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West Texas A&M University's Imprint in the Panhandle

WTAMU Ag Sciences Complex

West Texas A&M University’s Imprint in the Panhandle

By Brittany Castillo

Hands-On Experience

“Agricultural” in West Texas Agricultural & Mechanical University got a $48 million dollar boost last fall with a multi-facility complex off Russell Long Blvd.

The three-story Happy State Bank (HSB) Academic and Research building opened on Sept. 5, 2018 to an excited crowd of hundreds. After less than two years of construction, the highly-anticipated 186,000 square foot Agricultural Sciences Complex was open for tours of the HSB building, Piehl-Schaffer Pavilion, Caviness Meat Science and Innovation Center and the Bain Event Center.

Those on campus excitedly grew accustomed to the additions housing new classrooms, research labs and study areas designed for faculty-student collaboration, and those a little more removed from campus became reacquainted with one of WT’s fastest growing programs through buzz of the innovative facilities.

The carefully designed complex offers an educational experience throughout its many floors of space. That even includes Doc’s Prime Cuts, a meats store with a rotating selection of seasoned cuts, which allows customers to openly observe food processing. Unlike any other agriculture program in the country, WT students have a rare opportunity to directly participate in every stage of the “pasture-to-plate” process of the beef industry.

A regionally responsive university, WT built curriculum to serve the Texas Panhandle as the prime location for agricultural production. However, building an entire complex seemed beyond a response to the region in 2015, when a new meats lab was requested. As more contributed to the planning stage of the department’s development, a meats lab turned into a $48 million, multi-building complex that ultimately marked a transitional time in the advancement of the WT Department of Agricultural Sciences.

Committee for Advancement

Linked through business, shared interests and a devotion to WT, four key supporters – Mike Mauldin, president and CEO of First Financial Bank Hereford, Dr. Bob Robinson, Randall County Commissioner, Stanley Schaeffer, supporter of the University, and Ross Wilson, president and CEO of Texas Cattle Feeders Association – responded to the initial need for a renovated meats lab.

It was while sharing this need, and a plan to request a tuition revenue bond, with active WT agriculture alumni members that one business-savvy alumnus challenged the committee to think bigger.

Former president of AT&T, Stan Sigman ’70, saw a grander opportunity for the future of the growing program. He suggested the committee draw up an entire complex with multiple ag-related facilities and ask for the support to make it happen. Inspired, the committee engaged faculty members like Dr. Ty Lawrence, established professor of animal science, to help develop a concept of facilities with the capability to conduct both livestock and food science classes.

“The meat lab morphed into a full-blown complex, and faculty like Dr. Lance Kieth and Director Rebekah Bachman were instrumental in helping organize efforts,” Wilson said. “Ty designed the layout of the meat lab adding the pavilion and event center. The vision kept growing because everyone was challenging each other to consider many factors and think bigger.”

Through research and collaboration, faculty laid out a three building plan amounting to $48 million to make up the Agricultural Sciences Complex. The fundraising committee upped their request and successfully secured $38 million from the state, leaving $10 million to be raised from the industry – an amount they raised in less than a year.

The viability of the complex realized for many that the department was transforming into a nationally-recognized place to study. The agricultural sciences program had been growing six percent annually for the last 15 years, and rather than aiming to keep pace with the industry, the department began to plan for the many more students that were undoubtedly coming soon.

Looking Ahead

The rising program grabbed the attention of Paul Engler, founder of Cactus Feeders, and in 2017, his foundation donated one of the largest gifts in the country, and the largest gift in the University’s history, to WT. The public endorsement of $1 million a year in perpetuity was honored with the naming of two colleges – the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business and the Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.

The gift has been used to support the complex development and helped secure continued growth of the program in areas such as scholarships, professorships, community outreach and strategic planning. With new spaces and momentum, the committee for WT agricultural development has entered the next phase of progression focused on increasing professorships and scholarships for students, who often become some of the Panhandle’s best employees commended for professionalism and work-ethic.

“This was the best committee I’ve been a part of because the group never lost sight of their common goal to serve the students. Once you get the ball rolling, other people want to jump on board to give back, too,” Schaeffer said. “We all had interest and ties to WT, making it a very passionate group. WT prepared me as a student to do whatever I needed to do in life, and like people from around here, I’ve learned and always believed in giving back to where you came from.”

To learn how to get involved with WT’s Department of Agricultural Sciences, call 806-651-2550.