CANTON, Mo. -- Culver-Stockton College has received a $1 million donation in honor of President Kelly Thompson, who is retiring June 30. While most of the money will be used to create endowments to provide student scholarships, $100,000 will be earmarked to help build an "experiential learning center" next to the Gladys Crown Student Center.
Thompson said the proposed learning center -- drawings of which were unveiled publicly for the first time Thursday -- will cost about $1.2 million. The center will serve as a laboratory and display area for showcasing the college's experiential learning program, in which students are encouraged to take part in domestic or international travel experiences and internships to enhance their education.
"This will be a laboratory for our faculty and students," Thompson said.
"Seventy-five percent of our faculty are now nationally certified by the National Experiential Learning Academy. We are one of the only colleges in the country with that many faculty who have been nationally certified."
The $1 million grant was announced Thursday at a press conference in the Mabee Recreation and Wellness Center in conjunction with the college's Homecoming Week activities.
Ron Leftwich, chairman of the C-SC Board of Trustees, said this "amazing gift" was given to the college by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
"Kelly (Thompson) and the donor have become really good friends, and the generous donor wanted to support the college in a way that would honor Kelly for all she has done to advance the college and our wonderful students of promise," Leftwich said. "Generations of students will benefit from this amazing gift to Culver-Stockton College."
Thompson, who will retire June 30 after completing her sixth year on the job, is the 26th president in Culver-Stockton's 166-year history and the first woman in that role.
She said the $1 million gift given in her honor came as "an amazing surprise" from someone she has developed a close friendship with since arriving on campus.
"I am so incredibly humbled and joyous," she said.
"I am also grateful to our donor -- my dear friend -- for this extraordinary contribution," she added. "It has been such an honor, and so wonderful, to get to know a true philanthropist who has a passion for changing lives through education."
Thompson said the donor's "real passion" is helping first-generation students get scholarships. Because of that, she said, $450,000 of the $1 million will be placed in an endowment fund that will generate scholarships for C-SC students who are the first in their families to attend college.
"About half of our students are first-generation," Thompson said.
Another $450,000 will be put into an endowment fund that will produce scholarships to help juniors and seniors who are facing some sort of financial hardship paying for college.
"We know that sometimes the junior or senior-year student might have an issue at home that might inhibit them from coming back to school, and we want them to graduate," Thompson said.
Thompson said the $100,000 earmarked for the experiential learning center has already been leveraged to encourage other Culver-Stockton supporters to make donations to that project. She said about one-half of the project's $1.2 million cost has already been raised.
"I am hoping that I can finish this project off before I retire," Thompson said.
When college officials get close to having all the needed funding, Thompson said, they will begin seeking bids from contractors in the hope that construction could possibly begin in the summer of 2020.
"That would be my goal," she said. "If not, then the following summer."
Board of Trustees member Scott Johnson, the national chairman of the college's "Changing Lives" capital campaign, said more than $21 million in donations and pledges have been received since the campaign started in 2014. The goal is to raise at least $25 million by 2022.
"This wonderful gift of $1 million donated in the honor of President Thompson will give us the opportunity to meet and exceed our goals," Johnson said.