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Athletics facility upgrades becoming a reality at UD

Delaware Public Media

This week, we bring you another piece produced by one of our UD interns this spring.

The school year is over at UD, and when the students return in the fall there will be one major, noticeable difference.  Delaware Stadium will have completed a major facelift,  the first piece of a significant upgrade the University’s athletics infrastructure.

UD has talked before about these kind of improvements before, but UD intern contributor Dan Rosenfield explains why its working out this time and what it means for student-athletes.

The University of Delaware has a ton of history, including all-time greats like Joe Flacco and Rich Gannon, but the University is behind its peers in one major way.  Delaware Stadium, the university’s home stadium for Football and Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse has not had a major renovation since 1973.

But that is starting to change now.

The Delaware First Campaign is an initiative to create a culture of philanthropy at the University, to ensure that students and student-athletes can have the best experience possible. Jim Dicker – UD’s Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations , says it has currently raised over $701 Million with an overall goal of raising $750 million.

“It’s a comprehensive effort where the ultimate goal is to build a culture of philanthropy at the University of Delaware," said Dicker. "Everything we do feeds up to providing resources and revenues to provide our students with the best experiences possible.”

Credit Couresy of the University of Delaware
A rendering of the renovated Delaware Stadium.

One big part of the campaign is renovations to Delaware Stadium. Phase One is add more chair back seats, a new Club space with a bar, food and access to exclusive club seating, an enhanced press box, and upgraded restrooms and concessions.

In addition to the stadium facelift, the campaign will pay for creation of the Whitney Athletic Center, an integrated hub for student athlete training and academic support that will include a 10,000 square foot strength and conditioning space that can house multiple teams at a time, spaces for academic and career support as well as leadership development and a lounge for student-athletes to build communities with different teams.  Athletic Director Chrissi Rawak talked about the new center's anticipated impact.

“When I think about the Whitney Athletic Center, that is is going to transform the experiences of our students and our student athletes," said Rawak. "We don’t have a study space for our student-athletes, our weight room is 3000 square feet, we have to rotate our football team through it four times in order to get everybody. These are things that all of our peers have and so when we’re out there recruiting and to be honest, creating the right kinds of experiences for our student-athletes in their ability to use their time and get done what they need to get done to compete, everyone else has it and we do not.”

Credit Couresy of the University of Delaware
A rendering of the Whitney Athletic Center.

Many of the campaigns funds came from those not associated with the University. 60% of all donations for athletics were from non UD alums. Rawak says this reflects the University’s vision of who it represents.

“We represent the state, we represent an incredible university. When you run across the field you got that word mark Delaware across your chest, that’s the state of Delaware,” said Rawak.

One of the hardest parts was getting donors to buy into the campaign’s vision. Dicker says UD tried to launch the campaign twice before, but it never came to fruition until 2017.

“I think the most difficult part has been convincing the community and the past donors that the project was really going to happen this time," said Dicker. "The history here is that we’ve had a couple false starts on this project. So going back to folks and convincing them that it would happen was tough. Now we have a donor base that believes in us.”

Dicker notes a change in focus from the previous 2 attempts helped get this attempt off the ground.

“The biggest difference was aligning with the University's goals. The other times it was just a separate athletics-oriented fundraising effort and this time, aligning with the larger campaign you had the support of the president and the university and the board of trustees," said Dicker.  "[And] different leadership was a big piece.  Chrissi made a big difference in all this. Really,  it’s a university objective, not an athletics priority and that was the biggest difference.”

Rawak is excited about how the Athletics portion of the project creates more opportunities for the University as a whole.

“We see ourselves as the front porch of the University, so we bring people in through athletics and we expose them to what we're doing and through those conversations, he hear them say ‘oh, maybe I have an interest in undergraduate research or the Lerner Business School.'" said Rawak.  "And through those conversations we've had over the two years we've been actively fundraising, we’ve been able to raise close over a million dollars for our colleagues on campus.  I’m equally as proud of that as I am about what we’ve been able to do for athletics, because we have to serve as University citizens. We don’t exist without the University of Delaware.”

The University of Delaware’s current catch phrase is “Dare to be First” – and the hope is the Delaware First campaign will reinforce that - creating a culture of giving at UD that moves it to the front of the line in a number of areas, including one – athletic facilities – where its fallen behind.