Public is invited to groundbreaking of Ray Morris Hall, future home of Millard Oakley STEM Center at TTU

The public is invited to join Gov. Phil Bredesen, Congressman Bart Gordon and other dignitaries at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 2, for the groundbreaking ceremony of Tennessee Tech University’s Ray Morris Hall, future home of the Millard Oakley STEM Center.

The 26,000 square-foot, $8 million building will be located on TTU’s campus at Seventh Street and Stadium Drive.

It will allow the Center to grow, improve and launch efforts to enhance the way teachers and professors — from preschool through college — teach science, technology, engineering and math-related subjects, and to help students of all ages learn to enjoy them.

The building and the Center will serve as a point of collaboration between university faculty members and public school teachers, with area schools being able to sue the center for hands-on activities based on real-world challenges such as space exploration, robotics and environmental protection.

According to state statistics, the rural areas of the Upper Cumberland and Middle Tennessee have ranked for some time near the 50th percentile in student performance in math and science.

At the same time, the number of STEM job openings in the U.S. is growing at a rate more than five times that of the number of American college students graduating with degrees in STEM fields, according to a report by the Task Force on American Innovation.

Millard Oakley, Upper Cumberland businessman and shareholder of First National Bank of Tennessee, and his wife, JJ, committed $2 million — the largest single gift in the university’s history — to launch STEM center efforts.

The building constructed to house the STEM Center will be named for Ray Morris, president of Venture Construction Co. and a 1959 TTU civil engineering graduate, whose significant contribution helped fund the facility.

Features of the facility will include an expansive lobby and multipurpose area with seating, restrooms and catering facilities and will feature interactive displays, digital signage to showcase research, student projects and visiting exhibits; a 250-seat tiered auditorium equipped for science and multimedia demonstrations; and learning studio laboratories focusing on biology and chemistry, earth and space sciences, physics and engineering, mathematics, early childhood and outdoor learning.

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