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UM, Legislature Working To Secure STEM Center Funding

State Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, (second from left) meets with UM leaders about funding the university’s planned science, technology, engineering and mathematics building. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications
State Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, (second from left) meets with UM leaders about funding the university’s planned science, technology, engineering and mathematics building. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

University of Mississippi leaders are working with the Mississippi Legislature to secure up to $40 million over four years toward the cost of a new $138 million science, technology, engineering and mathematics building. 

The center is the crown jewel of the university’s newly-created Science District. 

UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter notes the university’s longstanding commitment to STEM education and research. The university’s faculty and administrators have worked hard to establish a strong foundation for the future, he said.

“This facility will be critical to ensuring the university can continue to meet the needs of students and researchers and stay at the forefront of STEM education,” Vitter said. “It will help us produce graduates who will fulfill crucial state and national needs, serve as leaders across the region and nation, and help attract new jobs to benefit all of Mississippi.”

State Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, supports the funding. He recently met with university leaders to discuss the proposal for which lawmakers are trying to come to an agreement on the funding total and other details as the legislative session winds down. Tollison chairs the Senate Education Committee and is also on the Appropriations Committee. 

The senator believes the project is crucial for the future of the state and also the university, which is designated as an R-1 research institution, the highest possible ranking in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

“The STEM building is the university’s top capital improvement project, and I am happy to support this effort,” Tollison said. “I will use my experience and established relationships in the Legislature to help Ole Miss secure bond funds to complete this building. 

“I agree with Chancellor Vitter that the STEM building at Ole Miss can help transform STEM education in Mississippi.” 

The goal is to have the 200,000-square-foot building completed by fall 2018. The project has been underway since the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation’s $25 million donation to the project was announced last fall. The university will find other private funds, use internally generated cash and borrow to cover the remaining costs of the building.

University leaders have a vision for the new building to be an important tool to bolster science literacy in Mississippi by providing a place to prepare STEM graduates as well as K-12 teachers of those subjects. 

Mississippi’s future workforce projections suggest a great need for professionals with degrees in STEM fields, UM Provost Morris Stocks said. It is the university’s responsibility to provide them with the best possible training, he said.

“Our science facilities have served us well for decades but are now unable to meet the demands of our growing student body,” Stocks said. “The new STEM building will be a premier educational facility and will allow us to expand and enhance our ability to prepare students.”

In addition to the STEM facility, the UM Science District includes Coulter Hall (chemistry), Thad Cochran Research Center (National Center for Natural Products Research, Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and School of Pharmacy), Faser Hall (pharmacy), Shoemaker Hall (biology), Hume Hall (mathematics), Carrier, Anderson and Brevard (School of Engineering) halls, the Kennon Observatory and Lewis Hall (physics and astronomy) and the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence. 

A major artery through the Science District is to be named in honor of the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, which has contributed more than $53.6 million the university, including funds for the STEM project. 

Ford Way will run between University Avenue and All American Drive just north of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, which includes the location for the new STEM building. 

The area will also be the site of a commemorative area created to honor author William Faulkner, the Nobel Prize winner who once worked on that part of campus. The goal for the pathway is to merge science and literature to show the connections of the liberal arts.

Courtesy of Michael Newsom and the Ole Miss News Desk 

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