demand by significantly expanding its degree offerings, adding an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science that prepares students to apply computing across diverse fields, a teaching minor that prepares computer science educators, and a minor in data science, which allows students to specialize in a field where salaries start around $100,000. With the university in the process of rolling out two additional degrees, a Master of Science in Cybersecurity and a Bachelor of Science in Data Science, the Hambly Chair professor could bring expertise that would significantly enhance those programs, Paxton said.

“The growth in the field of computing at MSU has been tremendous and exciting to be a part of,” said Brett Gunnink, dean of the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering. “We're very grateful to Larry and Anne for their generosity and excited to see with them the contributions that the Hambly professor will make to educating our students, conducting groundbreaking research and advancing our land-grant mission to serve Montana.”

Larry and Anne Hambly have previously given more than $500,000 to MSU, primarily for scholarships that support students in science, math, engineering, and computer science. This latest gift comes after the Gianforte Family Foundation pledged $50 million in February for constructing a new building to house the Gianforte School of Computing and computing-related fields such as cybersecurity, optics and photonics, electrical and computer engineering, and creative industries. That gift ties for the second largest in the university’s history and is one of the largest philanthropic gifts in the history of Montana. Hambly said he sees synergy and a larger effort to advance computing education and research at MSU.

"MSU is going to have a new computer science building, and it's important that we fill it with the best talent possible," he said.

- by Marshall Swearingen, MSU News Service -