St. Mary’s University, the 170-year-old Catholic liberal arts college on the city’s West Side, announced Thursday it will receive $5.5 million in federal funding to help complete its Blank Sheppard Innovation Center.
Construction on the three-story center, which broke ground in October last year, is expected to be complete in 2024 and will support advanced manufacturing, engineering and computing instruction. The third floor will be dedicated to a planned nursing program.
The money, which was part of the federal omnibus appropriations law for fiscal year 2023, will help build and equip seven laboratories within the center, according to a release from St. Mary’s.
The building, including the labs, will include spaces dedicated to hands-on study of robotics and smart manufacturing, measurement and instrumentation, data science and machine learning, and human factors engineering — the application of psychological and physiological principles to engineering and design.
The building is named after two major donors, Leland T. Blank and Sallie V. Sheppard, who gave $2 million to kick-start the building’s construction.
Blank, a 1967 graduate, is a St. Mary’s University trustee; both Blank and Sheppard are emeritus professors of Texas A&M University with engineering specialties.
St. Mary’s credited U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) for securing the $5.5 million.
“Thanks to this significant, new federal funding, the programs in the Blank Sheppard Innovation Center will improve the educational opportunities for our students, many of whom are from neighborhoods in Congressional District 20, San Antonio’s West Side and the Rio Grande Valley,” said St. Mary’s University President Thomas M. Mengler
The labs will serve up to 400 students a year, including the entire engineering student department as well as those from other disciplines. The university’s student enrollment in Fall 2022 was 3,253 students, including undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and law students.
The spaces also will be used by faculty and industry partners who sponsor student project work. The center will also be made available to the region’s manufacturing base for projects and training.
St. Mary’s has long offered “pre-health” courses; adding a nursing bachelor’s degree program, officials said, will help to close the critical gap in the regional health care system. Texas will need as many as 50,000 more nurses in the next decade, according to the Texas Department of Health Services, including 10,000 in Central and South Texas.
“I have always fought to ensure San Antonio receives its fair share of funding so our community can continue to thrive,” Castro said in the university’s release. “I look forward to seeing the center bring together bright minds in the advancement of cutting-edge research as well as host a new bachelor of science in nursing program that will strengthen our city and state’s health care system.”
The university has a live webcam trained on the construction site on its Innovation Center web page.