Bill Gates' Local Gift Gets Very Personal

Northern Virginia Learning Center Named for Billionaire’s Late Mother

By Jane Watrel
|  Wednesday, Oct 13, 2010  |  Updated 8:04 PM EDT
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Bill Gates' Local Gift Gets Very Personal

The world's second-richest man was in Northern Virginia Wednesday to dedicate a learning center named for his late mother.

Bill Gates, along with his father and sister, were at the United Way worldwide headquarters in Alexandria for the opening of the Mary M. Gates Learning Center.

The $17 million state-of-the-art facility features high-definition video conferencing and webcasting technology to link United Way workers with volunteers from 45 countries.

"I’m certainly thrilled that United Way is adapting to the times," said Gates. "Both [my mother] and I came to this facility as part of the United Way board so she believed in that a lot."

The Gates family has had a long relationship with United Way. Mary Gates was the first woman to chair the United Way Board in the Seattle area, recalled her daughter. "Until then, the board had been reserved for corporate leaders who could raise money through their businesses -- which meant it had been reserved for men," said Libby Gates. "But my mom earned her way on that board because she was diligent and smart."

Virtual learning has long been a passion of Bill Gates. His foundation just launched a $20 million grant program to improve college graduation rates via online technology.

"Education in the United States isn’t working as well as it needs to -- and having effective teachers is the key thing there -- but particularly as kids get older, the online piece can play a major role," said Gates. 

A kid who’s online can also learn more, Gates believes. "Being able to have community college lectures so you can watch them whenever you want -- there’s some real opportunities there," said the billionaire computer entrepreneur.

The Mary M. Gates Learning Center will have its first participants on Thursday, when it hosts United Way leaders from Latin American countries.


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