By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — “This is the heart of campus,” Tom Higgins, Class of ’67, said following the announcement that LeClaire Hall will be renamed Higgins Hall for Innovation and Human-Centered Design at St. Ambrose University.
On Oct. 7, a groundbreaking ceremony took place in front of the university’s second-oldest building, which will undergo an $8 million renovation beginning in spring of 2022. LeClaire Hall is located directly behind Ambrose Hall — the oldest building on campus.
Higgins, who also serves on the Board of Trustees, made a significant but undisclosed donation to help facilitate the near-total interior renovation of the 105-year-old building. The anticipated reopening is fall of 2023. Previously, Higgins donated $1 million to the university to launch the Institute for Person-Centered Care and the new Master of Public Health degree, both of which debuted in 2017. He also contributed funding that helped the School of Social Work add a Bachelor of Social Work degree to a master’s program that began in 1995.
St. Ambrose University President Amy Novak opened the announcement of the latest project with a video about LeClaire Hall’s history and the vision for it. Professor emeritus Father George McDaniel and Novak narrated the video, which showed historic images of LeClaire Hall’s interior with its banked track, basketball court, swimming pool and other past uses. Today it is home to the school’s marching band and jazz band ensemble for indoor practice.
When Bishop John McMullen established St. Ambrose College in 1882, he incorporated mind, body and spirit — a holistic approach. His vision continues with updated facilities. In 1983, St. Ambrose dedicated the “modernized” physical education center and Lee Lohman Arena and in 2017 dedicated the Wellness and Recreation Center. LeClaire Hall was no longer the sports center of campus.
To expand the holistic vision of Bishop McMullen, Higgins Hall for Innovation and Human-Centered Design will be home to the Institute for Person-Centered Care and the academic programs of social work (bachelor and master’s) and master’s in public health. Those programs will move from the Center for Health Sciences Education on Lombard Street.
The renovated center will include five modern classrooms and more than 20 offices. The concept drawings show that the track will remain as part of the design. “What Tom is envisioning is how we more intentionally provide support services and a holistic experience for students in all disciplines on our campus,” Novak said.
Breaking ground for the project also “stands for the groundbreaking of the next generation of higher education at St. Ambrose,” she said. It “will confirm this university as an innovative and compassionate leader equipped to address the current challenges of higher education in order to better serve learners across their lifespan while honing the premium skills developed in a liberal arts education.”
Groundbreaking stands for “our faculty and Board of Trustees’ wisdom in choosing to invest in a future that is difficult to predict.” Human-centered design is “learner-driven education,” Novak continued. “It acknowledges the varying learning styles, the circumstances that formed the individual, the support structures a student needs to learn and success in the classroom and beyond.” A human-centered approach takes the learner into the community for real-time application. It is not a “one size fits all” approach.
Higgins told those in attendance, “This university shaped and formed me into the person I am today. I am grateful for the way I was challenged to think, create and advocate for the common good.” Each of St. Ambrose’s colleges — arts and sciences, health and human services, business — “are stakeholders in human-centered design,” Higgins said.
“Their collaboration is essential to achieving our vision. Society’s needs are not going away. We have to address structural inequality, provide economic opportunities, mitigate climate changes and nourish the human spirit. Our old ways of doing business have to change, but our values should not. St. Ambrose University will lead through innovation and dedication to what our founders held dear — a Christian belief in the dignity of humanity.”
Advancing a model of healthcare delivery designed to meet the needs of a patient and their family has been a passion for Higgins throughout his professional life. He chaired the Iowa General Assembly’s Health and Human Services Committee while serving three terms in elected office less than a decade beyond his St. Ambrose graduation. He later worked in President Jimmy Carter’s administration, starting as a senior executive in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. At the conclusion of Carter’s term, Higgins was a senior White House aide.
He also headed the Department of Health and Social Services for Portland, Oregon; started a weekly national newspaper covering nationwide health news and trends; served as vice president for Maryland’s largest health insurance provider; and founded Prosetta Biosciences Inc.
Higgins’ gift toward the renovation of LeClaire Hall was approved more than two years ago by former President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD ’21 (Hon.), and her cabinet.