$15 million gift to fund new Gerald J. Ford Research and Innovation Building at SMU

A $15 million gift from Gerald J. Ford for a new facility brings campaign total to $800 million.

Gerald J. Ford (right) shakes hands with SMU President R. Gerald Turner following the gift announcement.

DALLAS (SMU) – Business leader Gerald J. Ford and Kelli O. Ford and The Gerald J. Ford Family Foundation have committed $15 million as the lead gift to construct a campus research facility supporting a major SMU initiative to expand advanced computing and interdisciplinary research throughout the University.

The new state-of-the-art building will support research facilitated by SMU’s high-performance computing capabilities, among other projects. It also will be the home of the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute, established in May 2012 through a gift from the Dedman family and Foundation. The building will be located on SMU’s main campus at the corner of McFarlin and Airline.

Establishment of the Gerald J. Ford Research and Innovation Building joins other advancements SMU is implementing to support its accelerated research push. Among them is completion of a new University data center, a companion building under construction on SMU property south of Mockingbird Lane. Technology in the new building will enable SMU’s high-performance computing capacity to grow from 2,000 to more than 10,000 CPU’s. Other actions to promote research include raising resources for new endowed faculty chairs and other faculty with active research agendas, along with increasing opportunities for undergraduates to conduct real-world research.

“The new Gerald J. Ford Research and Innovation Building  will help to transform the research and educational landscape of the University,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Students must be prepared for a world in which data analyses, modeling and visualization are critical decision-making tools, while faculty continue to push the boundaries of knowledge and innovation. Gerald Ford’s new gift continues his tradition of strong support for faculty research. We are extremely grateful to him for this major boost to SMU’s academic aspirations and impact.”

In 2003 Ford established the Gerald J. Ford Research Fellows program at SMU, which annually honors outstanding faculty members with funding to support their research and creative endeavors. To date 48 professors have been named Ford Research Fellows. Several other programs of the University also have benefited from his philanthropy. By providing the lead gift for the Mustangs’ football stadium in 1997, Ford revitalized the campus experience for athletes, other students and supporters. He also supports student scholarships. Ford is a member of the SMU Board of Trustees, former Board chair and currently the convening co-chair of SMU’s Second Century Campaign.

“I believe it is important that SMU alumni and friends support all areas of the University – academic programs, scholarships, athletics and campus development,” Ford said. “SMU is known for the breadth of the educational experience it provides, and this campaign is strengthening every critical component of the campus environment for our students.”

The surprise announcement of the new commitment was made October 25 at a meeting of leaders and volunteers for SMU’s Second Century Campaign. The Volunteer Summit attracted more than 200 participants and coincided with the University’s Homecoming Week.

The new commitment by Gerald J. Ford and Kelli O. Ford and The Gerald J. Ford Family Foundation brings to $800 million the total raised to date by SMU’s Second Century Campaign. The University announced in September that it was raising its original monetary goal from $750 million to $1 billion, based on the campaign’s rapid progress ahead of schedule. Seeking resources for scholarships, faculty positions, academic programs, facilities and the campus experience, the campaign was publicly launched in 2008.

About the the Gerald J. Ford Research and Innovation Building 

A prominent component of the Gerald J. Ford Research and Innovation Building  will be a visualization lab. Connected to the new data center, it will be used for classes, conferences and performances showcasing computational research at SMU. The facility also will facilitate experimentation in imagery and provide ample space for the interaction between individual researchers and the tools of technology. Offices for technology support staff will be housed in a central location for ease of access.

It is expected that availability of the building will encourage more faculty to use high-performance computing and attract greater levels of external research funding. SMU aspires to increase its current $20 million in research activity annually to $50 million per year. The Second Century Campaign has added 34 new endowed faculty positions, bringing SMU’s total to 96, all of them senior-level scholars with active research agendas. Along with existing faculty who are leading important research projects, these scholars need and expect the best facilities to support their work. In addition, high-performance computing will apply directly to the undergraduate curriculum in several disciplines.

