JOLIET – Proving that business, education, government and philanthropy can work together, the University of St. Francis dedicated Monday its Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center.
The 18,000-square-foot building, at 16 W. Van Buren St. inside the St. Bonaventure Campus in downtown Joliet, connects students to educational resources in the downtown area, including professional contacts and mentors.
“This building was actually a nonproducing asset for BMO Harris Bank,” USF President Arvid Johnson said. “They wanted to use it as a positive aspect for the community, and it resulted in the donation of this building [to USF]. The city of Joliet has a vision for this area, and we will be an anchor of a growing city center.”
The center, which began classes in August 2014, is named for the late Robert W. Plaster, a Missouri entrepreneur whose foundation gave a six-figure gift to the university.
The center is more than just a building of classrooms; it offers learning environments that benefit students, like a mock-trial courtroom for criminal and social justice majors; access to the Joliet Slammers and Harrah’s Casino for recreation, sport and tourism management majors; and the St. Francis Business Incubator for business majors.
Students Princess Clemente and Laura Munoz have already benefited from the center’s Business Incubator, crediting it for helping them launch their business, Student Speakers LLC.
“We have been using the incubator as a hub to collaborate with other members and exchange ideas,” said Clemente, who is earning a master’s degree in training and development. “We have also been able to attend business workshops here at the center. I also think it is great to know that we are part of the progress and development of downtown Joliet.”
Munoz said the incubator was crucial to launching their business.
“We didn’t have a central location to meet,” said Munoz, a junior at USF majoring in business management. “This makes everything so real right now.”
The new center also connects students with the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce, the Will County Center for Economic Development, the Will County Adult Detention Facility, the Will County Courthouse and the Joliet Police Department.