By Ida Brown / firstname.lastname@example.org
MERIDIAN — Students taking a pre-test at the new Mississippi State University-Meridian Business School had an unexpected visitor Wednesday.
MSU President Dr. Mark E. Keenum stopped by the classroom during his tour of the downtown campus, located in the Newberry building, adjacent to the MSU Riley Center.
"This is Mississippi State University, it's just the same as if you were in Starkville," Keenum said. "I think the quality and caliber of the facility that we are offering to our business students here is second to none."
The MSU president expressed excitement over the new facility, noting that it has exceeded his expectations.
"We could not be more proud of this facility and how it's turned out," he said. "I think it's going to greatly enhance our ability to grow all of our business programs here in downtown Meridian, attract more students. That's what we're about; we want to grow our enrollment here in Meridian."
Funding for the downtown campus was made possible through a major contribution from The Riley Foundation.
"We wouldn't be here today without the generosity of The Riley Foundation," Keenum said. "When I came to MSU three years ago, The Riley Foundation offered this building to us as a university. With that, they provided the resources – over $6 million – to completely renovate this facility."
Additional support was provided from city officials, as well as several foundations and citizens.
"It's very gratifying to see this local support of this endeavor," he said.
The business school currently has an enrollment of 170 students, with 14 faculty and staff. Classes are held daily, beginning at 9:30 a.m. with a heavy concentration of classes in the late afternoon into the evening until 10 p.m.
"This is going to help complement the MSU Riley Center, which was a partnership between Mississippi State University and the outstanding Riley Foundation and other support in the community," Keenum said. "This is a testament to the wonderful vision."
That vision has even broader horizons.
The Riley Foundation has granted $5.5 million to renovate the Kress Building (located next door to the business school) for a nursing program for registered nurse (RN) and bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degrees.
"This will be a first for Mississippi State University, but will be exclusive to Meridian," Becky Farley, executive director of The Riley Foundation said.
Keenum is currently working with the state's Institute of Higher Learning's (IHL) Board of Trustees and IHL Commissioner Hank Bounds and hopes to have a proposal ready by March. However, it will be a few years before the nursing program will be operational.
"If we get IHL's approval, we will take the next steps to developing the program, which will take about a year to develop the curriculum and hire faculty and staff. And then we'll have to initiate the renovation of the facility," he said.
Plans are in the works to construct a library at the downtown campus, as well as the Meridian campus, now referred to as College Park campus. Funding for the project was provided through The Phil Hardin Foundation.
"The library for the downtown campus will be located on the first floor that will be part of the Newberry and Kress buildings," Keenum said. "The library will support our programs in the Division of Business, but our hope is that it will also be a big part of supporting our nursing school, should we get all of that approved.
"We also want it to be a library accessible to the public. It won't be a traditional library, but we'll have books, journals and periodicals to support our needs here, but it will also have computer terminals that will be linked to our library on our Starkville campus," he said.
The establishment of a library on the downtown campus will offer even more opportunities, including graduate programs – master's and possibly doctorate degrees.
"One of the areas we are looking at is a doctorate in education, and you have to have a library to support graduate programs," Keenum said. "So the gift of the Phil Hardin Foundation is going to help us to be able to provide, hopefully, more graduate level offerings here on this campus, with the support that we need from an accreditation standpoint with a strong library."
Last Updated: 1/27/12