Ottawa University expanded its footprint in Arizona in 2017.
The university announced in February a 35-acre residential OU campus would open in Surprise, Arizona, in August for the fall semester.
“We are proud to be bringing a full-fledged residential university experience to Surprise and to our future students,” Kevin Eichner, president of Ottawa University, said in a February news release.
The new campus, 15950 N. Civic Center Plaza, Surprise, will be incorporated into the City of Surprise Civic Center and recreation campus, according to the release. The university will offer undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“Surprise is a college town,” Sharon Wolcott, mayor of Surprise, said in February. “Our graduating high school seniors now have the option to pursue a college degree in their hometown.”
Wolcott also said university campus development has been part of the city council’s strategic plan.
“We could not ask for a better partner than Ottawa University,” she said. “This is a storied educational institution with more than 150 years of success and a 40-year foothold in the Phoenix market.”
The Surprise campus opened in August with 431 students, nearly doubling OU’s enrollment projection of 250 students. The university’s goal is to have 3,000 students by the end of its first decade in Surprise, according to the release.
Nineteen men’s and women’s athletic teams will be offered at the Surprise school. The mascot will be a grey wolf with the team name of “Spirit.” The school will be looking at becoming a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) university, according to the release.
OU, which was founded in Ottawa in 1865, described its new Arizona residential campus as having an innovative education approach. In addition to traditional academic degree and athletics programs, OU said it places significant emphasis on evolving all dimensions of the student: intellectual, spiritual, physical, artistic, financial, familial and vocational, according to a news release.
Ottawa was no stranger to Arizona, having a campus in Phoenix since 1977. Eichner said 8,300 OU alumni live in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
He said cities understand the biggest economic development engine they can attract is a four-year institution with graduate and post-graduate programs.
Eichner said Surprise — a city of 135,000 people — saw a need for higher education.
“City of Surprise identified attracting a four-year institution like ours as their No. 1 strategic economic development priority six years ago,” Eichner said. “I jumped on it. Years of work with them, they selected us.”
He said Ottawa played a major role in the selection process. Surprise officials came to Ottawa and met with city and civic leaders.
“They got a sense of what a school like ours would mean,” Eichner said. “They fell in love with us.”
Eichner said Surprise committed $14 million to help build the campus. The spring training complex of the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers is next door.
“That is where the Spirit baseball [team] plays,” Eichner said. “They have marvelous facilities.”
Ottawa University received another monumental commitment to building the Surprise campus when the university received the largest gift in its 152-year history in December.
Jim and Jeanne O’Dell, OU alumni, donated $6 million to the university to fund the O’Dell Center for Athletics at OUAZ in Surprise, according to a university news release.
The O’Dell family gave the first $1 million gift in OU history in 2000 and chaired the Touch the Future Capital campaign that same year. Jim O’Dell (1957) serves on OU’s Board of Trustees.
“I have been involved in the search for an Arizona campus from the beginning,” Jim O’Dell said in a news release. “I know how hard President Eichner and the entire OU staff have labored to make it work. I have met all or most of the coaches and really want to make the whole experience the best it can be. [Ottawa University Arizona] in Surprise is the beginning of a great place for students to learn.”
The athletic facility will be designed to house locker rooms, training facilities, coaches’ offices and student support services, the release said. The center will be adjacent to the new Spirit multi-sport athletic field, near the Surprise Civic Center and Recreation Campus, and will include a new press box and entertainment area. Ground-breaking is anticipated in February 2018.
“Jim and Jeanne are thrilled to be able to share their great fortune with us,” Eichner said. “They have always been faithful and visionary with their giving, and this particular commitment on their part reflects their discernment and trust that their gift will be one that keeps on giving for many decades to come, affecting the quality of experience for our students, our coaches, our fans, and the image of our institution. Rarely have I seen such pure joy on the part of donors. They are special, and this is an especially sweet moment for them and us.”