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Higher Ed

Seton Hall University Receives $1M Towards University Center Renovation

Seton Hall University alumnus Jim O’Brien ’82 and his wife Judy O’Brien announced their family is donating $1 million to Seton Hall University to help fund the sweeping $40+ million renovation of its University Center. Housing the main cafeteria, theatre, event space, student government, and student-services offices, this student-focused building has not seen renovations of this scale since it was built in 1962.

“The O’Briens have been longstanding supporters of Seton Hall for which we are sincerely grateful,” noted University President Joseph E. Nyre, Ph.D. “Jim faithfully served on our Board of Regents for 10 years. He has consistently been engaged, in particular with the students and programming of the Stillman School of Business.”

Jim and Judy had historically steered their philanthropy towards scholarships and programs rather than capital projects, but they eventually came to see the advantage of having attractive and useful buildings on campus. When Jim was serving on the board (from 2006 to 2013, and again from 2015 to 2018), he and Judy made a significant gift towards the construction of Bethany Hall, the admissions building to the west of the main gate of the South Orange campus.

Pleased with how Bethany Hall turned out, Jim then turned to the outdated, aesthetically challenged University Center. He described the journey of a campus visitor: “You have Bethany Hall, an attractive new building when you come into the campus. Then you have the beautiful library in the distance. You approach the campus green and see the iconic Presidents Hall and chapel, the stately Mooney Hall. Then you have this unattractive thing next to it. That’s where students are supposed to be spending a lot of their time.” So, when the renovations were decided upon, he was fully behind the project.

With over 48,000 square feet of renovations and additions, the University Center will feature greater accessibility, an open, light-filled interior design, more communal spaces, outdoor amenities for students, high-tech educational resources, dining enhancements, and more options for retreating and decompressing for better mental health.

“The new University Center will be an indispensable resource for students and lift the student experience to new heights,” said Vice President for Student Services Monica Burnette, Ph.D. “Many of the most memorable and rewarding lessons are learned outside the classroom, and the University Center is designed to facilitate these experiences. In this time when human interaction has never been valued more, the University Center will be a place where people encounter one another, help one another, innovate and create together. We are proud to be providing this precious resource to our students, and grateful to the O’Briens for helping to make it possible.”

In return for Jim and Judy’s generosity, the University will name the newly renovated theatre lobby (which will also function as an art gallery, student lounge, and reception area) in memory of Jim’s late brother Pat O’Brien, and his widow, Cathy O’Brien, who graduated as valedictorian in 1992 and tutored several student athletes in math and finance. Their son Kevin, class of 2017, was a finance and business-management student and starter on the varsity golf team. Pat suffered from a terminal illness and died in February 2021.

“My brother didn’t go to Seton Hall, but he was a true Pirate, and this is a beautiful way to honor his memory and celebrate Cathy’s achievements as an alumna,” Jim said.

This gift is Jim and Judy’s latest validation of a university they have been supporting for nearly 30 years. Jim spoke enthusiastically about its future under the leadership of President Joseph Nyre: “We were very fortunate to find Joe Nyre when we did. It is an unbelievably challenging time for small schools now, with skyrocketing costs and tuition. But between Joe’s vision, willingness to take risk, and long-term game plan, plus the extraordinary things Alyssa McCloud [senior vice president of admissions] has done in the admissions, we’ve distinguished ourselves as one of the very few small universities that are thriving in this environment. Everything I see tells me we’re going in the right direction, and I’m thrilled that the student center is getting renovated.”

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