University community reflects on the 25th anniversary of Henry Rowan’s gift

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In 1992, Henry and Betty Rowan gave a donation of $100 million to a small school in South Jersey. The goal was simple: to create a new engineering school that would help train future engineers from the area. What ended up happening was bigger than they could have foreseen.

“Their generosity changed our university, the town of Glassboro and South Jersey for all time,” said Rowan President Ali A. Houshmand. “It created countless opportunities for individuals and organizations, truly improving people’s lives — just as the Rowans intended.”

Currently, the Rowan University Foundation holds $208 million in total assets. External research funding tops $34 million. Additionally, the school now teaches some 18,500 students.

Now, on the 25th anniversary of the gift, Rowan’s Vice President of University Relations Joe Cardona sat down to discuss the legacy of Henry Rowan’s contribution, as well as what the future holds for university expansion.

“When he gave the gift, all it was an investment,” Cardona said. “He wanted to make an investment somewhere it would make a difference. So as the story goes, he could have given his money to M.I.T. And M.I.T. was asking for the money. And he was like ‘What are they going to do with it? They have hundreds of millions in their endowment. It’s not going to make a big impact.’ So by investing here, he knew he could change things.”

Cardona said that Rowan gave the gift to then Glassboro State College as way to help the school thrive and flourish.

“He gave it to us as an unrestricted gift,” Cardona said. “Although he asked, ‘Hey, Rowan University should focus on engineering,’ but the gift was unrestricted. So we were able to invest it and what happens is, the way that endowment works is that the university pulls a little bit off the interest every year.”

Cardona then went on to explain that as the endowment grew, the percentage the university was able to use was larger as well. And as the school grew more successful, it was entrusted with more responsibility, including a new engineering building, a new business building, the Rowan Boulevard development project and two medical schools.

Moving forward, Rowan University looks to begin expanding on the west campus. According to Cardona, the hope is the new hospital constructed on the property by Inspira and the nearby technology park will become a natural hub for office, academic, research and commercial space.

Another facet of the project will be working with Rutgers Camden on a series of new scientific facilities down an area he dubbed ‘the health sciences campus.’ The hope is to also have a light rail going from the Walter Rand Transportation Center to the Rowan campus within the next decade, depending on several outside factors.

On High Street, the university’s goal is to eventually expand further down the street and create a space for the entirety of the College of Communication and Creative Arts. The school has already made strides in that area with the opening of 301 High St., which houses classes in journalism, advertising and public relations, as well as the art gallery.

But despite all the progress made in expanding the university in the last quarter century, at the core of the gift was a hope Henry Rowan had for the university.

“Education is still the single most important means of changing a person’s life,” Rowan said in 2012. “It is what made the difference for me and it’s critical that our investment supports superior education for as many students as possible.”

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