Ground-breaking developments have emerged regarding education in Moab, Utah. USU President Stan Albrecht announced Monday that a $15 million gift from the Mary Walker-Tibbetts family was designated for further construction of the Moab extension of USU.
The small southeastern Utah town, nestled among famous red rock monuments, will provide the backdrop for a new USU research and education center.
“We view this as a lot like the Uintah Basin gift,” Albrecht said. “We first had the land gift down (in Moab) of an initial 20 acres. This financial commitment that comes from Wendy Walker-Tibbetts and Wendy’s family … will allow us to do something like we did in Vernal and use those funds to build the first USU building in Moab.”
The USU Education Center, presently in downtown Moab, with current enrollment of approximately 115 students has been recently expanded to accommodate nearly 200. Steve Hawks, executive director and associate dean in Moab, said he predicts the center will soon be to capacity and looks forward to the potential benefits the expansion has in store for a growing faculty and student body.
“It will substantially increase our interaction with private industry (and) federal agencies,” Hawks said. “As research entities come together, it will expose our students to state-of-the-art research opportunities (and) provide increased research capabilities for our faculty members. It will just take us to a whole new level than we are able to be at right now.”
Vice President Robert Behunin, for USU Commercialization and Regional Development, said these mounting opportunities will not only be available to the 300 to 500 students the expansion will allow for, but will likely provide educational prospects for university students state-wide — especially those in the colleges of Geology, Natural Resources and Engineering looking for internships.
“Even Logan campus students can look at the entire university portfolio,” Behunin said. “There are all these connections across the university that students can dive into.”
Behunin said he led the mutually-beneficial negotiation process with Mary Walker-Tibbetts over the past two years, for the purpose of coming to an “alignment of interests.” He said two components of the final agreement are a sponsored research agreement and the gifted royalty of $15 million. The research agreement consists of a partnership between the university and Walker-Tibbetts’ potash company to develop proprietary technology.
Increasing educational benefits should be the principal outcome of the negotiations, Behunin said. Potential for the creation of programs — including that of a post-production film program — will provide for a more diverse influx of students. And similar to what is being done in Vernal, the new research enterprise in Moab will “push the research agenda for Utah State.”
Behunin also celebrates “huge economic benefits” that, he said, will affect not only Moab as a USU center, but as a community, providing space for an increase in students and faculty alike.
Hawks agreed, Vernal should provide a good template forxx the progress to be made in Moab.
“This combined research-education focus really allows us to bring a much broader array of USU activities to a local, rural community, and it really has a huge impact,” Hawks said. “(The Vernal Education Center) allows people to move into positions, develop relationships with private industry and really become a force for economic development. We are looking to that as a model for the types of things we can do here in Moab.”
Construction for the new education-research building will take place on the 20-acre property donated to the university in 1995, by the Ron and Katherine Holyoak family. The donated land is adjacent to state trust lands, which complicates the land arrangement for the university — negotiations are currently underway to expand the area.
Hawks said the goal is to have a 40-acre campus in the same area where the land was originally donated. Current USU buildings in Moab will be repurposed once construction is finished.
An additional major player in the process, he said, was Moab City’s formalization of an education fund in which it put an initial $75,000 toward future campus development.
“There’s been a long-term commitment on the part of the community and various community leaders to work toward a campus in the future,” Hawks said. “This gift allows us to take a huge step forward in making that a reality. Huge appreciation to the Walker family for a gift that will push us over the top and allow us to move forward.” -The Utah Statesman