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Supporting STEM

Cook Foundation Designates Major Gift to New UM Building

In 2018, the Kelly Gene Cook Foundation treated its scholars to a lunch at Carrier House on the Oxford campus.

The Kelly Gene Cook Charitable Foundation, a longtime supporter of the University of Mississippi, has pledged $250,000 to the construction of a state-of-the-art facility on the Oxford campus dedicated to the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The Cook Foundation’s new commitment to STEM education will help provide laboratory facilities for students and faculty to engage in hands-on, experiential learning in math and science. As their gift helps cover expenses associated with building the 202,000-square-foot facility, one of the laboratories will be named for Kelly Gene Cook, Sr.

The Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation, named for its principal donors, will be located in the Science District, with one side facing the Grove and another facing Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and The Pavilion at Ole Miss. With a $160 million total project budget, it will be the largest single construction project in Oxford campus history.

It will house classrooms designed to facilitate active learning as well as chemistry, biology, physics, engineering and computer science labs. Lower student-instructor ratios will be in place, and various disciplines will be spread throughout the building to promote interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

Among other building highlights, students will enjoy technology-enabled active learning, or TEAL, labs and a visualization lab, similar to a small IMAX theater for 3D visualization. Engineering students will have access to dedicated lab spaces, including fabrication and testing equipment, for their senior design projects.

Several common areas will give students space to study both individually and in small groups, and a STEM tutoring center will provide additional support.

Upon completion of the capital project, annual distributions from the Cook endowment will support instrumentation, fixtures, technology, maintenance and programming.

“We believe this gift will bolster STEM literacy, advance active learning and promote curiosity and knowledge among STEM fields,” said Deborah Rochelle, Kelly Gene Cook Charitable Foundation board president. “We further hope the funds will help meet the critical need to increase STEM graduates, contribute to world-changing scientific discoveries and transform teaching and learning in STEM.”

The late Kelly Gene Cook Sr., of French Camp, was a pipeliner for more than three decades who joined Houston Contracting Co. in 1956 and became vice president and general manager for domestic and foreign operations in 1971. In this capacity, he dealt with pipelines throughout the Middle East, Brazil, Trinidad, Ecuador and Nigeria.

In 1976, he and a partner formed Gregory & Cook Inc., a pipeline contracting firm in Houston, Texas.

Cook was active in the industry associations, serving on the boards of the International Pipeline Contractors Association and the American Pipeline Contractors Association. In 1986, he and his wife, Peggy, formed the Kelly Gene Cook Sr. Charitable Foundation Inc., which primarily provides funds to support religious, charitable, scientific and educational organizations in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

The Cook Foundation supports the university in a number of ways, including providing scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines, including law and medicine. The Cook Scholarship is open to entering freshmen from Mississippi who have scored at least a 24 on the ACT and have a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Recipients also must have proven financial need and academic ability.

“Throughout my college education, not once did I have to worry about being able to buy my books or pay my tuition,” said Samantha Brewer, a Cook Scholar who graduated in 2018 and 2020 with bachelor’s and master’s degree in education respectively.

“I never wondered if I’d be able to pay off student loans because I have don’t have any. Because of the Cook Foundation, I did not have to shift my focus from school to work just to pay my bills.”

Additionally, the Ray S. Mikell Law Scholarship, established by the Cook Foundation, honors the late Kosciusko, Mississippi, attorney Ray S. Mikell and is awarded for three years to Mississippi residents who attended their last two years of high school in the state. Mrs. JoAnn Mikell took her late husband’s seat on the Cook Foundation board, and is retiring in 2020 after more than 20 years of service.

Rochelle, Cook’s niece, said her uncle was very proud of the way his foundation selected scholars and subsequently offered them stewardship and mentorship.

“He often said our youth are our most precious natural resource and that we should take care of them,” she recalled. “Of course, we want our students to be happy in their fields of study and to become successful members of our society.

“We have been very proud of our Ole Miss students and have had many graduate in various occupations. We also look forward to continuing our partnership with Ole Miss – a partnership that offers donors who keep in touch with scholars, help them mature into self-assured individuals and see that they graduate with no measurable debt.”

Katie Morrison, UM director of foundation relations, said the Cook Foundation has long been one of the charitable foundations with a wide reach and impact across the UM campus and programs

“From their transformational $1 million endowment gift for faculty support in 1991 to today, the Cook Foundation has touched hundreds if not thousands of students’ lives,” she said.

For more information on providing support for the STEM facility, contact Charlotte Parks, vice chancellor of development, at [email protected] or 662-915-3120; or visit give.olemiss.edu. Other naming opportunities are available inside the STEM building.

By Bill Dabney