SMU to Break Ground Friday on Its New Hub for Research and Innovation

The Gerald J. Ford Hall for Research and Innovation is being built to encourage advanced computing and interdisciplinary research at SMU. Housed inside will be the AT&T Center for Virtualization, the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute, the Visualization Lab, and the newly relocated Hart eCenter and SMU Guildhall.

SMU is primed to move forward in the digital frontier with its new home for interdisciplinary research, the Gerald J. Ford Hall for Research and Innovation, that’s set to break ground on Friday, Feb. 22.

The 50,000-square-foot hub will sit adjacent to Harold Clark Simmons Hall on the SMU campus. Once complete, it will equip students, faculty, and industry partners with the tools to power the enterprises of the future. By having the center available on campus, SMU hopes to encourage the use of high-performance computing and attract more external research funding.

Housed inside Ford Hall will be the AT&T Center for Virtualization, the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute, the Visualization Lab, and newly relocated Hart eCenter.

Hart eCenter’s move to the university’s main campus brings SMU Guildhall, a globally ranked graduate game design program, with it. The news came last year following SMU’s announcement that its Plano campus was being put on the market.

Gary Brubaker, Guildhall’s director, didn’t predict the venue change would hinder any of Guildhall’s work with major developers in the gaming industry. “SMU Guildhall collaborates with studios worldwide. Texas and Dallas have a thriving ecosystem of game developers that partner with us,” he told Dallas Innovates in March 2018. “With this move, we will be closer to some and a bit farther from others.”

The Ford Research and Innovation Building is funded by local business leaders

SMU Trustee Gerald J. Ford and his wife, Kelli O. Ford, kickstarted the project with a $15 million commitment. The lead gift was intended to go toward constructing a campus research center supporting SMU’s efforts to expand on advanced computing and interdisciplinary research.

In 2003, the Fords helped establish SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Research Fellows program, which annually awards funding to outstanding faculty members.

“I believe it is important that SMU alumni and friends support all areas of the University—academic programs, scholarships, athletics, and campus development,” he said in a statement. “SMU is known for the breadth of the educational experience it provides, and this campaign is strengthening every critical component of the campus environment for our students.”

Following the Ford family’s donation, Linda Wertheimer Hart and Milledge A. Hart gave a significant, undisclosed amount to support the building. At SMU, the Harts have also contributed to the Hart Global Leaders Forum, the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership, and the Hart eCenter—the eCenter that’s moving to the Ford Research and Innovation Building.

“SMU understands the value of interdisciplinary research in creating new knowledge and discovering new approaches to solving the world’s challenges,” Linda Hart said in a statement. “With a new facility dedicated to building these research collaborations, the university is stepping forward as an innovation leader.”

R. Gerald Turner, president of SMU, said by bringing advanced computer programs together under one roof, the new building will help transform the research and educational landscape at the university.

“Students must be prepared for a world in which data analyses, modeling, and visualization are critical decision-making tools, while faculty continue to push the boundaries of knowledge and innovation,” Turner said in a statement. “Gerald Ford’s new gift continues his tradition of strong support for faculty research. We are extremely grateful to him for this major boost to SMU’s academic aspirations and impact.”

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