Santa Clara University’s School of Engineering will receive an anonymous gift of $1.3 million from an engineering alumnus and his wife to help create leaders in the field of renewable energy.

The donation will help the Santa Clara, Calif., school launch the Latimer Engineering Scholars Program in the 2011-12 academic year to support teaching and research in sustainable energy. The program's director and electrical engineering professor Tim Healy will work with incoming freshman engineering students, selecting five who will be assigned to laboratory projects. Initially, the program will focus on photovoltaics and then expand to other renewable-energy areas.

Each student will receive stipends for working in the laboratory and on their projects. With each successive academic quarter, Healy says, the students will receive new education, projects and materials as long as they are successful. The projects will become increasingly sophisticated after each year, and as the students move up in rank, they will be able to mentor younger students.

“The objective is to develop highly educated undergraduate students in photovoltaics and renewable energy,” Healy says.

After students spend a year or two in the program, they will be able to pursue internships in places such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, and at solar technology companies like SunPower Corp., in San Jose, Calif., or at one of the light-emitting diode companies in the Silicon Valley, he says.