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Winner’s Profile: Tougaloo College

RYS2023 Feature

When it comes to The Home Depot’s Retool Your School contest, Tougaloo College has achieved some impressive feats. Tougaloo won first place in its Retool Your School clusters in 2021 and 2022. The school also won Campaign of the Year honors in 2021. Let’s take a look at how the school built its success.

About Tougaloo College

In 1869, the American Missionary Association gave 500 acres of land near the northern border of Jackson, Mississippi for the education of newly freed African Americans. This land became Tougaloo College.

Given its location, it’s no surprise that Tougaloo is often referred to as the “Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.” The school played a significant role in educating, housing and protecting students, Freedom Riders and other civil rights activists. Civil Rights icons such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Fannie Lou Hamer frequently spoke at Tougaloo.

Today, Tougaloo is a private, four-year liberal arts college. The college nods to its past through initiatives such as the Bennie G. Thompson Academic and Civil Rights Research Center. The college looks ahead by giving its students excellent preparation for the modern world. Through collaborations with schools as diverse as Duke University, Brown University and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Tougaloo ensures that no matter which path its students take, they will excel.

Tougaloo Decides to Retool

Given Tougaloo’s string of wins, it’s a bit surprising to learn that the college only recently began participating in the Retool Your School Program. Shortly after Dr. Carmen J. Walters became president in 2019, she spoke to Schenika Harrison, the college’s Assistant Director for Title III Programs. Because Ms. Harrison oversees campus grants and contracts, Dr. Walters asked her to look into the Retool Your School Program.

Almost instantly, the project took the school by storm. When asked about the secret to Tougaloo’s success, Ms. Harrison said that parties are key to getting the campus together to participate in campaigns. Whether in-person block parties or virtual twitter parties, getting the community together makes a difference.

Ms. Harrison also said knowing that the college leadership supported the initiative made a huge difference. For her part, Dr. Walters said the love that Tougaloo’s alumni have for their school is what motivates current students, staff and faculty to work hard on the Retool Your School campaigns.

It probably helps that the Tougaloo community gets to vote on which projects will be undertaken if the school wins. Faculty, students and staff vote on five options for renovation. Giving everyone a say motivates the entire community to participate in the process.

What Tougaloo Has Done…So Far

Looking at pictures of Tougaloo’s campus, it’s clear that Southern charm and beauty abound. Tougaloo has used its Retool Your School grants to ensure that its captivating campus will remain so for future generations of students.

After winning in 2020, Tougaloo focused on Branch Hall, one of its older dormitories. Mr. Claude Erskine, Jr., Tougaloo’s Assistant Vice President for Real Property Management, said, “We put all new flooring in the hallways, the lobbies. In the restroom areas, we put all- new LED lighting. We painted throughout the building.” For a 20,000 square foot building, these are major accomplishments.

After its 2021 wins, Tougaloo turned to Jameson Hall, an historic building, and Kinchelow Science Building. Kinchelow’s restrooms received an upgrade that included new lighting, countertops, sinks and flooring. Jameson Hall received “a total interior renovation,” said Mr. Erskine. The revamp included new flooring, paint and lighting. Beyond aesthetics, the overhaul also updated the building’s foundation.

Because college life centers around students, it’s important that the students love the projects as well. Natalie Hampton, Class of 2023 and president of Tougaloo’s Student Government Association, said, “It’s great to see our hard work [during Retool Your School campaigns] pay off through campus improvements that we see every day.” As a biology major, Ms. Hampton especially appreciated the renovations to the Kinchelow Building.

Mr. Erskine explained that the importance of the Retool Your School projects went well beyond lightbulbs and paint. He said, “[The Home Depot is] helping us fulfill our vision of ensuring that these buildings are strong and outlive us all. We want another 150 years on campus with these buildings.”

The Home Depot congratulates Tougaloo College on its amazing campaigns and its successful renovations. The organization is proud that we could play a role in preserving the history and supporting the future of this great institution.

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