2019 Archives

Breaking ground on SMU’s new home for digital explorers

Gerald J. Ford Hall for Research and Innovation ignites the future of research and education

February 22, 2019

Gerald J. Ford Hall for Research and Innovation


DALLAS (SMU) – SMU takes a giant leap forward in the rapidly shifting digital frontier with today’s groundbreaking of the Gerald J. Ford Hall for Research and Innovation. The new 50,000-square-foot interdisciplinary research hub will equip faculty, students and industry partners with tools and resources to collaborate, solve complex problems and power new enterprises. 

As digital explorers, both undergraduate and graduate students will work alongside faculty and industry professionals in this new data-driven nerve center. Ford Hall will expand the University’s use of high-performance computing for interdisciplinary collaborations and help SMU attract greater levels of external research funding.  

SMU Trustee Gerald J. Ford ’66, ’69, his wife, Kelli O. Ford, and The Gerald J. Ford Family Foundation provided a $15 million lead gift to help fund construction of the new building.

“With this gift Gerald Ford is continuing his extraordinary legacy as a catalyst for excellence and growth for the University,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “His earlier vision and lead gift for the Ford Stadium has attracted tens of thousands of visitors to SMU each year and energized the campus and wider communities. Now, with the construction of the Gerald J. Ford Hall for Research and Innovation, SMU’s student and faculty research initiatives will be transformed, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and innovation.”

Researchers at SMU already are working with industry and community partners on diverse projects such as cloud computing and internet security, adult literacy and cancer research. With recent investments in computing capacity, the recruitment of specialized faculty expertise and investments in facilities such as Ford Hall, SMU plans more collaborative research projects like these in the next decade and beyond.

“This is a critical step in SMU’s journey to strengthen its research capabilities,” Ford said. “The University is creating an exciting space for bold doers and collaborators. It’s the next step in SMU’s ascendancy as a premier research and teaching university, and my family and I are honored to play a role in this process.” 

The new facility will be located on SMU’s main campus at the corner of McFarlin Boulevard and Airline Road. Ford Hall will serve as the home to SMU’s AT&T Center for Virtualization, the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute, high-performance computing and data science, the new innovative Visualization Lab and the Guildhall, the Hart eCenter’s top-ranked digital game design program.

The interior will be highly flexible to accommodate groups of all sizes from small huddle spaces to large classes, presentations, competitions and performances. All spaces offer high-performance video capabilities to facilitate real-time interaction between researchers, students and collaborators. 

About Gerald J. Ford and Kelli O. Ford

Ford is one of the nation’s most accomplished financial services executives. Over the past 40 years, he has acquired, managed and sold banking businesses and other financial services companies, including First United Bank Group Inc., First Gibraltar Bank, FSB, Golden State Bancorp and Pacific Capital Bancorp. Ford currently serves as chair of Hilltop Holdings Inc. He is a managing member of and principal investor in Ford Financial Fund II, L.P., a private equity firm. Ford also is the principal shareholder of First Acceptance Corporation, a non-standard auto insurance company. He currently is the non-executive chairman of the board of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc. Additionally, he is a director of Scientific Games Corporation and Mechanics Bank.

Ford’s strong ties to SMU date from his student days. He earned a B.A. degree in economics from Dedman College in 1966 and a J.D. degree from what is now the Dedman School of Law in 1969. He was honored with SMU’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995 and the Mustang Award in 1997 recognizing significant philanthropic contributions to the University.

He previously served as chairman of SMU’s Board of Trustees and currently serves as a trustee and on the Campaign Leadership Council. He is a former member of the executive boards of Cox School of Business, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, Dedman School of Law and of the Board of Directors of John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies.

An active community leader, Ford is a trustee of Southwestern Medical Foundation and Children’s Medical Foundation. Beyond Dallas, he has served on the board of overseers of Cornell University’s Weill Medical College and its Graduate School of Medical Sciences.

In addition to the lead gift for Ford Hall, Ford established the Gerald J. Ford Research Fellows program at SMU in 2003, which annually honors outstanding faculty members with funding to support their research and creative endeavors. To date 68 professors have been named Ford Research Fellows. And in 1997, he provided the lead gift for the Mustangs’ football stadium, which revitalized the campus experience for athletes, other students and supporters.

He is married to Kelli O. Ford, who co-owns the design firm KirstenKelli LLC, based in Dallas and Greenwich, Conn., and the Dallas retail home store, Madison. For more than 25 years, Mrs. Ford and Kirsten Fitzgibbons, her sister and business partner, have served clients around the world. Their modern, classic style has been featured in Architectural Digest, Veranda, House Beautiful and other home décor publications.

Mrs. Ford is a member of the Tate Distinguished Lecture Series Board at SMU and a former member of the Meadows School of the Arts Executive Board. In Dallas, her volunteer service has included the Children’s Health Foundation Board; the board of visitors for UT Southwestern University Hospitals and Clinics; the board of trustees for The Hockaday School; and the George W. Bush Institute Women’s Initiative Advisory Council, at the invitation of former First Lady Laura Bush. Mrs. Ford previously served on the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s board of governors and was the 2012 Chairman of the Sweetheart Ball Committee. Beyond Dallas, she serves on the board of trustees for Greenwich Academy and on its Advancement Committee, in Greenwich, Conn.; the board of overseers of Cornell University’s Weill Medical College in New York; and the board of directors of the Irvington Institute for Immunological Research in Irvington, N.Y.

In Dallas, Mrs. Ford is involved with the Brook Hollow Golf Club and the Dallas Country Club. In New York, she is active with the Maidstone Club in East Hampton, The Meadow Club in Southampton, the New York Yacht Club in New York City, The Bathing Corporation of Southampton and Shinnecock Hills, both in Southampton. She also is a member of the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles and the Lyford Cay Club in the Bahamas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in writing from St. Lawrence University, where she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

The Fords have two daughters, Electra and Kelli, and he has four other children, Amy Ford Prestidge ’95, Jeremy Ford, Jordan Ford and Maegan Ford Nicholson.

Learn more about the Gerald J. Ford Hall for Research and Innovation.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world. 


Find an Expert