The University of Houston-Victoria announced Thursday it received the largest gift in its history – $1.5 million.

“At UHV, as we’re still growing to become a destination university, a gift like this is really transformation,” said Jesse Pisors, UHV vice president for advancement and external relations. “There are three critical health-related labs that would not be what they are going to be without this gift.”

The $1.5 million gift made by the M.G. & Lillie A. Johnson Foundation this month will allow the university to enhance its health career education offerings for students.

“We are extremely grateful to the Johnson Foundation for this remarkable gift,” University President Bob Glenn stated in a news release. “Higher education is so important, and using these funds to build out health-related labs and equip them for our students is critical for the success of the next generation of health professionals.”

The university announced Thursday that it would support state-of-the-art anatomy and biology, organic chemistry and kinesiology labs located in the university’s new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics building on-campus and a portion of the former Town Plaza Mall at Airline Road and Laurent Street that the university owns and is renovating.

The foundation decided at its last meeting Oct. 18 to make the gift, said Robert Halepeska, executive vice president of the foundation. The gift was paid out directly, he said.

“That’s what the Johnson Foundation is all about,” Halepeska said. “It’s a pretty important grant for what the college is trying to accomplish.”

The university, Victoria College and Wharton County Junior College are the higher education institutions to which the foundation has given funds geared to nursing and allied health, which are big assets to the region, he said.

The foundation has given a little more than $6 million to the university, Halepeska said. He added the $1.5 million gift will allow the university to hit the ground running to equip the building after it is constructed.

“UHV desires to become a destination university,” he said. “(The gift) will touch a lot of students for years and years to come.”

The organic chemistry lab, kinesiology lab and biology and anatomy lab are going to be on par with the best university labs in the country, Pisors said.

“We are not going to have to cut corners or wonder how we’re going to buy the best equipment,” he said. “That’s what this gift does; it signifies an exciting time for the STEM areas at UHV.”

Enrollment is expected to increase in the health-related fields because prospective students will have the opportunity to tour the facility, he said.

“It will bring people more from other areas into Victoria, but just as importantly, it will keep students in Victoria,” Pisors said.

The Town Plaza Mall renovations are expected to begin their first phase in April, according to a UHV news release. The STEM building is slated for completion in fall 2020.

The foundation’s first gift to the university 30 years ago was a $100,000 donation made in December 1988 to establish the Johnson Foundation Scholarship Endowment, Pisors said.

The previous largest gift was from Albert B. Alkek, who first donated $1 million 30 years ago to UHV to create an endowed scholarship, Pisors said. Since that time, the Johnson Foundation’s grant is the first to go over $1 million, he said.

The 2018 fiscal year that ended Aug. 31 was the most prosperous year in fundraising in the history of the university, he said.

The increase in fundraising and the Johnson Foundation’s $1.5 million gift show the broad-based support for the university, Pisors said.

“What it means is like never before, the Victoria community and Victoria region really believe in UHV and believe in where we’re going,” he said. “I think they have, but this is a new groundswell of support.”

Gabriella Canales reports on education for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at gcanales@vicad.com or 361-580-6578.

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Education reporter

Gabriella Canales graduated from the University of Houston-Victoria with a B.A. in English in 2016. Feel free to contact her with ideas because she is eager to tell stories.

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