ST. LEO — Donald Tapia, the soft-spoken entrepreneur whose name now graces the School of Business at Saint Leo University, had some friendly advice for everyone gathered Thursday for the unveiling of the new building.
"If you ever get a call from the Saint Leo brass who want to visit with you," Tapia joked, "hide."
But Tapia, an alumnus who donated $4 million toward the $11 million facility, was clearly proud of the state-of-the-art structure that anchors Saint Leo's largest discipline.
More than half of all Saint Leo students are business majors seeking bachelor's or master's degrees in accounting, communications, computer sciences, human resources, marketing, hospitality and tourism management, and sport business.
The new 47,921-square-foot building was designed to promote active learning. Classrooms have SMART boards: 70-inch high definition monitors with multitouch, multiuser displays, which are connected to the Internet, cameras and student laptops. Two to four screens in each classroom display information independently or interactively.
"Remote and online teaching is enhanced tremendously," said Barbara Caldwell, chair of the Department of Accounting, Economics and Finance.
The Donald R. Tapia School of Business building is Saint Leo's first new academic building in more than 50 years. The dream was hatched in 2008 by the university's board of trustees while a new student activities center already was under construction. The fundraising was spearheaded by Saint Leo president Arthur Kirk and vice president of university advancement Dave Ostrander. Together they lured 375 private donors, including the largest single gift in university history, the $4 million pledge from Tapia.
Tapia made his fortune as an electrical wholesaler and supplier in Arizona, but he always wanted to go back to school. He earned his bachelor's degree, and later his master's in business administration, from Saint Leo's online programs. He didn't step foot on campus until 2005, when he arrived to collect his first degree.
The university has garnered a broad base of support for the School of Business. The Dean's Executive Council includes representatives from T. Rowe Price, Ernst & Young, Fowler White Boggs, Shriners Hospital, JABIL and Tech Data Corporation.
"Our goal is to deliver employment-ready graduates," said Mike Nastanski, dean of the School of Business. "In fact, eight of our accounting graduates were recently awarded positions among 15 open slots in a statewide competition."
With the economy still shaky, skeptics might question whether the time is right for an expanded business school. Kirk is confident it is.
"It's exactly what we do need," the university president said. "More responsible leaders who are adept with the latest technology are one thing. By intersecting these with values of honesty and integrity, we create a dire need for the future."
The formal dedication for the Donald R. Tapia School of Business will be held next month. Later this fall, construction will begin on an underground parking garage and two new residence halls.