The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga School of Nursing’s long-held dream of a new building has received the funding needed to become a reality.
The Dorothy and Jim Kennedy Health Sciences Building will be the new home of the UTC School of Nursing thanks to an $8-million gift from the Kennedy Foundation, Inc.—the single-largest individual gift in School of Nursing history. The official announcement took place Monday, Oct. 23, in the UTC Metropolitan Building on campus—the current home of the School of Nursing.
The building will be named after the parents of Kennedy Foundation trustees Jim Kennedy III, Elizabeth Kennedy Spratlin and Molly Kennedy and will become the first on campus to highlight a woman and alumna. Dorothy Kennedy received a bachelor’s degree from UTC in English and American Language and Literature; during the same May 3, 1982, commencement ceremony, Molly Kennedy received a psychology degree.
Dorothy and Jim Kennedy Jr. were married for 57 years. Dorothy, an accomplished student of poetry and a published poet, passed away in 2005 at the age of 80. Jim died in 2020 at 95 years of age.
Jim Kennedy Jr. co-founded what is now known as Kenco, a fully integrated logistics provider. A former chair of the UC Foundation board, he was inducted into the Gary W. Rollins College of Business Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in 2002.
The event featured remarks from UTC Chancellor Steven R. Angle; Kennedy Foundation spokesman Wayne Peters; Jim Kennedy III, president and director of the Kennedy Foundation; School of Nursing Director and UTC Chief Health Affairs Officer Chris Smith; and Vice Chancellor of Advancement and Executive Director of the UC Foundation Kim White.
“When you look at what this building will mean to health care in our community, it will really help carry on the legacy of the Kennedy Family,” Angle said.
“Thank you to the Kennedy Family and the Kennedy Foundation. We really appreciate this. You’ll make a difference in the lives of so many people in this community. The touch that each of you will have through the people you help—our faculty, the students that you’ll train, and the careers that our students have in this community.”
At this point, plans call for groundbreaking in fall 2024 with an anticipated completion in fall 2026.
The 90,000-square-foot structure will house offices, cutting-edge simulation labs, state-of-the-art classrooms and spaces for student collaboration and study.
“The quality of the project was driven by the quality of our nursing program, and that’s a testament to the faculty and staff and students of the nursing program,” Angle said, turning to the many students and faculty among the standing-room-only crowd. “There would not have been a gift or support without all of you and what you do. Thank you for so many of the students, faculty and staff in our nursing program being here today. We salute you because you’re the ones responsible for this.”
Angle also thanked the dignitaries in attendance, including Tennessee Sen. Bo Watson, chair of the Hamilton County Legislative Delegation and the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee; Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, chair of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee; Sen. Todd Gardenhire; and Rep. Yusuf Hakeem.
Watson (’83) and Gardenhire (’72) are UTC alumni.
Peters spoke on behalf of the Kennedy Foundation, established in 1986. He cited the importance of health and education in gifts the foundation has supported through the years, including an emphasis on nursing. He said that support stems from World War II, when Jim Kennedy Jr.—then a combat soldier—was nursed back to health after being wounded in Europe.
The interest in the nursing profession intensified after Molly Kennedy was born prematurely.
“During one of my visits with Jim Jr.,” Peters recalled, “He shared a story about an event that had occurred 60 years (ago).” As he put little Molly on his shoulder to burp her, Kennedy knew something was wrong.
“He said, ‘I called out Dorothy. Dorothy, come here quick,’” Peters continued. “Dorothy came into the room. She looked at Molly and said, ‘Let’s go, Jim,’ and they jumped in the car and headed for the hospital. He said Little Molly was turning blue, and ‘as soon as we got to the hospital, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Stubbs took over there.’ … Everything turned out all right.
“Later, I said, ‘Jim, who were Mrs. Stubbs and Mrs. Brown? Who were they?’ He said, ‘They were the two nurses that took care of Molly and nursed her back to good health. He remembered and appreciated what they had done for his family and he remembered their names 60 years later.’”
Peters said when the Kennedy siblings learned they could make a gift that would help support education, especially nurses and other health care professionals, and that they could do it in a manner that honored the memory of their parents, “All three of them individually, enthusiastically, said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Jim Kennedy III spoke on behalf of the family, sharing that his father took classes at UTC in his 60s.
“Dad left his office several times a week to take arts and literature classes. I remember that he would change out his suit into khakis in a golf shirt so that he would not have to worry about fitting in,” he said, getting a laugh from the crowd.
“My father left his entire estate to the Kennedy Foundation and tasked us with giving to his hometown. We knew there was no better way to honor his wishes than giving to UTC.”
The Dorothy and Jim Kennedy Health Sciences Building will be located on 3rd Street—directly across Palmetto Street from the Children’s Hospital at Erlanger-Kennedy Outpatient Center, which the Kennedy Foundation supported.
Repeatedly over its 50-year history, the School of Nursing has relocated to accommodate the growth of students and faculty—relocations that required adapting to spaces designed for and left by others—all while finding ways to educate more nurses in response to growing demand.
