Utah State University officials announced this week that the university has received a $15 million gift which will “reshape the higher education landscape in the area for years to come.”
Wendy Walker-Tibbetts and her family – along with Utah State University President Stan Albrecht and other community leaders and higher education officials – gathered at the Moab home of David Bonderman to announce the gift to USU’s Moab Center. The funds will be used for the construction of an education/research center, USU officials said.
“It’s a huge deal for us,” said Steve Hawks, associate dean and executive director for USU’s Southeast Region regional campuses and distance education. “It turns a corner and it makes a local campus in Moab a reality.”
Walker-Tibbetts, a lifelong Moab resident and entrepreneur, attended USU in Moab and said she knows first-hand the difference an accessible, affordable, quality higher education can make in rural Utah.
“Not everyone can go to the big city to get an education,” Walker-Tibbetts said. “Utah State’s educational presence in Moab has helped me and many others get ahead. Higher education is critical to our future education and economic success, and it is time to take it to the next level.”
Albrecht told those gathered that the Walker family contribution is significant both to Moab and to the university.
“Wendy and her family have provided USU and Moab with a founding gift that we hope to leverage and build upon as we work closely with the Moab community to expand and enhance USU’s presence,” Albrecht said.
The gift is similar in scope and impact to the Marc and Debbie Bingham gift with which USU built the entrepreneurship and energy research center in Vernal, the president said.
The gift is “the outcome of a unique private/public partnership between USU and Walker-Tibbetts” USU officials said in a news release this week.
“USU has been working closely with Wendy and her company to develop proprietary technology that we will introduce into the market,” said Robert Behunin, USU vice president for Commercialization & Regional Development. “The outcome of our technology commercialization efforts will result in not only new technology but manufacturing jobs for Utah, enhanced economic development for the Moab area and more educational opportunities for students.”
The partnership model is critical to USU’s ability to fulfill its land-grant mission, Albrecht said.
“Our regional campus operations – which include the Uintah Basin, Tooele, Brigham City and southeastern Utah – rely on partnerships like the ones we have formed with the Walker family and the Moab community to bring together all the necessary stakeholders so we can move forward strategically,” he said.
Albrecht said the Walker gift builds on a foundation set by at least two other important partnership contributions. First, in 1995 the Ray C. and Ruth Holyoak estate donated 20 acres of land in Moab for a future campus. Second, as USU was finalizing the Walker gift, Moab City formalized its commitment to higher education by establishing an education fund and set aside an initial $75,000 for that fund.
For some time now, USU and the local Moab community have been engaged in an effort to accelerate its higher education activities by forming what Hawks terms “critical partnerships.” The Higher Education Action Team (HEAT) is comprised of local government officials, business leaders, state and federal partners and local USU personnel said Hawks, who serves as the director of the USU Moab Center.
“Together, we have charted a new course for higher education in the Moab area, and that new course has led to new programs, like recreation resource management and social work, as well as new faculty to support those programs,” said Hawks.
Albrecht said the gift and the efforts of the entire community are a “remarkable achievement.”
“The alignment of interests and resources between private companies, private individuals and the public sector will bring about monumental change in Moab and will forever alter the educational and economic landscape for the good as new opportunities, programs and facilities are added,” he said.
Walker-Tibbetts stressed the importance of expanding higher education opportunities in the Moab area.
“My family and I are proud to play a part in the growth and development of higher education in Moab,” she said. “We want to encourage others to join us, in whatever way they can, to build a legacy of higher education excellence in Moab.”