The McKelvey family’s impact on Washington University has been profound. Their long-standing relationship with the university began over 70 years ago when the late James McKelvey Sr. enrolled in the engineering school to pursue his master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering. In 1957, he joined the faculty and quickly advanced, becoming the seventh dean of the university’s engineering school in 1964.
During his 27 years in that position, Dean McKelvey, who passed away in 2019, helped transform the engineering school from a regional program to a nationally recognized institution of research, education, and innovation. He launched programs to enhance the school’s efforts to train leaders within the field and expand the pool of excellent applicants for admission. Under his visionary leadership, three new buildings were constructed; the school’s endowment grew more than tenfold, from $4 million to nearly $52 million; undergraduate and graduate enrollment increased significantly; and the number of faculty members grew.
Although he officially retired as dean in 1991, Dean McKelvey continued teaching in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering through the 2007–2008 academic year. Since then, he has helped guide the university by assisting with the engineering school’s efforts for Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University, which concluded in 2018 with record-breaking results, and by serving on the campaign’s Planned Giving Committee.
His son, Jim McKelvey Jr., through his extraordinary success, support, and dedication, has extended the family legacy. Jim’s lifelong engagement with the university began in his early childhood when his late mother, Edith, would frequently ride with him into campus on her bicycle to visit his father. Decades later, he is one of our most outstanding alumni and a member of the Washington University Board of Trustees.
An accomplished engineer, artist, and entrepreneur, Jim has started, helped to develop, or led more than a dozen companies. He co-founded the revolutionary mobile payments company Square Inc., as well as LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization that helps find and train workers for technology careers. He currently serves as an independent director of the St. Louis Federal Reserve and as CEO of Invisibly, a micropayments company he started in 2016 to transform online advertising engagement.
A talented glassblower, in 2002 Jim co-founded Third Degree Glass Factory, one of the most successful glassblowing schools in the world. He is the author of The Art of Fire: Beginning Glassblowing, the leading textbook for novices to this art form. Through his many efforts, he has greatly contributed to the thriving entrepreneurial community as well as the rich cultural opportunities in St. Louis and beyond.
Jim is an exceptional benefactor to Washington University. The university recognized him with the Alumni Achievement Award from the engineering school in 2012 and a 2017 Robert S. Brookings Award for his outstanding generosity and dedication. Through a leadership commitment in 2016, Jim made possible a new building for the engineering school. James M. McKelvey, Sr. Hall, which honors his father’s remarkable legacy, is slated to open in spring 2021.