A $10.4 million investment in Western Carolina University’s construction management program sparked three years ago by a pledge of nearly $7 million by Joe and Cynthia Kimmel is making a difference. Seven students have received nearly $60,000 in scholarships. Two $1 million endowed distinguished professorships have been fully funded. Students and faculty have been able to expand participation in academic competitions, national conferences and industry meetings. In addition, the gift was the catalyst for the creation of The Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology, consisting of programs in construction management, engineering and technology that formerly were part of the College of Applied Sciences.
Robert McMahan, dean of the Kimmel School, called its creation “a major milestone” in university history. The school was designed from the beginning to be a nationally distinctive, multidisciplinary college focused on two things: preparing students to excel in the high-demand fields of construction management, engineering and engineering technology, and acting as a bridge between the academy and the economy,” McMahan said.
“We build relationships that give companies across the region and state access to extensive resources and the professional expertise of our faculty while providing opportunities for our students to engage in complex, real-world projects and exchanges with these companies. That means they graduate with marketable skills they can use on the job on day one,” he said. “The tremendous demand for our majors speaks to the value of this approach – everyone wins: the student, employers and businesses, the region and the state. The Kimmel gift was truly an investment in the future of Western North Carolina.”
What began in 2005 with an interest in helping Western’s construction management students afford to enter collegiate academic competitions grew into a $6.9 million pledge from the Kimmels on behalf of Kimmel & Associates. A founder of the Asheville-based Kimmel & Associates national executive search firm specializing in the construction, solid waste, freight forwarding and supply chain industries, Joe Kimmel knew firsthand about the global shortage of construction managers. He saw a gift to Western’s fledgling construction management program as a way to give back to the industry and help meet the need.
When fulfilled, the Kimmel gift, along with state matching money, will represent a $10.4 million net investment at WCU – $9 million of it in permanent endowments that provide annual scholarships and program funds to hire and retain top faculty. Ultimately, four new $1 million endowed professorships will be created. The fifth will be a $2 million endowed professorship.
Among the first scholarship recipients are construction management students such as McKenzie Dillingham, a junior from Weaverville, who received a $5,000 scholarship for the fall semester. Dillingham chose the field as a way to mix her passion for the artistic aspects of architecture and the chance to have a hands-on career. “I also hope to integrate my love for the environment by incorporating sustainability into my future projects,” said Dillingham. “I believe the construction industry provides many opportunities to make the changes needed in today’s growing environmental crisis.” Another recipient, Mark Ross, a senior from Waynesville, said the $5,000 scholarship is helping him continue the education that he needs to someday own the kind of business where he currently enjoys working – Haywood Crane Service.
Yet another recipient, Brittany Haskett, a freshman from Sylva, said she chose to pursue a career in construction management after volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and helping rebuild homes in Gulfport, Miss. “The combination of helping out people in need and feeling the satisfaction of a job well done was inspiring to me,” said Haskett.
Meanwhile, the gift has helped support the construction management program, which started with 26 students in 2002 and today serves about 350 students. The gift has not only funded trips for student teams to compete annually at construction management competitions, but also enabled students and faculty to represent WCU at national conferences and industry meetings, said Bradford Sims, head of the construction management department. The contributions also have helped pay expenses incurred for student internships and field trips to construction sites off campus.
“The Kimmel gift has provided money for opportunities for our students, and we wouldn’t be able to teach on the level we do without that support,” said Sims. “The ability for us to participate in competitions or national conferences enables our students to be noticed more quickly by national and international firms. Our program is young, but we have a national reputation as a good construction management program, and this gift has helped us continue to build that reputation.”
To learn more about The Campaign for Western, call WCU’s Office of Development at (800) 492-8496.