CMU Hosts Groundbreaking Ceremony for New Beacon of Student Life
Highmark Center to bring to campus a holistic approach to health and wellness
By Bruce GersonMedia Inquiries
It was a great day to be a Tartan!
At historic Skibo Gymnasium, the home of Tartan athletics for nearly 100 years, Carnegie Mellon University held a ceremonial groundbreaking on Nov. 19 for its new Highmark Center for Health, Wellness and Athletics, a $105-million transformational facility that will open in fall 2024, converting the southeast corner of campus into a hub for students' well-being.
The 160,000 square-foot building on Tech Street will foster an integrated, holistic approach to support the student experience. Made possible by a $35 million lead grant from Highmark, Inc., the new center will house University Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, Wellness Initiatives, Religious and Spiritual Life, and intramural, recreational and varsity athletic facilities.
More than 150 members of the CMU community attended the groundbreaking, where they learned about the expansive vision for the project and viewed renderings of the building. The core of Skibo Gym will be preserved and updated to today's standards, while a new multi-story structure will wrap around it with modern amenities that will make the facility accessible and responsive to current and future students' needs.
Carnegie Mellon President Farnam Jahanian thanked Highmark President and CEO David Holmberg, who was in attendance alongside Highmark executives, for his partnership in helping to bring the new facility to fruition. He said the center continues a significant expansion of support services for students over the past few years in a strategic effort to enhance the student experience within and also beyond the classroom, studio and laboratory.
"This facility will be a vibrant hub where all CMU students can come to connect with essential support, engage in self-care or reflection, exercise, compete or just have fun," Jahanian said. "I am so grateful that this new building will soon stand as a physical testament to CMU's commitment to educating and developing the whole person."
Holmberg noted that Highmark and CMU have a long history of partnering to support the health and well-being of the campus community and to foster advancements in health care, most recently during the pandemic. He said Highmark was proud to be part of CMU's new effort to enhance student life.
"We believe in supporting a holistic approach to health, and as a national health and wellness company we applaud CMU for its vision," Holmberg said. "By partnering with like-minded organizations, such as Carnegie Mellon University, we create healthier, stronger and more vital communities. We are honored that our name will be so boldly represented on campus going forward."
In addition to Highmark's lead grant, the university recently announced a leadership commitment to the project from the Posner Foundation of Pittsburgh. Dozens of CMU supporters already have made gifts to the project ranging from $10 to $1 million, and the university will seek additional philanthropic support of the project throughout its construction.
David Coulter, chair of Carnegie Mellon's Board of Trustees, recalled his days watching basketball games in Skibo Gym as a student, and reflected President Jahanian's remarks, saying the new center embodies the university's dedication to enhancing student life on campus.
"CMU takes great pride in its global academic reputation and intellectual capital. This new facility demonstrates its commitment to achieving that same standard in student life," said Coulter, a 1971 graduate of the Tepper School of Business who, along with his wife, Susan, has also made a leadership gift to the project.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Gina Casalegno, who served as master of ceremonies for the groundbreaking event, also thanked Highmark for its gift and for its support throughout the pandemic to help keep the campus community safe. She predicted the new center will be a "beacon" for learning and practicing the habits of a healthy mind, body and spirit.
"This space will be a profound signal to our students that prioritizing personal health and well-being is central to their success," she said. "I am personally so energized by what this new facility will do for our community."
Maureen "Mo" Dasey-Morales and Josh Centor and their teams will be tenants in the new building. Dasey-Morales, associate vice president for Community Health and Well-Being, leads Counseling and Psychological Services, Religious and Spiritual Life, University Health Services, Student Support Resources and Wellness Initiatives. The new building will greatly increase the physical space for these programs allowing for additional offerings in preventative health, healthy living classes, counseling workshops and spirituality programs.
"The new center will allow us to expand resources and programming and improve synergies across services to contribute to the overall health of our students and community," she said. "Expanded programs such as Peer Health Advocates, nutritional education, workshops and groups for improved mental health, and a well-being lab will all be possible in our new bright, modern and inviting space."
Centor, associate vice president for Student Affairs and director of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation, predicted the Highmark Center will be a destination for student-athletes and the entire CMU community, serving as a bridge bringing people together. He said the facility will include varsity performance and multipurpose gyms, training spaces and sports medicine rooms that will greatly enrich the Tartans' intercollegiate and recreational programs.
"At Carnegie Mellon we aspire to be great in the labs, in the classrooms and in our research. That ambition is the same for our athletics program," Centor said. "This facility will enrich our competitiveness and send a signal to future Tartans that we are serious about intercollegiate athletics as a vital part of the educational experience."
Student speaker R.J. Holmes, a mechanical engineering major and sophomore forward on the men's basketball team, is vice president of the Black and Latinx Athlete Coalition and a member of the Engineering Ambassadors and National Society of Black Engineers. He recently tied the school record for most points in a game with 43 in a 103-102 overtime victory over La Roche University. The record was set by CMU Hall of Famer Bill Soffa during the 1957-58 season.
"The Highmark Center is going to serve as a wellness space for all Tartans," Holmes said. "Whether a student is coming to seek guidance for their health, or to find balance, the Highmark Center for Health, Wellness and Athletics will give students a space to not only improve performance physically within our respective sports, but also to take care of ourselves mentally and emotionally.
"I am proud to represent this university as a student-athlete, a leader and a scholar. And I can't wait to see how this center will shape all of these experiences for future Tartans," he said.