By Emily Williams
As freshmen arrive on campus Aug. 26 and start classes Aug. 29, Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland said that he has more to be proud of this year than any of his 10 previous first days of school.
The university is entering its 175th year with the largest freshman class in its history and two new buildings for the College of Health Sciences. After a November celebration of the anniversary, the next benchmark will be announcing the details of a major capital campaign now in the final planning stages.
The 2016-17 student population is expected to be at least 5,400 members strong, which is about a 1,000-student increase from last year.
“We are about to embark on the largest student population in our history,” Westmoreland said. “This is the eighth consecutive year that we have experienced record-breaking enrollment.”
Westmoreland said a recent economic impact study conducted for the school shows its presence produces about $335 million a year and 700 volunteer service hours last year for the surrounding community.
In addition, the school is putting the finishing touches on two of the three buildings currently on the property, leasing the third building back to Southern Progress. The recent acquisition added 28 acres to the campus and 231,501 square feet of top-of-the-line learning and office space for the College of Health Sciences.
“In 1987, we sold the buildings (property) for $3 million dollars, and, let’s just say, we paid a little more than that to get them back,” Westmoreland said with a smile.
One of the most exciting features of the space, according to Vice Provost Nena Sanders, is an entire floor modeled to look and feel like an actual hospital, which will be used as a simulation center.
The two buildings house the schools of health professions, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Sanders said the availability of more space allowed the college to continue to offer both undergraduate and graduate programs in respiratory care, for which the school still is awaiting accreditation.
“UAB recently shut down their respiratory care programs, which was a cause for concern for many community members,” Sanders said. “The community actually reached out to us asking if we would be keeping our program and we listened. It is important to us to continue to meet the needs of the surrounding community.”
Westmoreland said the new buildings “have put us very much on the cutting edge of what’s to come in these fields. … This is a total game-changer for Samford and a rather remarkable development.”
Thanks to the ever-increasing number of students, parking is a well-known issue for the university and the surrounding neighborhoods, and Westmoreland was excited to note that the new addition has added 607 parking spaces. Shuttle services also have been revamped and the school released a video to all students two weeks ago in which a character named “Samford Moses” teaches his “Five Sammandments” of parking on campus.
“The video is so cheesy that you almost have to watch the whole thing, which will seem like it lasts forever,” Westmoreland said.
To celebrate not just the continued success of the college, but also its history, Samford will recognize its 175th anniversary through a variety of programs. Festivities will be held throughout Homecoming weekend, Nov. 10-13, with a formal convocation Nov. 11 at 2:30 p.m. in the Wright Center followed by an anniversary ball in the Hanna Center. The official anniversary date of Samford’s charter by the Alabama Legislature is Dec. 29.
In conjunction with the anniversary, Westmoreland announced Aug. 19 that the university plans to launch a significant capital campaign in November. Though he remained tight-lipped regarding the campaign specifics, he did provide some information about the purpose of the funds raised.
If all goes according to plan and the campaign reaches its goal, Westmoreland said, two-thirds of the amount will be used to create an endowment that will largely fund scholarships and support academic programs, with the remainder used for the campus’ physical needs.
“One of our greatest needs is the renovation of some of our older facilities,” Westmoreland said. “Our campus is about 60 years old and, just like a 60-year-old person, it is showing the wear and tear.”
He added that the funds will support his five-year goal to update the physical aspects of the institution starting with a renovation of the campus’ most worn-out buildings, for example Buchanan Hall, which houses the university’s music programs, and many of the residence halls.
As the university continues to grow, Westmoreland said he hopes to accommodate the increased population while maintaining the personalized aspects of a smaller campus that he feels draw in many of Samford’s applicants.