Smith said the new building is vital to expanding enrollment, particularly important given Chattanooga’s medically underserved status and immediate need of 27% more providers.
“Moving forward with this new building is a transformational event in the life of the School of Nursing, the faculty, staff and—most importantly—the students,” she said. “This facility will enable us to expand our enrollment capacity by more than 150%, which is critically important given our role in preparing practice-ready nurses.
“Consequently, this is a transformational development in the Chattanooga and Hamilton County community because this will allow us to educate and prepare students using the most current technology that, in turn, impacts their readiness to provide care for patients at the highest level.”
The Kennedy Foundation gift means the necessary private funds have been secured to permit moving forward with the $77-million building, of which $56 million is being funded by the state of Tennessee. Additional private funding will be obtained through an ongoing capital campaign.
“We are grateful to the Kennedy Foundation and family for their commitment to UTC and the health of our city and region with their generous gift,” White said. “This gift will have an incredible impact on our students for generations to come.”
UTC School of Nursing Achievements and Accolades
- 1 BSN program in Tennessee for 2023 by Nurse.org
- Five-year average NCLEX licensure pass rate of 97%
- 100% employment rate after graduation
Official Dorothy and Jim Kennedy Health Sciences Building Announcement
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga received an $8-million gift from the Kennedy Foundation, Inc., to name the forthcoming home of the UTC School of Nursing the Dorothy and Jim Kennedy Health Sciences Building. This is the largest single gift in UTC School of Nursing history.
Named after the parents of the current Kennedy Foundation trustees—Jim Kennedy III, Elizabeth Kennedy Spratlin and Molly Kennedy (’82)—this will be the first building on campus to be named after an alumna. Dorothy Kennedy (’82) received a degree from UTC in English while attending at the same time as her daughter, Molly.
UTC Chancellor Steven R. Angle announced this milestone gift today at a press conference alongside the Kennedy family, UTC School of Nursing faculty, students and supporters. The naming of the building was officially approved at the Oct. 13 UT Board of Trustees meeting.
“This new building will help us dramatically increase the number of students in our nursing program and help meet the critical need for nurses in our community. In addition, it will provide faculty with simulation space and collaborative learning areas to ensure our nursing graduates are ready for their demanding careers upon graduation,” Angle said.
For more than a decade, the United States has experienced a severe nurse shortage that increased because of the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to worsen as more nurses reach retirement age. According to the United States Registered Nurse Workforce Report Card and Shortage Forecast published in a 2019 issue of the American Journal of Medical Quality, the shortage of registered nurses is projected to spread across the country through 2030, with a significant RN shortage in 30 states with Tennessee scoring a C- based on projected RN job shortage ratio.
The Dorothy and Jim Kennedy Health Sciences Building will be on 3rd Street, directly across Palmetto Street from the Children’s Hospital at Erlanger-Kennedy Outpatient Center, which the Kennedy Foundation supported.
“The Kennedy Foundation was founded by my father, Jim Kennedy, Jr., in November 1986,” said Jim Kennedy, III, president and director of the Kennedy Foundation. “Dad took his personal savings to provide the corpus for the Foundation as he saw opportunities to participate in funding worthwhile causes throughout Chattanooga. UTC has always been part of my family as my mother and my sister, Molly, graduated from there, and my father took classes in his 60s.
“Two of my sisters, Molly Kennedy and Elizabeth Kennedy Spratlin, and I make up the Kennedy Foundation Board. We unanimously approved the request for the Kennedy Foundation to provide the funds for the Dorothy and Jim Kennedy Health Sciences Building. My father left his entire estate to the Kennedy Foundation and tasked us with giving to his hometown. We knew there was no better way to honor his wishes than giving to UTC.”
The UTC School of Nursing accepts approximately 50% of applicants, turning down otherwise eligible students due to space and class size limitations. The new building will allow a 152% enrollment increase and be approximately 90,000 square feet with state-of-the-art classrooms and a cutting-edge simulation lab.
“The majority of our Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates, 71%, remain in the Chattanooga area to work once they complete their degree, and this number jumps to 83% for our Family Nurse Practitioner graduates,” said Dr. Chris Smith, director of the UTC School of Nursing. “This gift is not only a major investment in our university and students but also in the quality of care that our entire community receives when we all enter the health care providers’ offices, hospitals and other places of care we all need.”
The project’s $77-million anticipated cost will be funded through a combination of donations and state resources with a building campaign goal of $21 million.
Kim White, vice chancellor of advancement and the executive director of the UC Foundation, said the Kennedy Foundation is a true partner to UTC and the Chattanooga community.
“We are grateful to the Kennedy Foundation and family for their commitment to UTC and the health of our city and region with their generous gift,” she said. “This gift will have an incredible impact on our students for generations to come.”
Construction of the Dorothy and Jim Kennedy Health Sciences Building will begin in fall 2024, with an anticipated completion in fall 2026.
To learn more about the project, visit give.utc.edu/KennedyHealthSciencesBuilding.