By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — SALEM — Salem State University has announced its largest-ever fundraising drive — for $25 million — but said it has already raised $15 million of that.
The university raised the money through private donors during the first phase of its “10,000 Reasons” campaign, named for the school’s 10,000 students. The second phase aims to raise the remaining $10 million from the public by June 2016.
The university announced the campaign during a gala reception Saturday night in the atrium of the new Gassett Fitness Center in the O’Keefe complex.
“It’s really exciting to be able to go public with $15 million already committed,” said university spokeswoman Karen Cady. “I think it’s quite remarkable, especially for a public institution.”
Money from the campaign, which was approved in 2011 by the school’s trustees and the Salem State Foundation, will be used for everything from scholarships to new computers to expanded international study programs.
Along with academic priorities and student services, the money would be used to bolster the “social experience” of students. Cady said, something she said is more and more important as the university has “increasingly become a residential campus.” In the past 10 years, the school has built two new dorms, Atlantic Hall and Marsh Hall, and plans to open a third next year.
“More and more students are living on campus,” Cady said. “It’s increasingly important to offer co-curricular activities for them to take advantage of.”
That means supporting groups and clubs, bringing more speakers to campus, creating new programs and increasing social opportunities, she said.
Another major project the drive will benefit is transforming the Mainstage Theatre into the Sophia Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts, currently on track to be completed by December of next year. The project was boosted a few years ago by a “major commitment” from Bernard and Sophia Gordon.
The new theater will match the quality of the school’s theater program and also make it a better teaching theater, Cady said.
“Our theater program is extraordinary,” she said. “Every year, they win national awards at the Kennedy Center.”
Another donation from campaign co-chair Kim Gassett-Schiller is already being used to support health and wellness programs, known as “Wellness U.”
The programs are based inside the Gassett center where officials announced the drive; the center is named after Gassett-Schiller’s late parents.
Funds will also be used to support students who otherwise might be unable to afford school, Cady said, and to bring in more faculty, support professional development, offer new research opportunities and “really make it an attractive place for faculty to come.”
University President Patricia Meservey said that while the school has been busy with physical improvements and upgrades, “it’s crucial to nurture the soul of the overall student experience. ... As we continue to transform our campus physically, it is important to stay focused on the programming, support and services that take place within our walls.”
University officials said they hope the historic campaign will reinforce the school’s importance to people in surrounding communities.
“I think it’s really serving to highlight what Salem State University does, and the fact that public higher education is just so critical,” Cady said.
“I hope the entire North Shore will see and appreciate the importance of public higher education and how Salem State supports workforce development and the quality of life for those of us in this region,” said Rob Lutts, chairman of the Salem State Foundation. “Strengthening the university ... means strengthening our entire community.”
Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at email@example.com.