Plans to renovate and expand the University of Missouri-Rolla’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Complex moved a big step closer to reality on Friday, July 23, with the university’s announcement of a $5 million gift for the project from John and Mary Toomey of Alexandria, Va., and their family. John Toomey is a 1949 UMR graduate and chair and founder of VSE Corp. of Alexandria, Va.
The gift — from the Toomeys and their three children — provides the largest private support for the $24 million modernization project and the largest gift to an academic unit in UMR’s history. In recognition of the gift, the University of Missouri Board of Curators voted to rename the mechanical and aerospace complex Toomey Hall.
"The Toomey family’s gift provides a tremendous boost for this project, which is our top priority," says UMR Chancellor Gary Thomas. "The expansion and renovation of this complex is an important investment in UMR and Missouri’s economy. I’m very grateful that the Toomeys have made UMR and the mechanical and aerospace engineering programs their top priority as well." Adds UMR Provost Y.T. Shah: "This gift is very important for further improving the stature of our mechanical and aerospace engineering department, and in making the new facility a reality."
Toomey, who came to UMR (then the University of Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy) in 1946 after serving as a Navy pilot in the Pacific Theater during World War II, is giving back to his home department. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from UMR in 1949 and 1951, respectively.
"I’m very happy to invest in the future of both the mechanical and aerospace engineering programs at UMR," Toomey says. "Even though my degree is in mechanical engineering, as a Navy pilot years ago I certainly learned to appreciate the talents of aerospace engineers as well. The two degree programs go together quite well, and UMR’s mechanical and aerospace engineering programs are both among the best in the nation."
About the Toomey Hall project
The $24 million modernization calls for renovating the current 66,500-square-foot Mechanical Engineering Building as well as razing the outdated Mechanical Engineering Annex — built in 1902, one year before the Wright Brothers’ famous first flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C. — and replacing it with a 73,000-square-foot modern structure that will house learning centers, laboratories, research and technical facilities.
At the heart of this modernization will be the Product Innovation & Creativity Center (PICC), where students will learn leadership, teamwork and communication while tackling real-world, hands-on projects. The center will house virtual reality and rapid prototyping laboratories, multimedia conferencing and presentation rooms, new computer-aided design and computer-aided engineering facilities, and other improvements.
Toomey Hall also will house much of the newly created Center for Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies (CAMT), a partnership among the U.S. Air Force, Boeing and UMR to develop new manufacturing methods for the aerospace industry. Established through $12.3 million in federal funding, the CAMT is a multidisciplinary research project involving 29 UMR faculty and roughly 50 graduate students from aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering and other academic fields.
Combined with $1.2 million in previous pledges and gifts for the building expansion and renovation, the Toomey gift brings to $6.2 million the amount of private funding available. The campus continues to seek additional funding, including state support, to provide the full $24 million needed for the project.
This building modernization has been a top priority for several years, Thomas says. "There is a tremendous need for new undergraduate instructional labs and classrooms equipped with new learning technologies, as well as for flexible, interdisciplinary research areas to adapt to future needs in mechanical and aerospace engineering," Thomas says. "The current space is not equipped to accommodate modern technologies such as lasers, virtual manufacturing or rapid prototyping. If UMR is to continue to be among the nation’s leaders in educating the technological leaders of our nation, this project must become a reality."
"Our goal at UMR is student success," says Dr. Robert Mitchell, dean of the UMR School of Engineering. "John Toomey and his family exemplify that success and are now providing the same opportunity to future generations of students. We will be building a world-class facility for the biggest department on the UMR campus. John’s gift comes at a time when our budgets are tight, but because of such generosity and the dedication of our faculty, staff, and students, we know our future is bright."
"Our faculty, staff, students and alumni have worked long and hard on the renovation and expansion project, from the programming study to the design and development of a modern, world-class facility to meet our instructional and research needs," says Dr. Ashok Midha, chair of UMR’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department. "The Toomey gift will enable us to launch this project and help us achieve our vision for greater national prominence by providing our students with the best education possible. It will also enable our students and faculty to perform cutting-edge research to fulfill the needs of society today and into the future. We are thrilled and honored to receive this generous gift from one of our most distinguished alumni and a prominent member of the UMR Academy of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineers."
About John Toomey
In 1959, Toomey founded VSE Corp., an Alexandria, Va.-based engineering company. After retiring from VSE Corp., he founded Starr Management Corp., based in Lorton, Va.
Prior to attending UMR, Toomey served in the U.S. Navy from 1942-1946 and again from 1952-1954. In 1974, he retired as a captain of the U.S. Naval Reserve.
While a student at UMR, he was a member of Theta Xi fraternity and Student Council.
In addition to his academic degrees from UMR, Toomey also received two honorary degrees from his alma mater: a professional degree in mechanical engineering (1977) and a doctor of engineering in mechanical engineering (1985).
After graduation, Toomey remained involved with the campus and the MSM-UMR Alumni Association. He is a past president, director and section officer of the alumni association, a member of the Alumni Speakers Bureau and a recipient of the association’s Alumni Service Award. He is a charter member of the Order of the Golden Shillelagh, an organization of major donors to the university, and the UMR Academy of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineers. Toomey also served on the campus’ Full Circle Campaign Organizing Committee in the 1990s, and has served as an "admissions ambassador" to help recruit students to UMR.
Toomey also is active in civic organizations. He is a past president of Rotary International in Alexandria, Va., a director of Bell Haven Country Club, and a retired trustee of the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. He is a registered professional engineer in Washington, D.C., a member of the National Mechanical Engineering Society, and past president of the Society of American Value Engineers, Capitol Chapter. He is a member of the Naval Institute and holds five patents for photographs, safety and missile equipment and a copyright on design/technical drawing computer software.
He and his wife, Mary, live in Alexandria, Va., and Vero Beach, Fla.. Toomey enjoys flying, golf and bridge.