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Empowering the dream

The U of M’s most ambitious fundraising drive will allow the University to attract additional world-class faculty, foster innovative research and enhance learning experiences with cutting-edge facilities.

In terms of the economic returns it will generate, the University of Memphis’ centennial campaign is a no-brainer. For the thousands of students who will benefit intellectually, it will mean unrivaled learning facilities and new scholarship opportunities.

The U of M has launched the most ambitious fundraising initiative in its 100-year history — Empowering the Dream, a comprehensive campaign with a goal of $250 million by June 2013. The campaign will add sparkling new learning facilities for three of the U of M’s highly regarded programs: music, nursing, and communication sciences and disorders. It will foster innovative research, allow for the hiring of leading scholars in all disciplines and endow scholarships and fellowships.

About $12 million of the funds have gone toward the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and its move downtown. A new indoor practice facility for athletics is also included.

“If you look at the economic indicators of what the U of M means to the community, it’s been $1.5 to $2 billion per year,” says Charles Burkett, who, along with his wife Judy, is chairing the campaign, which has already raised more than $188 million of the quarter-of-a-billion dollar goal. 

Some of the funding for the Empowering the Dream campaign will go toward construction of a new Music Center, which will house the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music and give students unrivaled learning and performance facilities.
Some of the funding for the Empowering the Dream campaign will go toward construction of a new Music Center, which will house the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music and give students unrivaled learning and performance facilities.

Burkett, a retired First Tennessee Bank president, has become an expert of sorts when it comes to lauding the U of M’s accomplishments as well as championing its needs: he is chair of the U of M’s Board of Visitors, an advisory board made up of the area’s business and civic leaders.

“How many people in our community know that the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law often has the highest pass rate on the bar exam of any university in the state?” he says. “The statistics also are remarkable for the Loewenberg School of Nursing, in that 100 percent of those students recently passed the national exam required for nurses.”

Loewenberg has also been one of the most visible schools on campus, frequently sending student-nurses into community health clinics in Third World countries as well as locally.

Dr. Lin Zhan, dean of the nursing school, says students and the Memphis metropolitan area will both benefit as a result of the campaign.

“The investment in a new facility will help us to not turn away hundreds of qualified applicants who want to be dreamers, thinkers and doers,” she says, “and it will have a good return. Simply, an additional 100 nurses who are educated as a result of a new building will generate at least $10 million annually for our economy.”

In response to a recent nursing shortage, Loewenberg doubled its enrollment over the past five years to about 1,000 and added a graduate nursing program. Many are turned away because of space limitations — a new building would house approximately 1,500.

Zhan and Dr. Maurice Mendel, dean of the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, will share an interdisciplinary learning complex that will house offices, laboratories, classrooms and clinics. Zhan’s students currently are scattered across campus because of the lack of a comprehensive facility while Mendel’s are at three separate locations throughout the city.

“In order to remain a top-ranked graduate program, we desperately need a facility that will allow the program to grow and prosper,” says Mendel. “State-of-the-art research facilities, additional classroom space equipped with the latest technology and clinic space better equipped to provide hands-on training for our students will allow us to prepare more students while continuing to meet the many speech and hearing needs of the Mid-South community.”

The School’s audiology program has been ranked as high as sixth and speech-language pathology as high as 12th in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

One of the University’s sparkling gems, the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, will also benefit with a cleverly designed Music Center. The School is also in dire need of a larger facility to meet a growing student population.

“The current music building was constructed in 1967 to accommodate 250 students and 18 faculty,” says School of Music director Randal Rushing. “It now serves 500 students and more than 63 full- and part-time faculty. The new Music Center will serve some 650 students and 73 faculty.” 

Rushing says the new Music Center will allow faculty to offer students quality music education without the distractions of an inadequate and deteriorating facility.

“By adding multi-functional and technologically enhanced classrooms, rehearsal spaces and performance halls, students will benefit from pursuing their degrees in an environment in which the most advanced resources and facilities are available for their use.”

The Music Center will also serve as the new “front door” of the University off of Highland Avenue. With 200,000 square feet, it will feature a main-stage theatre, master classroom/recital hall, studio-theatre, practice facilities, state-of-the-art rehearsal rooms, classrooms and recording studios. Initial designs have been developed for the building.

Endowed in 2000 by Rudi and Honey Scheidt, the School of Music has the distinction of being Tennessee’s only doctoral degree-granting program in music.

The timing of the campaign is “ideal,” Burkett adds.

“It coincides with the University’s celebration of its centennial anniversary,” he says. “When you look at what’s happening at the University – its steadily increasing student body and the rising academic qualifications of its students, its successful recruitment, retention, and support of outstanding faculty, and its revitalized and beautified campus – you can’t help but want to be involved in the University’s future.”

Burkett stresses that this is a comprehensive campaign. Every gift, regardless of its size and designation, is considered important.

“We want everybody to feel they are a part of this. It’s going to be a success if everybody gives something.”

U of M President Shirley Raines says the campaign is essential to the U of M’s continued growth.

“More than 130 individuals and couples are involved in this campaign through their leadership,” she says. “Their endorsements and enthusiasm for this major metropolitan university are encouraging to our almost 2,500 employees and 23,000 students. Community leaders realize that when the University succeeds, the city of Memphis benefits, and so do the state and the region.

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Last Updated: 1/23/12