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In This Issue

       

Gift to WSU’s new engineering education facility honors entrepreneur Charles Peer

Great Plains Ventures is the first to support a lab in the Experiential Engineering and Makerspace Building

Marque Peer and Susayn Brandes outside the enterprise their father founded, Great Plains Ventures, in north Wichita.
Marque Peer and Susayn Brandes outside the enterprise their father founded, Great Plains Ventures, in north Wichita.

Susayn Brandes and Marque Peer think their dad would be pretty excited about the kind of education students will receive in the new Experiential Engineering and Makerspace Building at Wichita State University.

That’s why it didn’t take long for them and other leaders of Great Plains Ventures to decide to support the project with a $250,000 pledge for the Entrepreneurial Engineering Lab, one of 25 hands-on labs planned for the building on the WSU Innovation Campus.

“How appropriate is that?” Brandes says with a smile. “Our father was both an engineer and an entrepreneur. The minute I saw that was one of the labs, it just made sense for us to support it.”

The Experiential Engineering Building will be one of the first facilities on the WSU Innovation Campus, an initiative by WSU President John Bardo.
The Experiential Engineering Building will be one of the first facilities on the WSU Innovation Campus, an initiative by WSU President John Bardo.

The emphasis that Wichita State is placing on new design, technology and products is something that would have resonated with Charles Peer, who founded his own business in 1968 after his engineering job at Learjet was eliminated. That business, Aerospace Systems and Components, evolved into Great Plains Ventures.

“My dad was always big into making the next widget or doing things that are innovative and new,” says Marque Peer. “From our earliest history, we tried to be innovative, doing things that other companies weren’t doing.”

Today, Great Plains Ventures Inc. is a holding company for Great Plains Industries Inc., Aerospace Systems and Components Inc., and Powder-Tech LLC. The manufacturing businesses employ about 350 people and remain privately held.

The WSU Foundation and the WSU College of Engineering are leading the campaign to raise private funds for the labs in the Experiential Engineering and Makerspace Building. Individuals and companies who contribute to the project will receive naming opportunities for the lab their gift supports.

“Students, faculty, anyone who visits the facility will see the names of donors and friends who are committed to Wichita State’s future,” says Royce BowdenRoyce Bowden, dean of the WSU College of Engineering. “This is a way to recognize those who are as excited as we are about the transformation of engineering education at Wichita State.”

Charles Peer

Charles Peer

With its pledge, Great Plains Ventures became the first donor to the Experiential Engineering and Makerspace Building, which is under construction and slated to open in fall 2016. The company plans to honor Charles Peer by naming the Entrepreneurial Engineering Lab for him. The lab is envisioned as a place where students gather to apply entrepreneurial principles to engineering problems. That’s exciting to Brandes and Peer, who say that before their father died in 2007, his connection with Wichita State was more through entrepreneurship education than engineering.

They see the naming opportunity as one way to provide greater exposure to their company. Their father, Marque Peer says, was never much into self-promotion.

“My dad was very humble,” Peer says. “In his eyes, his greatest accomplishment was providing jobs – making it possible for people to draw a paycheck, buy a home, raise a family.”

By raising the company’s profile on campus, Brandes and Peer hope to attract some of WSU’s best and brightest students to their workplaces. The company also plans to take advantage of the Makerspace by having employees use it to develop ideas for new products and systems, she says. “The Makerspace is an opportunity for companies like ours to have access to equipment we would otherwise not have.”

Brandes and Peer have always felt a strong connection to the university. Brandes graduated in 1981 with a Bachelor of Business Administration and her son, Joshua, is a 2009 graduate. Marque Peer also attended WSU and his daughter, Paige, just completed her freshman year.

Brandes, Marque Peer and younger brother Jon Peer also support the Charles D. Peer Entrepreneurship Scholarship.

circle arrow If you would like to learn more about opportunities to support the Experiential Engineering and Makerspace Building, contact Kim Bair, WSU Foundation director of development for the College of Engineering, at 316-978-3839 or kim.bair@wichita.edu