Transformative $10M gift from the Curtis Foundation funds new media center, immersive learning experiences for MJ-school students

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced today that the Curtis Foundation is investing $10 million to build a state-of-the-art media center and fund immersive learning experiences for UNC School of Media and Journalism students.

It is the largest single gift in MJ-school history.

The transformative gift to the school is part of a $21.275 million commitment to the University’s Campaign for Carolina that also benefits the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Athletics.

“The Curtis family’s long-running generosity and dedication to our school has created life-changing experiences for countless students by funding immersive learning activities outside of the classroom,” said Susan King, dean of the MJ-school. “This gift is visionary and transformational for our school and this campus. It speaks to our values of collaboration, innovation and transparency as a public institution with a responsibility to engage with issues and inform citizens.”

The $10 million gift to the MJ-school will support efforts to help students gain a foothold in a rapidly changing industry. Of the total, $8 million will fund the construction of the Curtis Media Center, a flexible space that brings together students and faculty around emerging technology in a collaborative environment. Eliminating both literal and figurative barriers in a state-of-the-art environment, the Curtis Media Center will challenge students to learn and practice their craft while working in teams.

The adaptable teaching and production facilities will prepare students to lead the industry into a new era by immersing them in experiences to develop critical thinking, creativity and collaborative skills with the latest technology at their fingertips. The center will serve students and faculty from across campus as well as those in the MJ-school. Plans for the building will require approval from the UNC Board of Trustees prior to construction.

Charlie Tuggle, Stembler Distinguished Professor and senior associate dean for undergraduate studies at the MJ-school, said the idea has been in the works since 2016. Tuggle was part of the group of faculty and staff from the school who spent time scouting facilities at peer institutions to determine how to bring the most innovative space to UNC’s campus.

The leading design concepts that emerged revolved around the ideas of transparency, flexibility and collaboration.

“I think the transparency of the building itself, at this time when the transparency of media is being called into question, is a brilliant way that architecture can inform opinion about what all is happening,” said Frank Andrews, founder and chairman of August Jackson and a member of the MJ-school Board of Advisers.

Don Curtis, chairman and CEO of the Curtis Media Group, his wife Barbara, and their daughter, Donna McClatchey, are the trustees of the Curtis Foundation, which was established in 1979.

Don is an MJ-school alumnus and a longtime supporter of the University who is committed to providing extracurricular opportunities for students to extend their education beyond the classroom.

“For all my life, the University has been the primary driver of progress and change,” Curtis said. “I can think of no better investment than in medical research and the media to ensure that this progress continues and to see that North Carolina can provide the proper leadership for the future.”

In 1957, 15-year-old Curtis applied for a job at WKMT in Kings Mountain as a weekend announcer. By his senior year of high school, he was buying and re-selling a daily one-hour show on WLCT (Gastonia) and the WKMT weekly Saturday show. In 1967, he built his first station, WCSL, before purchasing several more across the state. He still hosts his own programs on WPTF, along with a 60-minute weekly public affairs program and a four-hour weekly oldies program, the WPTF Sunday Night Hall of Fame.

Curtis is a former Chairman of the UNC General Alumni Association and also served as president of the General Alumni Association from 2011-12. A former member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, he was a 2005 recipient of the William Richardson Davie Award — the board’s highest honor recognizing extraordinary service to the University or society.

“He feels like he owes so much of his success to the University, specifically to the media and journalism school,” said Greg Johnson ’90, managing director of Orbital Socket and member of the MJ-school Foundation Board. “He cares deeply about passing that on to others and providing opportunities so that others can also be as deeply impacted and have outcomes like his through the work that the school does.”

Barbara Curtis is a board member of The Medical Foundation of North Carolina, Inc., and the UNC Cardiovascular Board of Advisers. Donna Curtis graduated from Carolina in 1993 from the MJ-school. She also serves on the Carolina Women’s Leadership Council.

“From his first days at Carolina, Don has dedicated his life to pioneering work in broadcast journalism,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “With the largest gift in the School of Media and Journalism’s history, the Curtis family is passing on his legacy to the next generation of journalists, creating spaces for innovation and collaboration among our students and faculty. Their generosity and commitment to Carolina, from athletics fields to the hospital and classrooms, is remarkable. This gift will keep us at the cutting edge.”

David Sousa, chief operating officer and general counsel at Medical Mutual and a member of the MJ-school Foundation Board, said the gift is indicative of the confidence Don and the Curtis family have in the MJ-school and its students.

“They understand that the school graduates students that go far beyond just the title that might attach to the degree that they get,” Sousa said. “And that the school continues to produce thought leaders who, through their various communication skills, can make an impact across the spectrum of government, business, media and general citizenry."

The Curtis Foundation’s gift supports the University's Campaign for Carolina that seeks to raise $4.25 billion by Dec. 31, 2022. The campaign is inspired by the University’s overall strategic plan built on two core strategies: “of the public, for the public,” and “innovation made fundamental.”