Southern Adventist names new business school building for Ruth McKee

Contributed photo / An artist rendering shows the 42,000-square-foot Ruth McKee School of Business building planned on University Avenue on the Southern Adventist University campus in Collegedale.
Contributed photo / An artist rendering shows the 42,000-square-foot Ruth McKee School of Business building planned on University Avenue on the Southern Adventist University campus in Collegedale.

COLLEGEDALE, Tennessee — With a record number of freshmen enrolled this fall, Southern Adventist University broke ground Friday on a new academic building for the college's growing business school.

Funded by a $20 million capital campaign and projected to be finished by 2025, the new 42,000-square-foot facility will add a new innovation center, finance lab, auditorium and additional classrooms to continue to expand the 450-student business program for undergraduate and graduate students.

"We are not just constructing a building; this is a symbol of our enduring commitment to excellence, ethics and the power of God-enriched transformative power of education," school President Ken Shaw told university trustees, students and supporters during a ceremony Friday at the site of the new structure on University Avenue.

Last month, Southern announced it is naming its business college the Ruth McKee School of Business in honor of the former teacher who founded McKee Foods Corp. along with her husband, O.D., in 1934.

McKee Foods, which is still owned by the McKee family and is headquartered across the street from the university, has grown into the nation's biggest privately held snack cake maker with more than $1.8 billion in annual sales.


Ruth McKee legacy

Brittany McKee East, a great-granddaughter of Ruth McKee who is a product development manager at McKee, said Ruth McKee was an equal partner in the snack cake company with her husband at a time when female business executives were rare. Ruth McKee kept O.D., the inventor and entrepreneur, well grounded with good business decisions., East said.

But Ruth McKee was also a strong voice, once ruling at a board meeting that the discussion was over and the company was moving ahead with plans she backed to expand McKee's plant in Gentry, Arkansas, despite concerns by some advisers that it wouldn't be profitable, East said.

"The plant started operations in 1982 and is one of our most efficient and profitable manufacturing sites," East said during Friday's groundbreaking ceremony. "We have Ruth's intuition and strong will to thank. Her legacy lives on in our business, and her ethics are embedded in our culture, our vision and our mission, and her legacy will now live on in our long-standing relationship between the McKee family, McKee Foods and Southern Adventist."

O.D. and Ruth McKee met while students at what was then Southern College, and the university is the alma mater of several of their children and grandchildren.

Stephanie Sheehan, dean of the business school at he university, said college faculty work to embody Ruth McKee's integrity, wisdom, acumen and beneficence.

"These qualities, which transcend the ever-changing landscape of business, were foundational to the caliber of Ruth and O.D.'s legacy of business leadership, innovation and success," she said. "As a Seventh-day Adventist university, we're committed to not only teaching relevant skills in the various fields in which our students enter, but also preparing them for a lifetime of service and a commitment to being ambassadors for Jesus Christ in the marketplace wherever they are."

Business interest grows

The business school is second in its enrollment size at the university, behind only the nursing school, and the new Ruth McKee School of Business will help grow the size and quality of the program, Shaw said. Two years ago, Southern business students competing in the Enactus World Cup for future business leaders finished third in the U.S., and university business students were in the top 8% of all students in a Bloomberg grading competition. Southern also has a number of Bloomberg terminals for finance students to work and see in real time a host of business and market data.

"We are training some excellent students, and we're really happy that the community has contributed to this (new business school building) to create even more opportunities for our students in the future," he said during an interview Friday.

More than 85% of the $20 million capital campaign goal has been donated or pledged so far for the business college, Shaw said. The capital campaign for the business school follows the university's biggest capital campaign drive, launched in 2016, to raise $50 million for a new student center and other facility and scholarship improvements.

Such projects are helping the university to continue to grow, Shaw said.

While college enrollment overall in the United States has declined since 2010, Southern Adventist University has its biggest freshman class this fall with 758 new students entering the Collegedale campus, and the college has nearly 3,100 students. A survey of the new students found most were attracted to the Southern by its Christian environment, Shaw said.

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340.

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