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Aug. 25, 2011

With help of largest gifts ever received,
DWU will break ground on $11.5M science facility

MITCHELL — Officials at Dakota Wesleyan announced Thursday that the university has recently received the two largest financial gifts in its history. With $5 million from Paul and Donna Christen, Huron, and a matching $5 million from Fritz and Glenda Corrigan, Edina, Minn., the university will break ground for a new $11.5 million health sciences center on Sept. 30.

“A few years ago, our board adopted our new ‘Learn Strong’ initiatives,” said DWU President Bob Duffett.  “Our goal to become the best private, undergraduate university in the region for the sciences included building a new facility to house the College of Healthcare, Fitness and Sciences. Thanks to these generous donors, we will realize this goal.”

The four-story, 48,000-square-foot building will contain chemistry, biology and physics labs; two undergraduate research labs equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for student use; four nursing simulation labs; classrooms for nursing, athletic training, the sciences and mathematics; and faculty offices.

Building new science facilities has been part of DWU’s master plan for many years, but the university is committed to building only after funds have been raised, according to Duffett.

“We do not like debt,” he said.  “In order to be fiscally responsible, our unwritten policy is to raise at least 90 percent, if not all, of a project’s cost before we put a shovel in the ground.”

In Duffett’s tenure, there have been four major renovation projects on campus – the nursing department, Allen Hall and Dayton Hall dormitories and Wagner Chapel – and four major building projects: the Sherman Center, student apartments, McGovern Library and Jackson Plaza.

Just over a year ago, when presented with DWU’s plans for the new science building Paul and Donna Christen, DWU alumni, offered a challenge: they would give $5 million to the project.  Duffett and his team promised to find the rest of the funding.

In March, Glenda Corrigan, DWU Class of ’64, and her husband, Fritz, Edina, Minn., came forward with an unprecedented matching gift. They pledged another $5 million, and the DWU Board of Trustees authorized groundbreaking shortly thereafter.

While making comments to the Board of Trustees, Paul Christen spoke of how excited he and Donna are to be a part of this project, and that he hopes the college will one day secure new wellness facilities, as well.

“I hope that Mitchell will step forward and do their part, as this institution is one of the best assets of Mitchell,” Christen said. “Other communities would die for an institution such as this.”

Giving to DWU is not a new thing for Paul and Donna Christen; the Christen Family Recreation/Wellness Center is named for their family.  To honor this recent gift, DWU will rename one of the institution’s three colleges the Donna Starr Christen College of Healthcare, Fitness and Sciences. 

Donna Christen was instrumental in the establishment of the Spirit of Dakota award. She served as an officer of the Methodist Hospital in Mitchell, and currently serves on the board of directors of the South Dakota Community Foundation.  She is the cofounder and chairman of the Christen Hohm Lusk Greater Huron Area Foundation and chairman of the James and Zelda Ruddy Nursing Scholarship Foundation.

Paul Christen serves as president and CEO of Christen Group, LLC, and is an officer of CG Properties and Christen Company, all in Huron.  He served 12 consecutive years on the Dakota Wesleyan University Board of Trustees and was chairman of the board for six years. Aside from their professional lives, they have been involved in countless state and community organizations and won many awards.

The Corrigans’ enthusiasm for education no doubt began with Glenda Corrigan’s career and training as an educator. The building will be called the Glenda K. Corrigan Health Sciences Center.

She was born in West Liberty, Iowa, and graduated from Dakota Wesleyan University in 1964.  Fritz was born in Minneapolis, Minn., and graduated from Dartmouth College in the same year. They met and married in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1969. She was teaching high school and he was working for Cargill Inc.at the time.  Glenda taught school for seven years and raised three children. Fritz continued at Cargill for 38 years before retiring as its executive vice president in order to become the founding CEO and president of The Mosaic Company, a large global producer of phosphate and potash fertilizers.

“We worked hard for more than 40 years together building businesses for Cargill and jobs for thousands of people. America’s free enterprise system gave us that opportunity.  Along the way we saved enough to be able to give back now to the institutions that helped us get started,” Fritz Corrigan said.

There have been other gifts to the project as well. Ron Gates Sr. made a gift to rename the nursing department in memory of his wife, Arlene, who passed away this spring.

Arlene Gates was born in Parker and received her R.N. degree in 1954 from Sioux Valley School of Nursing. She dedicated her life to nursing, working in Sioux Falls, Minnesota and Arizona, before returning to Mitchell in 1967. After her return, she worked at both Methodist Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital. After marrying in 1968, the Gateses purchased the Mitchell Retirement Home, where Arlene served as director of nursing. In 1984, they purchased Firesteel Healthcare Center where Arlene worked until her retirement. For more than 40 years, the Gates family offered clinical experience to hundreds of nursing students from Dakota Wesleyan University, and they also employed many DWU graduates.

To support and encourage the education and training of healthcare professionals, they established the Ron and Arlene Gates Nursing Scholarship. The Arlene Gates Department of Nursing will be housed in the new health sciences center.

In recent years, DWU has seen a surge in student interest in healthcare-related fields.  The nursing program alone has nearly 200 students spread among the campuses in Mitchell, Huron and Sioux Falls. Nursing students have a 100 percent placement rate; equally impressive is the accredited athletic training program which also has a 100 percent placement rate of graduates.  Similarly, the medical school placement rate is nearly 100 percent.

Amy Novak, DWU Provost and Executive Vice President, says the high placement is almost ironic because of the age of the current science labs.

“We celebrated the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for Hughes Science Hall just this month,” said Novak, “but even with the age of the building and labs, our students receive an outstanding education from our faculty in the sciences and nursing.  And though the labs are old, thanks to the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN) grant through USD, we do have some of the most high-tech equipment in the state.  This new facility will make DWU students the best-equipped in the region for medical and graduate schools.”

During the summer, a team of faculty and staff have met quietly to plan the new building with architects.  Included in the planning process was a professional lab planner, Glen Barry of Design for Science, a consulting group that has worked on laboratory projects at Stanford University; the University of California, San Diego; the University of California, San Francisco; the School of Dentistry at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; University of Nebraska, Lincoln; and the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

“The new science building provides a great investment in the future of science education at DWU,” Barry said. “The construction cost of $11.5 million is a great value, especially compared to other areas of the United States.  In California, for example, a building like this would most likely cost $25 million. The new science building will have the latest technology and will provide science education labs that address how students and faculty work and interact.”

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