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Taylor University, Upland, IN
Friday, April 12, 2024
The Echo
Computer Science_Ben Laithang.tif

Taylor announces $6 million CMC grant

Computer science mission opportunities expand

Taylor University announced the acceptance of a $6 million gift to the Center for Missions Computing (CMC) on Oct. 31. 

The gift — made possible by Elaine Vandermeulen (’62) and her late husband, Gordon Vandermeulen (’65) — will fund scholarships for computer science students and a director for the CMC. Operating as part of the Computer Science & Engineering department, the CMC partners with missionary organizations to assist technological needs and provide valuable educational experiences for computer science and systems students. 

“Part of the gift is to endow the Center for Missions Computing for a director, for travel, marketing and office expenses,” Stefan Brandle, computer science & engineering department co-chair, said. “One other significant element of the gift is to endow scholarships.”

Brandle explained that students build digital tools and software for missions organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators, Operation Mobilization, Love Justice International and several others through the CMC.

Wally Roth (‘59) founded the Taylor computer science department in 1978 and the Computer Assistance Program (CAP) in 1980. CAP was originally established with the goals of assisting missions and church-related organizations by creating and operating data processing systems and showing computer science students how to use their skills as service.

CAP became the CMC in 2007, with former Taylor professor Tom Nurkkala being the first (and only) director.

“We organized missions computing trips every other year where about a dozen or two students would go overseas to do software development with missions organizations,” Jon Denning, computer science & engineering department co-chair, said. “Sadly, these trips were completely halted when COVID hit, and then our director of CMC retired.”

While the CMC has continued to exist, it has operated without directorship since the pandemic and has endured a lack of funding.

Brandle and Denning hope that this grant will aid the growth of the CMC, through providing a full-time director’s salary and greater scholarship opportunities for students.

“This grant will roughly quadruple the amount of (scholarship) money available,” Brandle said.

The process of attaining this grant began with a campus visit from Rob Hanlon, son-in-law of Elaine Vandermeulen. Hanlon approached the computer science department regarding opportunities for financial giving in 2021.

To brainstorm ideas for the growth of the CMC and draft the grant proposal, a working group of people from the missionary community in the area of technology was put together.

A key working group member was missionary Anthony Petrillo, who has worked with the CMC on various mission-centered technology projects.

Petrillo played a vital role in the creation of a grant proposal. He enjoyed watching God work as he utilized his writing skills to aid the planning and drafting of the proposal.

“I love how (the CMC) gives the students firsthand opportunities to use their gifts to make a difference, an eternal difference in this hurting world,” Petrillo said. “Every time the CMC helps a mission…they make a change in the world that honors the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Brandle looks forward to the future potential of the CMC.

He explained how the field of technology within missions is challenging. Many mission organizations are busy, and although they may express a deep need for computer science-related assistance, they often struggle to see where people (such as students) may fit into that equation.

“If we could have an established center, we could become the broker where we connect people who want to help with people who need help,” Brandle said.

Over the next year, Taylor will work toward finalizing details for the director role and details surrounding the logistics of the CMC. 

Brandle and Denning are hopeful for renewed collaboration with mission organizations. They believe that the grant's impact will extend beyond Taylor to Christian organizations all over the world.