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VOL. 130 | NO. 122 | Wednesday, June 24, 2015

CBU's 'New Vision’

Christian Brothers University launches $70 million capital campaign focused on community

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As Kenrick Hall on the campus of Christian Brothers University has been prepped for demolition, leaders of the university have been preparing for what follows when the 1940s-era classroom building is gone.

CBU president John Smarrelli is leading the university’s ambitious, $70 million capital campaign aimed at furthering the school’s reach in the community. He wants CBU students ‘to see Memphis as their campus.’

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The new, $8 million Rosa G. Deal School of the Arts building to come is part of an ambitious $70 million capital campaign through 2019, by far the most ambitious fundraising effort for the 144-year old Memphis institution.

The campaign already has raised $31 million for a combination of new buildings as well as new endowed programs for students and faculty and outreach programs.

“This is by far and away the largest capital campaign this university has ever attempted,” David E. Nelson, the campaign co-chairman and a former CBU trustee, said in advance of a Tuesday, June 23, formal kick-off. “We never really had a really strong capital campaign, anything of substance. We didn’t have a master plan during the nine years I was on the board.”

CBU President John Smarrelli calls it “less bricks and mortar and more programmatic.”

The other bricks and mortar parts are a new $14 million student center to replace the existing 1970s-era center, a $5 million renovation of Plough Library and a $4 million upgrade of athletic facilities.

“But really the crux of the campaign is how do we develop individuals who are capable of being college ready,” Smarrelli said. “We want to infiltrate the community, develop partnerships with schools and entities within those schools, increase the number of college-ready individuals in our community.”

The program goals include adding another “M” to the STEM curriculum, joining medicine with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The new STEMM program is a partnership with Christian Brothers High School, and the capital campaign has a goal of raising a partnership endowment.

There also is an endowment to support faculty positions and development of faculty in the university’s STEM outreach programs. CBU’s goal is to refine the programs and work with public and private schools beyond the CBHS and Maxine Smith STEAM Academy programs the university is known for. There also are “business summer camps” for high school students.

The goal with the crop of endowments and scholarships is to make them sustainable at a clip of up to $1.5 million to $2 million each.

The campaign comes at the six-year mark in Smarrelli’s tenure as the first lay person to serve on a permanent basis as CBU president.

CBU’s 1940s-era Kenrick Hall is being demolished to make way for a new, $8 million Rosa G. Deal School of the Arts building, part of a broader, $70 million capital campaign.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Dick Gadomski, the co-chairman of the capital campaign who served three separate nine-year terms on the CBU board, said the transition following the death of Brother Vincent Malham in 2008 was essential for the private Lasallian School.

“We brought in a lot of people that shouldn’t have been presidents because the rules said Christian Brothers had to be given first option,” Gadomski remembered. “Christian Brothers are fabulous teachers but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can all be presidents of universities. We tried to make these people presidents and we were about to have the same issue all over again.”

The trustees “took a stand,” he said, on the selection of Smarrelli: “He set a new vision.”

Christian Brothers University began making its reputation as an engineering and business school in the 1950s. And that is still what the school is best known for with its engineering freshman class growing by 30 percent in the last academic year.

But enrollment in sciences was up from 220 students to 270 in the same year. And physicians assistants and nursing programs brought in another 200 students. Smarrelli added the programs based on demand in both fields.

They also are the tip of the spear of what he calls a “third transformation” of Christian Brothers University.

“This university can no longer say we are just going to educate students on our 75-acre campus,” he said. “What we need to do is make a difference to our communities. … When they are here we want them to see Memphis as their campus.”

Gadomski credits the jump in enrollment in the sciences partially to efforts like the STEMM curriculum at Christian Brothers High School.

“All of higher ed needs to redefine itself,” Smarrelli said, citing closings of colleges and universities in other parts of the country and transitions like the one that made Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn., part of the University of Memphis.

“I want to up the relevance of this university so that the changes that we make, the dollars that we invest are going to be sustainable dollars,” he added. “We don’t need to grow. We’re 2,000 students. But if we grow a little bit that’s great. The more positive outcome is that we foster strong relationships with FedEx, IP (International Paper) and AutoZone.”

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