Helping to build a better education…
Building a better education for Montana: That’s one of the primary goals of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.
Since 1985, the foundation has invested in scholarships, expanding support to include cutting-edge programs and facilities for teaching and learning at the University of Montana. Now, it has made another transformative gift to propel high-quality educational preparation for the next generation of Montanans.
With the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation’s generous $10 million gift, the University will construct an addition to the Phyllis J. Washington Education Center – the epicenter of UM’s education and human sciences programs.
Three stories tall, the addition will connect to the west end of the building and provide 35,000 square feet of instructional and collaborative space. Included in the new wing are a 500-seat auditorium, the largest on campus; clinical labs for the counselor education program; new spaces for the Montana Digital Academy; and two additional Learning and Belonging Preschool classrooms with observation rooms, seminar spaces, an outdoor play yard and a unique inspiration lab.
“We could not be more proud to have Dennis and Phyllis Washington as our allies in building an exceptional college for education and human sciences,” said former UM President Sheila Stearns when she announced the gift in 2017. “They epitomize the Montana ethic of working hard, earning success and giving back to build a stronger Montana.”
Preliminary preparations for construction began in late August 2017. A grand opening will be held in spring 2019.
The addition is solely funded through philanthropic giving, and several generous donors have joined the Washington Foundation to support the project. In 2016, the Alice Lee Lund Charitable Trust made a $5 million gift toward the auditorium, and significant contributions also have come from Montanans Betsy and Warren Wilcox and Maureen and Dan Rovig. (Betsy and Maureen are both graduates of UM’s education program.)
“Since the beginning of our foundation, both Dennis and I have been committed to helping youth realize their dream of accessing high-quality education through scholarships,” said Phyllis Washington, chairperson of the Washington Foundation. “As a former elementary education teacher myself, I realize that investing in 21st-century technology and facilities and in transformative teacher development programs will impact students for generations to come.
“Dennis and I are honored to play a key role in supporting education programs, from early childhood to creating this new, state-of-the-art teaching and learning environment right here in our hometown of Missoula.”
The Washington Foundation helped fund the first addition to the education center, which was completed in 2009 and named in honor of Phyllis Washington. Since then, the college has only grown – both in the number of students and in academic excellence.
The college demonstrated across-the-board enrollment growth from academic year 2015 to 2016. The growth demonstrates that the college is meeting demand for qualified teachers, distance-learning options and mental health professionals across Montana. Donor investment in the college’s new facility will help propel these already successful programs.
In particular, UM has paved the way in early childhood education, boasting the state’s most comprehensive program. The Learning and Belonging Preschool is a key part of that, providing a structured opportunity for hands-on learning as students apply theories they learn in their UM classes. With two new preschools, the college will enhance opportunities for UM education students to interact with and learn from young children.
“Building on the three-pronged mission of the preschool, the expansion provides pioneering opportunities for interdisciplinary research on effective interventions,” said Susan Harper-Whalen, associate dean of the college. “It also will support intense clinical preparation for students enrolled in UM’s new early childhood education degrees and other human service programs and expand high-quality preschool options for young children and their families in the greater Missoula area.”
The new facility also includes custom-designed spaces to support the mission of the Montana Digital Academy. The academy’s growth has been fueled by philanthropy, including nearly $6 million from the Washington Foundation for EdReady, an innovative online instructional program that has become a model for other states to follow. With the Washingtons’ support, this program has been implemented in nearly every school district in Montana.
“We are poised to become a national leader in education, human sciences and other helping professions,” said Roberta Evans, dean of the college in 2017 when the Washington Foundation’s gift was announced. “With the support and guidance of these generous and passionate friends of our college, our programs will continue to grow and support high-needs fields through the development of qualified professionals who will create a lasting, positive impact on our local community, the state of Montana and our nation.”
The Alice Lund Instructional Auditorium (ALI), named in honor of the woman who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at UM before launching her career as a teacher, will be the largest lecture hall and event space on campus when complete. The space will allow the University to host large-scale education conferences and meetings, such as the state teachers’ union annual meeting, which adds to UM’s prestige and supports economic development in the community.
The hall also will hold large course lectures for departments across campus. The ALI Auditorium also can be broken into smaller work areas, allowing for maximum flexibility in teaching and learning.
“Montana is grateful for the support of Dennis and Phyllis Washington,” said Gov. Steve Bullock. “We know that quality early-childhood education, in particular, leads to positive outcomes for our children and our economy for years. The Washington Foundation is helping to lead the way in providing Montana’s children the best possible start.”