The University of Wisconsin-Stevens on Thursday announced a $10 million endowment, the largest in the school’s history, that will help the institution raise the profile of its business school and enroll more students.
Sentry Insurance, a Stevens Point-based commercial insurance company with 4,800 employees, made a gift to the university, which renamed its College of Business and Economics the Sentry College of Business and Economics.
According to UW-Stevens Point, the bulk of the gift — one of the largest ever received by a UW-regional campus — will be used to renovate the Collins Classroom Center. The 1966 building was used for general education classes and is planned for upgrades. It will become a separate building for the School of Business and will be renamed the Sentinel Building.
Corporate naming of buildings and schools is part of a growing trend among universities in Wisconsin and across the country. In early 2020, the UW Board of Regents relaxed its policy to allow academic buildings, colleges and schools to use the names of businesses, nonprofits, foundations or other outside organizations. Before then, most UW campuses had insisted on individual donors when it came to naming rights.
“A corporate gift of this magnitude demonstrates a significant investment in the university,” UW-Stevens Chancellor Thomas Gibson told the Milwaukee Sentinel. “If we look across the country, corporate naming is not so unique anymore. I think a lot of institutions that are really working with corporate partners are looking at these types of opportunities to create more value for their institutions and of course for students, faculty and staff.”
Sentry Insurance’s brand should help boost UW-Stevens Point Business School’s profile
Gibson, who will celebrate his second anniversary as president next month, noted early in his tenure that the business school needed to be “more visible” on campus and in the larger community. It shares a facility with the Faculty of Education and the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellness, which Gibson said is not commensurate with the quality of the curriculum and faculty. Other universities with business schools tend to have 20 percent of students enrolled in business courses, while UW-Stevens Point’s is about half, he said.
UW-Stevens Point saw an opportunity to use Sentry’s brand and reputation to enhance the image of the school and the institution as a whole, he said.
“We’ve always been a community-engaged institution,” Gibson said. “They want us to provide a talent pipeline. We want them to provide internships and co-ops. It’s in the mutual interest to support each other in this way.”
Sentry and UW-Stevens Point long-term cooperation
While the $10 million donation is Sentry’s largest to date, the company has long supported UW-Stevens Point. For example, the company provides $140,000 in annual student scholarships and in 2016 donated $4 million to develop a data analytics program and award two faculty positions.
“They asked me to say hello,” Sentry CEO and president Pete McPartland said of the university’s initial discussions about expanding the business school’s profile. “We knew we wanted to be a part of it.”
That was the case even before the pandemic, though McPartland said the tight labor market since then has reinforced UW-Stevens’ importance in producing job-ready students. Sentry, which often turns to colleges in its recruiting efforts, has attracted 558 graduates over the past five years, many of whom are locals and plan to spend their careers in central Wisconsin.
UW-Stevens Point expects major increase in student numbers entering business school
UW-Stevens Point officials hope to double the number of students enrolled in the business program from nearly 900 to 1,800. An endowment of approximately $3 million will go toward recruiting and marketing efforts to achieve this goal, as well as a new center focused on entrepreneurship and women’s leadership.
The remainder of the funds will be used to cover the $39 million price tag for converting the Collins Classroom Center into Sentry Hall. Getting gifts now will speed up the project, Gibson said. Design and planning work will begin next year; university officials hope to secure some state funding for the project in the 2025-27 biennium budget.
Contact Kelly Meyerhofer firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kellymeyerhoff.