September 18, 2020

As a result of two major gifts, Ball State University is enhancing its efforts to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators for leadership roles by reimagining an existing center and creating a second one to focus on how organizations promote prosperity.

The University announced today during a Board of Trustees meeting that Ball State has received $5 million in grant funding from the Menard family and $1.55 million from the Charles Koch Foundation.

In recent months, the University’s Miller College of Business has introduced the Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (ELI) — derived from the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise — to focus on helping learners become innovators and leaders, while the new Institute for the Study of Political Economy (ISPE) will study the role of economic and political institutions in promoting prosperity.

“We are pleased to partner with the Menard family, and the Charles Koch Foundation,” said Ball State Provost Susana Rivera-Mills. “This funding benefits our students, creating learning opportunities to provide them with the skills and competencies desired by employers.”

During its meeting, the Board of Trustees approved the naming rights for new meeting and training rooms and a speaker series as a result of grant funding from the Menard family.

“We are excited to join the Menard family and to continue our support for Ball State University and its students,” said Charles Koch Foundation Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “By offering students new educational opportunities and resources, these two programs will help students discover and develop their aptitudes in order to improve their lives and the lives of others.”

The Charles Koch Foundation has supported programs at more than 300 U.S. colleges and universities.

“Similar to all grants we receive, the University will maintain independent control of the programming and operations of the institutes,” said Provost Rivera-Mills. “Academic integrity is a key pillar in our efforts to provide an excellent educational experience for our students, and it promotes diverse thinking and teaching by faculty on our campus.”

She noted that Ball State’ s proposals for these new institutes align with the University’s strategic plan, Destination 2040: Our Flight Path, by improving the student experience, developing partnerships that revitalize and sustain Muncie and the region, supporting and promoting faculty research, and fostering a vibrant campus culture through diversity of thought.

ELI will be under the leadership of Mike Goldsby, Ball State’s Chief Entrepreneurship Officer and the Stoops Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship, and Institute Executive Director Rob Mathews. ISPE will be led by Steve Horwitz, distinguished professor of Free Enterprise, and Todd Nesbit, assistant professor of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurial Economics.

While the Menard family could not present at the meeting, they shared their sentiments via a letter to the University:

“Anyone who knows the Menard family knows how proud we are of our Midwestern heritage and the principles it’s instilled in us. Chief among those is a dedication to hard work and our belief in the power of education to unlock the extraordinary human potential that lies within all of us.

“We believe that big dreams can come true for those who are willing to work for them. In 1958, we started transitioning from farming and teaching to build our home improvement business from scratch, building it, as has been reported, ‘one two-by-four at a time.’ Since then, Menards’ reputation for offering superior value has led to success far beyond our expectations.

“We want to share in that success by investing in the future of the communities where our employees, customers and business partners live, learn and work. Our hope is to empower as many people as possible to have the opportunity our family did to use their innate abilities to learn, contribute and succeed.

“When one person succeeds, we all succeed. By providing opportunities that help people realize their potential, we drive progress, because the more people who are creating value for society, the stronger we all become. So, it's a win-win all around.

“How do we do that? We think one good place to start is with higher education.

“To tackle the tough issues facing this country, that are holding so many people back, requires big, bold ideas. And where do we find those? One place is at colleges and universities like Ball State University.

“Who doesn't remember at least one professor or guest lecturer in college who exposed us to a new way of thinking or captivated us with previously unimagined possibilities? Who inspired us to dream? Who pushed us to do more than we thought we were capable of? That is the essence of learning. That is what leads to innovation. That is what moves society forward.

“A seminal part of the college experience is hearing from people who have a diversity of viewpoints and track record of creating value for others. At Menards, we want to give more students the opportunity to have that experience and to develop a lifelong love of learning as a result.

“From the beginning of time the one constant in the world is change. Thanks to the technological revolution we are all living through—and benefiting from—today's rate of disruption seems faster than ever, and it spares no one. We don't even cut two-by-fours like we used to.

“To stay relevant, all of us need to embrace learning and new ideas so that we can create an America where nobody gets left behind. We hope our support of Ball State will enhance the educational experiences of students, preparing them for future success and inspiring generational prosperity throughout communities across the Midwest to lead the way.
John Menard founded his namesake home improvement stores while he still was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today, Menards has 325 stores and 41 manufacturing facilities located in 14 Midwestern states. In Indiana alone, Menards has 37 stores and two manufacturing facilities.

“Menards’ $5 million commitment to Ball State has helped the university introduce the Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (ELI), which will provide thought leadership, resources, training, and educational programs that will offer students the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship. It also will help the College of Business create a new Institute for the Study of Political Economy (ISPE), which will examine the role of economic and political institutions in promoting prosperity.

“These initiatives will house two new speaker series, the Menard Family Entrepreneurship, Economics, and Public Policy Speaker Series within ELI, and the Menard Family Political Economy Speaker Series within ISPE, that will bring prominent thought leaders to campus each year to discuss political economy, entrepreneurship, and public policy. The grants also will help the university develop initiatives that support the Menard Family Summer Research Fellows Program, visiting fellows, establish and Entrepreneurs in Residence program, create a women’s innovation forum, and expand other programs and events.”