Spelman Receives a Historic $30 Million Gift to Build A New Center for Innovation & the Arts

Spelman College announced Thursday that it has received $30 million to help build a state-of-the-art facility that will serve as a hub for the HBCU’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) program. The new Center for Innovation & the Arts will educate and empower art and tech majors at the women’s college to harness the power of innovation for their studies. The generous donation was given by billionaire heiress Ronda Stryker and her spouse, William D. Johnston. It marks the largest single gift from living donors in the institution’s 137-year history.

Diagram of the Center for Innovation & the Arts (Photo courtesy of the Spelman College
Office of Communications)

“As former educators who believe strongly in social justice, Bill and I have great appreciation for how Spelman provides a superior education for students that encourages them to be global change agents,” said Stryker, a long-standing Spelman trustee and the director of Stryker Corp., a Fortune 500 medical equipment company founded by her grandfather, in a statement. “We are thrilled to support a building that will encourage students to master technology, innovation and the arts,” she added.

The new learning center will include an Innovation Lab and house all of Spelman’s arts programs: art, art history, curatorial studies, dance, digital media, documentary filmmaking, photography, music, and theater.

This Stryker family has been donating lavish gifts to the Atlanta-based college for decades, which has played an instrumental role in helping Spelman expand its stellar study abroad program, fund other science initiatives, and support summer internships. Stryker has also been a trustee of Spelman since 1997 and currently serves as the vice chair of the Spelman College Board of Trustees and chair of the Board’s Arts, Innovation & Technology Committee.

William Johnston and Ronda Stryker ( Photo courtesy of the Spelman College
Office of Communications)

“Ronda Stryker has been staunchly committed to the mission and ideals of Spelman College for more than 20 years. She has been an unstinting advocate for our students and has supported a wide range of strategic initiatives, critical to Spelman’s long-term sustainability and the success of our students,” said Spelman president Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D. “With this historic gift, yet again, Ronda’s support will be transformational.”

The projected cost of the new facility is $86 million. Altogether, the college has raised more than one-third of the total cost thanks to Stryker and Johnston’s donation along with financial support from Leonard Riggio, the founder and former executive chairman of Barnes & Noble Inc., and his wife, Louise.

Ayoka Chenzira, Ph.D., division chair for the Arts at Spelman, applauded Stryker and William Johnston for their “deep understanding of the value of black women’s research as it relates to artistic creative expression and the use and integration of technology to help discover and articulate new forms of imaginative processes that engage with global conversations.”

Back in 1992, Spelman received its largest bequest—$37 million—from the estate of Readers Digest founder DeWitt Wallace.