Once a well-kept secret in Texas, UMHB has grown into “the forefront of Christian higher education in the Southwest,” as President Dr. Randy O’Rear likes to call it.
O’Rear, who is overseeing the current boom in construction on campus, graduated from UMHB in 1988 and became the first alumnus to serve as president.
“The most fulfilling thing is the opportunity to enjoy relationships with students and getting to know them,” he said. “The thing that has never changed is the outstanding faculty and staff who invest in the lives of students. That’s the way it was when I was here.”
His passion, stemming from his experience as an undergraduate, is rooted in the desire for students to form meaningful, professional relationships with professors, an aspect taken into serious consideration during the current significant growth period.
While the physical setting has changed dramatically, the hallmark of the university remains the same, and O’Rear shared every faith that, as campus continues to expand, the commitment to faith-informed discernment will not falter.
“That is what has always been so unique about Mary Hardin-Baylor,” he said. “Our school wouldn’t grow if faculty and staff weren’t making a meaningful difference in the lives of students.”
When the campus somewhat begrudgingly went co-ed in 1971 just to keep its doors open, the future of the university was uncertain. But now, after years of strategic road mapping, keen leadership and an extensive four-year planning process, it’s time to begin work on the $100 million master plan, made possible largely by private donations.
The transformation will include a 76,000-square-foot nursing education facility, 27,000-square-foot visual arts building, a stadium to seat upwards of 10,000 and a 107,000-square-foot student union building with several ancillary counterparts, all set for completion by the fall of 2013.
Along with a performing arts center, set for completion by 2015, these additions will add up to $75 million.
“It’s not just important for us to keep growing. It’s necessary,” Chancellor and former President Dr. Jerry Bawcom said. He served as president for 17 years from 1991-2008, and when he spoke here for the first time in 1987, the campus left much to be desired.
“Although it was a great institution and had great potential, it was a pretty dreary place,” he said.
Bawcom’s tenure as president yielded several advancements, which added up to the most extensive round of rennovations in the 154-year history of the university, nearly doubling campus acreage from 150 acres to over 275.
Without growth and an added student population, tuition would have to increase significantly, and the university’s facilities would become obsolete.
Two ingredients are needed to maintain financial stability: recruiting and retaining new students. In order to do this, students need to have a greater opportunity to engage themselves in the activities of campus life, and Bawcom thinks the student union building will do just that.
With all of the excitement, however, some students are feeling anxious about the construction and what being a larger school actually means.
Junior business major Tyler Coker is excited to see what it will be like next year, but also worries about how the construction will affect campus life.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I know it’s time for our school to grow, and I can’t wait to be a part of it. I just hope it will still be the same place when all is said and done.”
To the unease, Bawcom replied, “We stuck to our principals before, and we maintained the mission that this institution has always had, and we’ll continue to do so in the future. The proof is in the pudding.”
Senior Vice President for campus planning and support services Edd Martin encourages students to educate themselves and seek the answers to their questions.
“It’s going to be dramatic, but I think the best way to resolve anxiety is in the light of day. Don’t fill the void with darkness and incorrect information,” he said.
One of Martin’s main focuses is to move the campus toward being more pedestrian-friendly. Parking lots will be removed from central campus and relocated to the outer perimeter.
“We’re also trying to create a cultural change here, and part of that is encouraging residents to walk to class,” Martin said.
It will take some getting used to, but once the shock wears off, he assures it will all be fine. Above all, his focus is on the students and what these changes will do for them.
“We’re trying to build something both the university and students can be proud of, and I think we’re going to accomplish that with these facilities,” Martin said.
All are encouraged to come into the planning office inside Sanderford to look at the renderings, test out the sample stadium chairs and, above all else, ask questions.
“We are here for the students, even though sometimes they don’t think so,” he said jokingly.
The word is getting out about the tiny campus, as evidenced by the continued growth of the student population. It’s apparent the university will continue to grow.
“These are very exciting times, and God has really blessed us,” O’Rear said. “There is something very special happening here. You can feel it. I’m excited about the future.”
For more information on the construction, take a look at this video that Tony Hebert, Jake Stamps, Tyler Agnew, and Elissa Thompson have put together!