W.A. Franke Honors College Receives $3.2 million gift to create the Compton Lab for Discovery and Innovation

Dec. 5, 2023

The Compton Lab for Discovery and Innovation, made possible by Dr. John Lee Compton’s generous gift, includes the establishment of the Endowed Chair for Creative Intelligence and Innovation and Compton Fund for Exploration

Dr. John Lee Copton poses with faculty and staff during the signing of his gift agreement

From left: University of Arizona Foundation President and CEO John-Paul Roczniak, Compton Chair for Creative Intelligence and Innovation Dr. Caitlyn Hall, Interim Dean of the Franke Honors College Dr. John Pollard, Dr. John Lee Compton, Barbara Pryor, and Franke Honors Director of Development Stephanie Mills in the Honors Village Courtyard.

The University of Arizona W.A. Franke Honors College has received a $3.2 million gift from Dr. John Lee Compton to establish the Compton Lab for Discovery and Innovation. This gift supports the Franke Honors College in two parts: The Compton Chair for Creative Intelligence and Innovation, a faculty position held by Dr. Caitlyn Hall that will oversee the college’s newest degree program, The Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII), and the Compton Fund for Exploration. True to its name, the fund supports Exploratory Mini-Grants, up to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a team, that encourage students to explore beyond their primary major and discipline. Franke Honors Wildcats already think bigger; that’s how they got here. But for many, they don’t have the resources pursue their biggest ideas. This fund allows them to do that. It fuels their wonder, removing financial barriers from the type of exploration that leads to true innovation. Already, in this first cycle, more than 60 students have applied for grants, and their proposals are a true testament to their creativity, curiosity, and drive. 

Dr. Compton grew up in Palo Alto, CA before earning a B.A. degree from Yale and a Ph.D. from Caltech. After completing postgrad work in Lausanne, Strasbourg, as well as UC San Francisco and Cornell, he moved to New York City, where he lived for forty years. While there, he earned an MBA at New York University and worked in the biotech industry, most recently as the CEO of a small company. Over the years, he served on the executive committees of the NY Biotechnology Association and the NYS Biodiversity Research Institute, started two small companies (one in biotechnology and one in decorative plants), and served in a variety of community positions, including as chair of the community advisory committees for the Hudson Yards Development Corporation and the Moynihan Station Development Corporation, as a director of the NY Convention Center Operating Corporation, and, for sixteen years, as a member of Manhattan Community Board No. 4, as chair of the board and as chair of the land use committee. A hiker, traveler and avid amateur photographer, Dr. Compton is passionate about the preservation and enlightened use of natural resources, and about the value of education as preparation to be an effective citizen of a challenged and changing world. 

It’s no surprise, given the breadth and depth of Dr. Compton’s personal interests and professional experience, that his gift aligns beautifully with the mission and values of the Franke Honors College. 

“The college experience can be filled with opportunities to discover, explore and develop new interests and talents,” said Compton. “Factors such as a preconceived sense of purpose or family expectations can obscure these opportunities or make them seem unattainable. The idea that led to the Compton Lab was the desire to encourage students to ‘try something different,’ to help them recognize the wealth of opportunities around them and their potential to be life-altering, and to enable them to take advantage of those opportunities.” 

The Compton Lab is not a brick-and-mortar location. Rather, it is an expansive ecosystem that encompasses future-facing programming within the Franke Honors College, including transdisciplinary and experiential opportunities for students to break traditional academic boundaries and follow their curiosity where it leads. 

Dr. Compton’s gift will enable students to take intellectual risks and try new things. This approach is fundamental to many existing programs in Franke Honors, including the early undergraduate research Quest program, the Honors Thesis, the Future Earth Resilience and Health and Human Values minors, the Honors Civic Leadership Certificate, and the college’s new degree program, the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII). His generosity will fuel the wonder of generations of Franke Wildcats, enabling them to make the most of their undergraduate experience.  

This gift is transformational for the college. It feeds into the momentum already generated by our brilliant students, inspiring faculty, dedicated staff, and generous philanthropists. Because of the impactful nature of this gift, and Lee’s enduring commitment to the Franke Honors College, as evidenced through prior gifts, the college recently presented him with the 2023 W.A. Franke Honors College Legacy Award. 




Fueling Wonder at Franke Honors 

In November 2023, the University of Arizona announced the public phase of the $3 billion Fuel Wonder campaign. The announcement included the W.A. Franke Honors College as one of three named colleges and highlighted the Compton gift for its role in fueling the Wildcat journey. 

Fuel Wonder Campaign Stamp

Since the official start of Fuel Wonder in 2017, the W.A. Franke Honors College has received many generous gifts from donors who have fueled the wonder of our Franke Honors Wildcats, igniting their curiosity and propelling them on a path toward future changemaking. While these gifts have impacted students of diverse backgrounds and interests, they have all served the underlying values of the college, enhancing opportunities for students to seek, connect, create, evolve and celebrate.  

In 2021, the University of Arizona Honors College became the W.A. Franke Honors College to recognize a $25 million gift commitment made by William A. "Bill" Franke, his wife, Carolyn, and the Franke family. 

"I want the students from the Honors College to feel they have the leadership skill set to take their natural ability, which has been fine-tuned, and make a difference," Bill Franke said. "Whether they're going into science, education or business, there will be opportunities for them to provide a point of view and to help develop perspective with the communities they're engaged with." 

The Frankes' gift provides student scholarships, stipends to defray the cost of living in the Honors Village, and funding to help students develop global leadership skills through participation in study abroad. The gift also establishes an endowed chair for the college's dean and a new Honors Faculty Academy. The academy provides top faculty members with financial rewards for research and teaching purposes, giving the college a recruitment and retention tool and ensuring Franke Honors students can work closely with mentors on research projects. 

Dr. Compton’s most recent gift builds on the momentum of the Franke gift, ensuring that the Franke Honors College will continue to be a nationwide leader in Honors education.

About the W.A. Franke Honors College 

Empowering Students to Seek, Connect, Create, Evolve, and Celebrate.  

A dynamic space for interdisciplinary thinking on campus, the W.A. Franke Honors College is grounded in community values and academic experiences that prompt students to ask and answer bold questions about our ever-changing world. Franke Honors exemplifies the University’s mission, developing adaptive problem-solvers through experiential learning, research, and study abroad. Unique degree programs, including the new Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, empower students to develop a deeper sense of wonder and purpose and contribute toward solving some of society's timely and timeless problems. Through opportunities to engage in small classes with the University's top educators, Franke Wildcats seek ways of thinking, connect with others, create experiences and knowledge, evolve and grow as humans, and celebrate that growth.