HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - In May 2019, William Carey University broke ground for a student center to replace the historic Tatum Court building that opened in 1914 and was destroyed just over a century later during the 2017 tornado that devastated the Hattiesburg campus.
On Friday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the new King Student Center, which stands on the site of old Tatum Court and is named in honor of WCU President Dr. Tommy King and his wife, Sandra.
Since King became president in 2007, the number of students has doubled from 2,500 to more than 5,000. During the same time, the number of residential students on WCU’s Hattiesburg campus tripled and six new dorms were opened.
“Well I’m feeling very excited but unworthy,” King said, “We’ve never had a student center in the history of William Carey. Our students have been loyal, our enrollment has gradually grown, and that’s why we’re here, the students. So they finally have a building that’s dedicated to them.”
WCU’s vice president for Student Support, Valerie Bridgeforth, said the new student center will provide a place for fellow classmates to study, grab a bite to eat or to relax and just enjoy themselves.
“This new student center sits in the center of our campus and will give our students a place to belong, a place to call their own. Whether they want to visit in one of the lounges, or attend a Baptist Student Union event or get a hot meal and recharge their phones between classes,” Bridgeforth said.
The new King Student Center includes:
- Baptist Student Union Campus Ministries
- Student meeting room: Large event space with a catering kitchen
- Administrative offices for the Information Technology Department
- Carey Diner: open Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Game Room: Pool tables, ping-pong tables, large-screen TV and recliners
- Large patio with picnic tables and rocking chairs
- Student Services office
- Residence Life and Housing
- Student Life: Decals and ID’s
- Conference room
- Two study rooms
- Computer Lab
King, the grandson of the founder of the town of Sumrall, became the ninth president of William Carey University in 2007.
He was the first graduate of WCU to be named president. King came to the position with more than 30 years of experience in public education from elementary to university levels. At Carey, he served as dean of the school of psychology and counseling, vice president for graduate and off-campus programs, professor of psychology, and executive vice president. He was named a WCU Alumnus of the Year and is a member of the WCU Alumni Hall of Fame.
In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree from WCU, King holds four graduate degrees, including a doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi. His wife, Sandra Simmons King, a Carey alumna, is a retired educator with more than four decades of experience.
King has served the Southern Baptist denomination on the local, state and national levels. In local churches, he has served on staff, on committees and as a Bible teacher and deacon. He is a former member of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and served eight years on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.
His record of leadership in civic affairs includes serving on boards in Jones, Marion and Forrest counties. King was named Columbia’s “Outstanding Citizen” and is a Lions International Foundation Melvin Jones Fellow for Outstanding Humanitarian Work. He established the Mississippi Lions Deaf Camp and was inducted into the Lions Hall of Fame in 2002. In recognition of his service to the Lion’s Club, he has received many awards, including the Ambassador of Goodwill Award, the club’s highest honor. In 2015, he was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International.
He was a recipient of the prestigious Hattiesburg Hub Award in 2010. He was honored with the Promotion of the Arts Award in 2014, and the Leadership Award in 2020, by the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association. The Mississippi Business Journal named him a 2015 Outstanding Chief Executive Officer of the Year. In 2019, he was honored with a “Forever Young” award by Coast Young Professionals.
He served in many state and national leadership positions, including president of the Mississippi Association of Colleges and Universities in 2011-2012. He currently serves on the boards of the Salvation Army, United Way, the Area Development Partnership and the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities, as well as the Council of Presidents of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. He has served as president of the Southern States Athletic Conference and chairman of the Consortium for Global Education. King is also a trustee for Guidestone Financial Services.
Under his leadership, a new 50-acre campus was established in Biloxi. A medical complex of state-of-the-art buildings, and many other facilities have been constructed or remodeled on the Hattiesburg campus and has expanded from 135 to 170 acres. The College of Osteopathic Medicine was established in 2010, the College of Health Sciences was added in 2015 and the Doctorate in Physical Therapy program began in fall 2016. The School of Pharmacy was established in 2018. The number of sports teams has increased from six to 18, new degree programs have been added, and online class offerings have greatly increased.
King and his wife have one son, two grandsons and four great-grandchildren.