Dr. Joel Morganroth and Dr. Gail Morrison Morganroth

The future just got closer. It happened early this year. No fireworks or parades marked the occasion. Don’t let the lack of fanfare fool you. At Ringling College of Art and Design, the game has changed on every level.

The source of this quiet transformation?

Two visionaries bestowed a record-breaking gift of $15 million to Ringling College—the single largest in the school’s history. The donors were Dr. Joel Morganroth, a member of Ringling College’s Board of Trustees, and his wife, Dr. Gail Morrison Morganroth. Joel is an academic cardiologist with expertise in clinical research. He was also the founder of ERT, a company devoted to enhancing the safety of new drugs by using scientific expertise and advanced technology to power early go / no-go drug development decisions. Though Gail is an academic nephrologist, for more than 20 years, she has been the vice dean for education at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. In that role, she has spearheaded many of the medical school’s innovative educational initiatives.

Even though the Morganroths’ professions are in different specialties, they share one thing in common. Both have been transformed and continue to be transformed by successive waves of our world’s technological changes. As a result, the Morganroths keep their focus on the future. Ringling College does the same. And it is that common ground that explains their steadfast support for the College.

“Gifts of this magnitude are transformational,” says Stacey Corley, Vice President for Advancement. “The Morganroths’ transformational gift pushes our endowment to more than $50 million. Even more important, we hope and they hope that this gift will inspire others to help bring Ringling College to the next level.”

So what is it that the Morganroths’ gift will do? The big one is to jolt Ringling College into the future. Along with funding a host of perennial needs, including scholarships, endowment, the Sarasota Museum of Art, and programming, the gift will also provide capital investment for the College’s new Virtual Reality major and empower the creation of the first endowed department head for the College in the VR major.

This cutting-edge technology is deeply important to the Morganroths.

Why?

“Because VR could change everything,” says Joel. “It’s not just about using it in entertainment. It’s about using it in science, education, engineering, etc. I’m a cardiologist. Imagine a cardiologist trainee using VR to explore the chambers of the human heart. That’s one application I can easily imagine to improve medical education.”

“The decades ahead will reveal uses for VR that we can’t even conceive of,” he says. “Chances are many of its designers will be Ringling College graduates.”

Gail adds that the College is uniquely positioned to be a pioneer in the evolving VR field. “Technology without creativity changes nothing,” she says. “Imagination is key. Ringling College brings art and technology together—and that unique combination can transform the world. As Dr. Larry R. Thompson, President of Ringling College, likes to say, adding art to the science, technology, math, and engineering equation turns ‘STEM’ into ‘STEAM’ and STEAM gives the entire equation energy.”

By Su Byron | Photo by Matthew Holler (Photography & Imaging, ’11)
Su Byron is a poet and freelance writer based in Sarasota.