The University of Miami held a ceremony on October 28th to break ground on construction of the new Student Activities Center, to be located across the street from the Law School. An extraordinary lead gift of $20 million from the Fairholme Foundation is helping build this new, state of the art, 119,000-square-foot complex on the Coral Gables campus.
Speakers during the groundbreaking ceremony included UM President Donna E. Shalala; UM Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia A. Whitely; UM Board of Trustees Chairman Leonard Abess; UM Trustee Tracey Berkowitz from the Fairholme Foundation; and Master of Ceremonies Laurie S. Silvers, JD'77.
Fronting UM's Lake Osceola, the new center will include various gathering places, programming space, a student organizations suite, retail outlets and a new Rathskellar, the popular campus restaurant. At the same time the Student Activities Center is being built, the Whitten University Center will be renovated to include new public spaces, a new swimming pool deck, upgraded meeting rooms, an enhanced terraced patio and lake-side performance stage for campus events (set for completion December 2012), and "The U: Dynamic History, Vibrant Traditions" – a 165-image, 108-foot-long mural of UM's 85-year history.
During the four decades that the Whitten University Center has been in existence, the number of student organizations has increased from 100 to over 265. Designed to support student life and involvement at UM, the new Student Activities Center will provide even more programs that involve students in citizenship, leadership, community and spirit. Housed there are undergraduate student government, graduate student association and law school student organization offices. The Department of Student Activities and Student Organizations and the William R. Butler Center for Volunteer Services and Leadership Development will also be relocated there.
In addition, the new center will serve as a campus communication headquarters for student news media, including award-winning publications such as The Miami Hurricane student newspaper, the IBIS yearbook, and the School of Law's student publications.
The top floor of the new Student Activities Center will hold a multipurpose room with seating for 800 and a panoramic view of the lake, and will be equipped with video and sound technologies so that banquets and other campus ceremonies can take place there. The Lakeview Terrace will provide additional space for major campus events, receptions, meetings and even small performances.
Miami-based design firm Arquitectonica and Pittsburgh-based WTW Architects are engaged in the project, which is expected to open in August 2013.
Among the Fairholme Foundation's past involvement with and support for the University of Miami include: Executive Medicine, Athletics, the Launch Pad, and the Parents Fund. Additional funding for the project will come from other donors and from a fee that students approved in 2006 to supplement construction, operation and maintenance of the facilities.
In the 2012 edition of the U.S. News & World Report's annual "Best Colleges" issue, the University of Miami rose to number 38 – up from 47 last year, a nine point rise. UM remains the highest ranked school in the state of Florida. UM is the only school currently in the top 50 to move up nine spots in one year and 29 spots in the past 10 years. UM's remarkable ascent in the rankings can be attributed to its marked improvement in key areas such as the six-year graduation rate, freshman retention rate, average SAT score of its incoming freshmen, and percentage of freshmen who were in the top 10% of their high school graduation class.