A former chairman of Lowe’s Companies Inc. and his wife have given Forsyth Technical Community College its largest donation from an individual in school history.
Robert L. and Elizabeth M. Strickland gave the school $2.8 million to be used for the college’s career center.
The couple, who are longtime Winston-Salem residents, wanted to make the donation to the community college to improve the lives of students so they can find meaningful careers, they said through the school.
Prior to the Stricklands’ donation, the next-largest sized donation from an individual was about $800,000, said Gary Green, president of Forsyth Tech.
The donation will be used to endow a newly created director position at the career center, Forsyth Tech’s first endowed position. The position will be responsible for coordinating the development and operation of all career development programs provided by the college.
“They wanted to invest directly in the students, not buildings,” Green said.
He said the Stricklands first began talking with community college officials last November about making the donation. Through conversations, the need of connecting students to employers emerged, Green said. It was a need Forsyth Tech had already identified as one it had wanted to address through its last strategic planning process.
The community college currently has a career counselor and an office that helps connect students with co-ops and apprenticeships, but the donation will allow Forsyth Tech to advance its services much further, Green said.
“This gift will add personnel and bring everything together to one place,” he said. “The additional leadership position will help coordinate activities for our students and there will be a new physical location, in a renovated space. There will also be software and other services.”
The building in which the program will be housed, in the Oak Grove Center, will be renamed the Robert L. Strickland Center.
The new position that will be hired will have a salary likely in the range of $65,000 to $80,000, Green said, with a search beginning after the holidays.
“Betty and I have both long believed that you don’t go to college simply to learn how to make a living — you also go to college to learn how to live,” Bob Strickland said in a media release. “It is our fondest hope that this new Career Center will be able to give our community’s students an extra boost of the guidance, information and mentoring wisdom they’ll need to propel their Forsyth Tech education into exciting and productive careers — and thereby, we hope, happy and fulfilling lives for themselves and their families.”
Although the donation was made in the name of Robert and Elizabeth Strickland, the building will bear only Robert Strickland’s name at the wishes of the family, Green said.
Strickland joined Lowe’s in 1957 as its seventh employee. He went on to serve as the board chairman, retiring in 1998.
Strickland has long been an advocate of public service. He served in the N.C. General Assembly from 1961-63 and was a founding trustee at Wilkes Community College in 1965. Strickland also served on the board of trustees at UNC-Chapel Hill from 1987-1995.
Green said the donation was made to Forsyth Tech because the Stricklands believed in community college education.
“(Bob Strickland) believes in giving people the opportunity,” Green said. “He sees community college as the way to do that.”
Cory Miller, executive director of development and the Forsyth Tech Foundation, called the gift, “transformative,” saying it will be, “a life-changing investment in our students.”
The donation allows the community college to complete its Pathways to Possibilities Campaign, exceeding the $18 million goal.