University of Mississippi leaders, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, donors Jim and Thomas Duff, and others ceremonially broke ground Friday (Oct. 29) on the largest single construction project in the history of the Oxford campus, leading the way for more students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.
The Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation is projected to be among the nation’s top student-centered learning environments for STEM education. With a focus on increasing job opportunities and boosting the economy, the Hattiesburg leaders and brothers have committed $26 million to the construction of the 202,000-square-foot building. Its $175 million total project cost includes roughly $135 million in construction expenses.
William Yates of Yates Construction Co., which will build the facility, also spoke at the public event. The Duff Center will be in the Science District, with one side facing the Grove and another facing Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and The Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss.
UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce said the project signals the university’s commitment to producing graduates well-prepared for fields flush with career opportunities and applauded the Duff family and the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation for their major support.
“There is a critical need to increase the number of graduates in STEM fields to support growth and innovation in our state, region and nation,” he said. “Jim and Tommy Duff’s tremendous support will help strengthen the pipeline for training engineers, tech entrepreneurs, and science and math teachers.
“The Duffs, the Ford Foundation, the state of Mississippi and many other alumni and friends have joined our efforts to enrich educational opportunities in Mississippi, and their investments will have a significant return. In the coming years, STEM job creation will outpace non-STEM jobs, and STEM professionals will earn higher salaries, yielding more attractive opportunities for our students in Mississippi and beyond.”
In a joint statement, Jim and Thomas Duff expressed their hopes for the new facility.
“Our family firmly believes that the future of Mississippi is favorably influenced by education and we are proud to support this particular project at the University of Mississippi. We are confident that this state-of-the-art STEM facility will have a long-term impact on the lives of students at Ole Miss who are learning the value of hard work and unique skills to benefit them for a lifetime. Additionally, the state of Mississippi will enjoy the benefits of this important facility for many years to come.
“Job creation, economic development, improved quality of life and so much more will be priceless benefits of this endeavor and it’s a legacy in which we are honored to be included.”
The additional space and technological advances offered by the Duff Center are crucial to serving the Ole Miss student enrollment, which is increasing.
The university can expand STEM courses, especially those that require laboratory work and group projects, with the added classroom and laboratory space and nontraditional teaching spaces that facilitate active learning. In the limited space where active learning is currently possible, the participating students’ reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
“We are thrilled to benefit from Jim and Tommy’s generosity and vision,” said Charlotte Parks, vice chancellor for development. “They recognize what an impact the Duff Center will have on the entire region, and we are grateful for the inspiration it will be for students of all ages. Most every student at Ole Miss will have a class in this leading-edge facility, and thousands of visitors here for sporting events will see it and know our commitment to STEM education.
“In addition, the center will support the university in its progress toward encouraging STEM fields of study among first-generation college students and underrepresented groups. As an open access institution, we welcome students from all academic achievement levels and empower them with tools for career success.”
The Duff Center will house lecture halls as well as chemistry, biology, physics, engineering and computer science labs. Lower student-instructor ratios will be in place, and various disciplines will be spread throughout the building to promote interdisciplinary teaching and learning.
Among other building highlights, students will enjoy technology-enabled active learning, or TEAL, traditional labs and a 3D visualization lab, similar to a small IMAX theater. Engineering students will have access to dedicated lab spaces, including fabrication and testing equipment, for their senior design projects.
Several common areas will give students space to study individually and in small groups, and a STEM tutoring center will provide additional support.
Such innovations appealed to the Duff brothers, who are widely known for their entrepreneurial spirit and for responding to opportunities with solutions, Thomas Duff said.
What began as a small-town enterprise quickly grew under the leadership of the Duff brothers, who saw unique opportunities for the development of solution-providing companies. That forward-thinking force became Duff Capital Investors, a privately-owned company headquartered in the town of Columbia.
DCI comprises 20 companies, providing more than 13,000 employment opportunities across the nation and generating nearly $4 billion in total revenues. The company includes Southern Tire Mart, KLLM Transport Services, Frozen Food Express, TL Wallace Construction, DeepWell Energy Services, Pine Belt Motors and many other companies founded as solution providers.
The Gertrude C. Ford Foundation, of Jackson, committed $20 million to the facility and later pledged another $5 million for the gardens that will surround the building, including a commemorative area honoring renowned author William Faulkner.
For more information on supporting the STEM facility, contact Charlotte Parks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-915-3120; or visit http://give.olemiss.edu. Other naming opportunities are available inside the Duff Center.
By Tina H. Hahn/UM Development