“Along with advancing research among faculty and graduate students, SMU is committed to providing undergraduates with meaningful research experience,” said Paul Ludden, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We know that solutions to society’s challenges require knowledge and expertise drawing upon several disciplines. The Gerald J. Ford Research and Innovation Building  will enable students to develop the research and discovery skills they will need to address complex problems and thereby contribute to society.”

Projects that will benefit from the building and expanded high-performance computing include those in biology and chemistry, aiding the development of new drugs to treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases. In business, advanced computing will support accurate simulations and forecasts of changes in complex financial markets and consumer behavior. Projects in computer science and engineering also will include forecasting behavior of complex networks, and research in the arts will be aided by improved digital imagery and sound. In statistical science, high-performance computing will support comparisons of DNA/RNA sequences in the human genome to identify sources of genetic disorders.

“I have been impressed by the research advancements of our faculty,” Ford added. “Over the years, in supporting the Ford Research Fellows, I have seen first-hand the contributions made by our faculty through their research. I am pleased to provide them with the next essential asset they need to continue their achievements.”

New faculty positions advancing interdisciplinary research include the Ruth Collins Altshuler Endowed Professor and Director of the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute, funded by Altshuler, SMU trustee and former Board chair; and the Ruth and Kenneth Altshuler Centennial Interdisciplinary Professor in Cities, Regions and Globalization, funded by the Vin and Caren Prothro Foundation.

Another recent faculty example is the appointment of cyber security expert Frederick Chang, who has joined SMU to develop a multidisciplinary program aimed at tackling the most vexing cyber security challenges. He is the new Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security and professor of computer science in the Lyle School of Engineering and a senior fellow in the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Science in Dedman College.

Expanded resources for interdisciplinary collaboration also will strengthen SMU research partnerships locally, nationally and worldwide.

About the Donor

Gerald J. FordGerald J. Ford is one of the nation’s most accomplished financial services executives. Over the past 35 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., which acquired PlainsCapital Corporation in 2012. He also is the co-general partner and principal investor in Ford Financial Fund II, L.P., a private equity firm.

Ford has strong ties to SMU dating 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.

In addition to his service on the Board of Trustees and Campaign Leadership Council, he is a current member of the Executive Board of Dedman School of Law. He is a past member of the executive boards of Cox School of Business and Dedman College and of the Board of Directors of John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies.

An active community leader, Ford is an honorary trustee of Southwestern Medical Foundation, a former director of the Children's Medical Foundation and Boys and Girls Club of Greater Dallas and former member of the Dallas Citizens Council. Beyond Dallas, he serves on the board of overseers of Cornell University's Weill Medical College. He is married to Kelli O. Ford, a civic volunteer and member of the Tate Distinguished Lecture Series Board at SMU. They have two daughters, Electra and Kelli, and he has four other children, Amy Ford Prestidge, Jeremy Ford, Jordan Ford and Maegan Ford Nicholson.

About The Second Century Campaign

Confetti streamers at the 25 October 2013 gift announcement
Confetti streamers fly at Friday's gift announcement.

To date The Second Century Campaign has raised funds for 472 new scholarships; 24 academic programs such as schools, institutes and centers; 34 endowed faculty positions, bringing SMU’s total to 96; and 27 capital projects, including new or expanded facilities for libraries, academic programs and athletics.

Based on continuing campaign momentum and expansion of the goal to $1 billion, SMU has adopted ambitious new goals to:

  • Increase the number of endowed scholarships to 500 by the end of the campaign, December 31, 2015.
  • Increase the number of endowed faculty positions to 110, up from the original goal of 100. To date 96 such positions have been established, 34 through The Second Century Campaign.
  • Complete funding for 10 major capital projects, beyond the five already completed since the start of the campaign, for a total of 15.

In addition, SMU seeks to achieve 25 percent yearly giving by its alumni and 50 percent alumni giving over the course of the campaign.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

Media Contacts:

Patti LaSalle
SMU Public Affairs

Kent Best
SMU News & Communications


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