USM begins fundraising campaign for new nursing building

The following is a press release from the University of Southern Mississippi:

The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation announced an $8 million fundraising campaign on Wednesday to help construct a new facility for the University's School of Nursing.

The School of Nursing Building Campaign is off to a strong start with a $4 million commitment from the Asbury Foundation of Hattiesburg Inc., a gift that will name the proposed building Asbury Hall, pending College Board approval.

The state-of-the-art facility, which will be located on the western edge of the Hattiesburg campus, will increase the square footage dedicated to the School of Nursing by 135 percent, providing much-needed space for faculty and students and replacing a facility that can no longer meet the requirements of nursing education.

"It is difficult to find words that will adequately express the significance of this gift to the future of the School of Nursing, its faculty, alumni and future students," said Dr. Katherine Nugent, director of the School of Nursing. "We are honored that the Asbury Foundation has chosen to invest in The University of Southern Mississippi School of Nursing and its future.

"Southern Miss Nursing is a dynamic and vibrant school that is poised to meet the future health care needs of the state. This substantial gift from the Asbury Foundation will facilitate the realization of that vision."

Dr. Michael Forster, dean of the College of Health at Southern Miss, noted that the commitment is timely. "Nursing is a pivotal health care profession, and the need for more and more highly trained nurses is projected to expand dramatically into the foreseeable future," said Forster.

Established in 1984, the Asbury Foundation is a private grant-making organization that strengthens education and health in the Pine Belt and throughout Mississippi. When Bill Ray, the Asbury Foundation's president and CEO, moved to Hattiesburg in 1977 to head Wesley Health System, he worked toward the goal of moving the hospital across town.

When the hospital was sold in 1997, $35 million was invested in the Asbury Foundation as the surviving not-for-profit corporation. The funds contributed to Southern Miss are generated from the earnings on the invested assets that are the product of the sale of Wesley Health System.

"The Asbury Foundation chose to give back to the counties in Mississippi that supported us as a hospital," said Ray. "As the product of a health care entity, we are partial to supporting health care initiatives because we know there will always be a need for medical personnel."

Since 1999, the Asbury Foundation has committed more than $6.6 million to programs and scholarship endowments at The University of Southern Mississippi. The overwhelming generosity of the organization has helped Southern Miss continue to thrive in its support of students and the community.

"The Asbury Foundation is a significant partner in the success of the University," said Dr. Martha Saunders, University president. "The private funds provided by the Asbury Board have supported important programs at Southern Miss, and we are sincerely grateful for Asbury's involvement with the University."

The new School of Nursing building will allow for an increase in nursing enrollment from the current 550 students to more than 800 and expand new programs in the School of Nursing through student interactive areas, an enlarged and enhanced clinical simulation lab, computer labs, and classrooms that will promote the acquisition of knowledge in a positive and interactive learning environment.

Through the new space, the School of Nursing hopes to increase interaction and partnerships with the community by providing areas for community forums on health and professional nursing issues, simulation space for interdisciplinary training and foyer and dining space to host receptions.

The Asbury Foundation's $4 million gift commitment to the School of Nursing Building Campaign represents 50 percent of the private funds needed to make the facility a reality. In addition to the $8 million in private contributions and $4 million in federal grants, the University will be requesting state appropriations through bond funding during the next two legislative sessions to complete the financing of the construction project. The total project, including a $3 million endowment for the building, is estimated to cost $31 million.

"Every university needs friends like those Southern Miss has in the Asbury Foundation," said Bob Pierce, vice president for advancement and executive director of the USM Foundation. "The foundation's gifts to Southern Miss and local community improvement efforts are strong evidence that the Asbury Foundation cares about the Pine Belt and wants to see it prosper. Southern Miss is blessed to have the Asbury Foundation in our community and state."

Founded in 1967, the School of Nursing at The University of Southern Mississippi became the second baccalaureate nursing program in Mississippi with the enrollment of 70 students. Today, the School of Nursing is continuing the tradition of providing innovative nursing programs through the extensive use of clinical simulation to enhance the acquisition of educational and decision-making skills. The school boasts an average of 485 students in the baccalaureate, master's and doctoral programs and 500 students in the pre-nursing program. With a strong mission to enhance the health and well-being of the people of the state of Mississippi, the Southern Miss School of Nursing is producing graduates who are prepared to advance the profession of nursing through education, scholarship and service.