TTU's College of Business leads effort to modernize classrooms

Look around any college campus, and you will see residence halls, academic facilities and other buildings named in honor of the people who made significant contributions to their construction.

Tennessee Tech University donors can be memorialized or pay tribute to the friend, family member or organization that inspired their gifts for far less than the cost of a building, however.

All it takes, in fact, is helping the university modernize one of its classrooms, laboratories, auditoriums or conference rooms with updated technology and learning equipment.

TTU’s College of Business has led that effort by establishing a special fund for donors to do just that. The Louis and Virginia Johnson Fund for Excellence has brought in a total of more than $1 million that has so far helped fund the renovation of 13 rooms in TTU’s Johnson Hall.

Louis Johnson was the founding dean of the college and served the university for more than 40 years.

“Since its construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the years have begun to take their toll on Johnson Hall,” said Dean of Business Robert E. Niebuhr.

The idea for a long-term renovation project originated a few years ago, with a visit by Pat Quillen, TTU’s College of Business development director, to the Cookeville home of Johnson, just prior to the former dean’s death.

“Pat told me that Louis turned to him and said, ‘Pat, take care of my building,’” Niebuhr said. “That conversation really was the start of our campaign to modernize and renovate Johnson Hall.”

The trend popularized by the College of Business is gaining recognition in other academic areas as well. Both chemistry and engineering, for instance, have recently benefited from donors who’ve provided such funding.

Even before the Louis and Virginia Johnson Fund for Excellence was conceptualized, however, the colleges of Education and Arts and Sciences had several facilities renovated with gifts from donors.

“I really like the concept of this kind of campaign,” said Jim Brock, director of development for TTU’s College of Engineering, who is currently in the planning phase of a program similar to the College of Business’.

“Thanks to the excellent campaign undertaken by the College of Business, Johnson Hall offers the university lots of examples of the kind of classroom modernization that is possible campus-wide,” he said.

Possibly the greatest advantage of a long-term renovation program, TTU officials say, is that a relatively moderate commitment by donors can provide such a substantial benefit to the university.

Opportunities with the Louis and Virginia Johnson Fund, for example, begin at $65,000 — only a fraction of what an entirely new building construction project would cost. And because of the scheduling of current individual projects, Niebuhr said, gifts can be given incrementally within a three- to four-year time period.

The modernization of the Tommy Lynn Seminar Suite in Johnson Hall officially launched the College of Business campaign, and the Virginia W. Plummer Reception Room soon followed.

Lynn had a successful, 40-year career in the Cookeville banking community, and Plummer was a 37-year TTU faculty member.

Other Johnson Hall modernizations include two classrooms, one named in honor of Charles Hawkins of Chattanooga and the other named for Christine Gilliam Burks, mother of local businessman Horace Burks and late state Sen. Tommy Burks; a conference room named for Tom Orton of Chattanooga; and the Kraft CPAs classroom, funded by a gift from the Kraft public accounting firm in Nashville.

A flat-screen video messaging system for the public areas throughout Johnson Hall has been provided by a donation from John and Minnie Lou Clark.

An auditorium honoring 1953 business education graduate and 41-year banking professional Don N. Ervin is under construction.

Other planned projects in Johnson Hall include the modernization of two classrooms, a conference room, an MBA study lounge and an administrative suite, with pledges respectively from Jimmie Mackie, Claire and John Johnson in honor of Virginia Johnson, Nancy McLamore in honor of James W. McLamore, Tom Neal and Emily S. Bedford.

Representatives of Cookeville’s SunTrust Bank and State Farm Insurance agency have also joined forces to make a pledge for the creation of the Eagle Financial Investment Center, a trading room simulation to give students a first-hand glimpse of the stock market.

On other parts of campus, the Northrup-Clayton 21st Century Auditorium named in honor of alumnus John Clayton and honoring TTU chemistry professor Scott Northrup, was recently dedicated in Foster Hall.

And TTU’s mechanical engineering department recently unveiled its newly modernized DENSO Smart Classroom, updated with a donation from the international automotive manufacturer of advanced technology.

Possibly the first such facility on campus, however, was the Mitchum English Lab, created in 1997 after former English professor Jere Mitchum, upon his retirement, donated $100,000 in order for a classroom to be renovated into a computer lab for writing instruction.

The College of Education has also been able to modernize three different facilities — a fitness lab, a classroom and a music rehearsal hall — because of such donations.

In 2002, the Edwards family of Jamestown provided $75,000 for the renovation of the fitness lab in the Memorial Gym and the basement classroom in the T. J. Farr Building.

In 2005, family and friends of the late Col. Maurice Haste, who is credited with starting a music degree program at TTU, provided funding in his honor to renovate the rehearsal hall in the Bryan Fine Arts Building.

Although all facilities are renovated for their specific use, such updated and modernized classrooms typically feature the latest in instructional technology — including wireless computer capabilities, ceiling-mounted data projectors, televisions and video players, instructors stations and sound systems — as well as new wall coverings, carpet, enhanced lighting and comfortable seating.

For more information about contributing to TTU’s classroom modernization efforts, call the University Development Office at 931/372-3055.