Dallas business leaders Linda Wertheimer Hart ’65 and Milledge (Mitch) A. Hart, III have committed a significant gift to the Gerald J. Ford Research and Innovation Building at SMU. The new facility will house the University’s Linda and Mitch Hart eCenter, which includes SMU Guildhall, the world’s top-ranked graduate game design program. The building will be located on SMU’s main campus at the corner of McFarlin Boulevard and Airline Road.
“Thanks to the Harts’ generosity, we are one step closer to creating a world-class center for research and innovation on our campus,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “We are excited about the synergies we’ll derive from bringing advanced computer programs together under one roof.”
In 2000, the Harts made a generous gift to establish the Hart eCenter, currently located at SMU-in-Plano, as well as to endow the eCenter’s directorship. The Hart eCenter focuses on interdisciplinary research, education and innovation; it is the first university-wide initiative focused on interactive network technologies created at a major research university. Reporting directly to SMU’s provost, the Hart eCenter uses this freedom and flexibility to promote thought leadership at the intersections of multiple fields and disciplines.
The Hart eCenter’s most visible manifestation is SMU Guildhall. Since its founding in 2003, the program has graduated more than 700 students, who now work at more than 250 video game studios around the world. SMU Guildhall offers both a Master of Interactive Technology in Digital Game Development degree and a Professional Certificate of Interactive Technology in Digital Game Development, with specializations in Art, Design, Production and Programming. In 2017, the Guildhall was named the world’s “No. 1 Graduate Program for Game Design” by The Princeton Review, based on a survey of 150 institutions in the United States, Canada and abroad that offer game design coursework and/or degrees.
“SMU understands the value of interdisciplinary research in creating new knowledge and discovering new approaches to solving the world’s challenges. With a new facility dedicated to building these research collaborations, the University is stepping forward as an innovation leader,” said Linda Hart. “The growth of SMU Guildhall, both in programming and in stature, has been a source of tremendous pride for Linda and me ever since we made our first gift to establish the Hart eCenter. I look forward to seeing the exciting work this internationally recognized program will produce as it extends and expands its cutting-edge research in interactive technologies,” said Mitch Hart.
The Ford Research and Innovation Building was established with a $15 million lead gift commitment from Gerald J. Ford ’66, ’69 and Kelli O. Ford to construct a campus research center supporting SMU’s goal to expand advanced computing and interdisciplinary research throughout the University.
“One of SMU’s strengths is the research and other work we do at the intersection of multiple disciplines,” said Steven C. Currall, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We plan to continue building on this strength to advance and expand our research capability.”
In addition to the Hart eCenter and SMU Guildhall, the new building will house the AT&T Center for Virtualization, which will allow researchers from across the University to conduct interdisciplinary work to address the technical, economic, social and security issues associated with virtual technologies and their applications. It also will be the home of the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute, established in May 2012 through a gift from the Dedman Foundation.
It is expected that the availability of the Ford Research and Innovation Building will encourage more faculty to use high-performance computing and attract greater levels of external research funding. The University’s Second Century Campaign added 54 new substantially endowed faculty positions, bringing SMU’s current total to 120, many of them senior-level scholars with active research agendas. Along with other faculty who are leading important research projects, these scholars need and expect the best facilities to support their work. In addition, high-performance computing will apply directly to the undergraduate curriculum in several disciplines.
“Linda and Mitch Hart have been visionary supporters of SMU for many years. This gift reaffirms their dedication to the University as a leader in interdisciplinary research and education,” said Brad E. Cheves, SMU vice president for Development and External Affairs. “We are incredibly grateful for their support of excellence and innovation among our faculty and students, and for the opportunity to share these world-changing capabilities with our North Texas and global communities.”