University announces $2 million donation and building name at today’s groundbreaking

Front view of the Innovation Center rendering.

St. Mary’s University and its School of Science, Engineering and Technology broke ground on a three-story Innovation Center building today. The University also announced a $2 million donation to the project and a planned Bachelor of Science in Nursing program* to be housed there.

The state-of-the-art, 30,000-square-foot center will be named the Blank Sheppard Innovation Center in honor of a $2 million gift from Leland T. Blank (B.S. ’67), Ph.D., P.E., and Sallie V. Sheppard, Ph.D.

“Alumni and friends, such as Leland Blank and Sallie Sheppard, share the St. Mary’s vision for the future. Their gifts will continue to light the spark of innovation for our students in the coming years,” said Thomas M. Mengler, J.D., President of St. Mary’s University. “I have no doubt that this new collaborative space will enable our students to transform trailblazing ideas into next-generation realities.”

Innovation Center rendering of interior workspace

The building will serve as an incubator for innovative ideas, offering new laboratories, collaboration spaces and programs focusing on advanced manufacturing, instrumentation, data science and machine learning. Additional areas of study will include additive manufacturing and reverse engineering, logistics and supply chain management, human/computer interaction and engineering design.

“The integration of the liberal arts, engineering and science, and health care is a hallmark of St. Mary’s,” Blank said. “We are extremely proud to be a part of this noble aspiration. The advances that will flow from this Innovation Center will reap great benefits for the University, its graduates and its faculty.”

Blank is a St. Mary’s University Trustee and Dean Emeritus of the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Both Blank and Sheppard are Professors Emeriti of Texas A&M University with Engineering specialties.

“The Innovation Center will strengthen St. Mary’s University’s diverse and cross-disciplinary programs, preparing graduates to meet today’s workplace demands,” Sheppard said. “The combination of a faith-based education with top-quality programs prepares graduates to become the ethical and technical leaders of tomorrow. We are pleased to be a part of this endeavor.”

Creating a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program

Interior rendering of the Innovation Center lab space.

The third floor of the building will be dedicated to educating students in the planned Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. About 10,000 square feet will be dedicated to the Nursing program, including faculty offices, a flexible lab space, a seven-bed clinical skills lab and four simulation suites.

The Nursing program will help to close the critical gap in the regional health care system. Predictions show that Texas will need 50,000 more nurses by 2033, including 10,000 new nurses in Central and South Texas, according to the Texas Department of Health Services.

This new program will add to the University’s robust pre-health offerings. For decades, St. Mary’s graduates have been accepted to medical and dental schools at rates well above the state and national average.

“Our pre-health graduates go on to become doctors, dentists, nurses and allied health professionals dedicated to serving their community,” said Ian Martines, Ph.D., Interim Dean of the School of Science, Engineering and Technology, and a Professor of Mathematics. “With a lasting tradition of preparing students for successful health care careers, we are poised to graduate compassionate professionals committed to excellence in nursing practice and grounded in the St. Mary’s mission.”

More about Leland T. Blank and Sallie V. Sheppard

Leland T. Blank is Professor Emeritus of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Texas A&M University and Dean Emeritus at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). Blank and his wife,  Sallie V. Sheppard., established an undergraduate scholarship endowment at St. Mary’s in 2012 for Engineering students.

“The advances that will flow from this Innovation Center will reap great benefits for the University, its graduates and its faculty.”

Leland T. Blank

Blank was Dean of the College of Engineering and Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at AUS. He worked on the faculty and in the administration at Texas A&M. Blank authors textbooks in engineering economics and is well versed in international higher education. He is the recipient of the 2008 Wellington Award for his contributions to engineering economics and the 2018 Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Award, the highest honor in the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineering. He received the Lohmann Medal and Hall of Fame membership from Oklahoma State University in 2021.

Sheppard is a Professor Emerita of Computer Science at Texas A&M University, where she served as Associate Provost for Undergraduate Programs and Academic Services for 11 years. She concluded her academic career serving as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at AUS. Sheppard received the Texas A&M Former Students’ Outstanding Award for Teaching in 1985 and for Administration in 1995. In 2014, she received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Texas A&M University.

“The combination of a faith-based education with top-quality programs prepares graduates to become the ethical and technical leaders of tomorrow.”

Sallie V. Sheppard

* Pending approval by the Texas Board of Nursing and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

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