On March 5, The First, A National Banking Association, contributed $150,000 to the $1.7 million privately funded Bower Academic Center project for student-athletes at Southern Miss.
“We are excited to be able to partner with the university to make this facility a reality,” First Bank President and CEO Hoppy Cole said. “It’s a competitive tool. It’s important for us that Southern Miss remain competitive athletically and academically.”
Director of Athletics Jeremy McClain and his staff understand that the first priority of working with student-athletes is education, extends beyond the classroom.
“It’s not just about wins and losses. It’s not just about the even GPA and graduation. It’s about being prepared for what comes after that and this is a big piece of that puzzle,” McClain said.
The Bower Center will house study spaces, classrooms, a computer lab and office space for academic staff. The donation by The First will also support a financial literacy program for student-athletes.
“One of the great opportunities we have in Hattiesburg is partnering with our friends at the University of Southern Mississippi,” Cole said. “The financial support we are providing for the Bower Academic Center will make it possible for student-athletes to be better prepared to compete off the field as well as on. This is another part of our commitment to financial education and building strong communities.”
Aspects of the program will include teaching life skills, such as resume writing, how to invest and spend money. As students progress, the options for what they will have learned will lead to more options of what to study.
“It will not be optional, and I can answer that pretty quickly. It’s not that we don’t make a lot of things mandatory,” McClain said. “We want to put together a life skills program that will kind of walk with [student-athletes] through their four or five years on campus.”
The First sees this investment as a way to benefit both Southern Miss and the community.
“I think it’s an important tool for the university to remain competitive. It’s an important tool to attract talent and it’s important to educate our young athletes on financial stewardship,” Cole said. “We were founded here in Hattiesburg some 24 years ago and Southern Miss is a major economic driver in our market. So it’s important for us to give back and it’s important for Southern Miss to do well.”
As of now, roughly 400 student-athletes use a 3,500 square foot space in M.M. Roberts Stadium for academic services. McClain said there has not been a decision made on what will be done with the “cramped” and “crowded” area. The new 18,000 square foot Bower center is scheduled to open in July in time for classes in the fall of 2020.
“This space will allow us to spread out and really function in a way that will benefit them at the highest level,” McClain said. “It is something that has been on our radar in our student-athletes, and they’ll be very, very thankful.”