Fisk University breaks ground Friday on a new building for the first time in nearly three decades. School leaders hope it will get the attention of Nashville's business community on the historically black college and its students.
The Roland G. Parrish Center for Career Planning and Development will be sleek and modular, according to its renderings — a change from some of the ornate, Gothic Revival buildings on campus.
"We have some extraordinary buildings," says Jens Frederiksen, vice president of institutional advancement at Fisk. "But most of them are historical, which means they don't have quite the corporate feel."
The Parrish Center is intended to help students not only envision their future corporate office, but also prepare them for it. It will house, among other things, a career services center, tech labs and a visiting speaker series.
It also is supposed to show Nashville-based companies that Fisk is serious about placing its graduates with them, Frederiksen says.
"There is a relevancy that we have been promoting for the past three years," he says. "Having something infrastructurally tangible to attach to that is critical. If you're not growing or not building something new, people assume the obituary is being written every day."
The last major construction on Fisk's campus was the university's honors college building in the early '90s. The university announced plans to build a new residence hall in 2014 but tabled them after the president at the time resigned.
The building was propelled by a $3 million gift from Roland Parrish, a Dallas businessman whom Fisk courted for several years. Parrish has no previous ties to Fisk or Nashville, and his other major donation was to his alma mater, Purdue University. But he says he knows this gift is a bigger deal for Fisk, which has long struggled to upgrade its facilities.
"The hope is that this is the catalyst for future investment," he says. "There's a street out there that we hope, five to eight years from now, there's multiple new buildings. And then the Parrish building will be one of the older buildings."
Next on the wish list, says Frederiksen: a new residence hall.
He says that will be an important part of boosting recruitment — even more, in some ways, than Fisk's academic or job placement success.
"Students are still 18-year-olds who don't necessarily look 10 years down the road. They look to what the dorm looks like right now," he says.