Three years ago, Gail Williamsen visited Utah State University and saw what help it had to offer for people with disabilities and fostering clinical research.

“I got enthusiastic right away,” said Williamsen, the daughter of the late Beverly Taylor and James LeVoy Sorenson, who were USU donors. “They had, really, a whole package of things that just said, ‘These guys need to have a building.’”

And with that, Williamsen set the wheels in motion to contribute a major donation on behalf of the Sorenson Legacy Foundation for USU to build a new building. That facility, the Sorenson Legacy Foundation Center for Clinical Excellence, is set for a grand opening Thursday, May 3.

Beth Foley, dean of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, couldn’t be more excited about the foundation’s help or the fact that the Center for Clinical Excellence is going to be open to faculty, staff and students after years of planning.

“I’m just thrilled to see it finished,” Foley said. “But it’s not really about the building — it’s about the things we’ll be able to do here once everyone is in.”

The Sorenson Legacy Foundation Center for Clinical Excellence will not house the eight departments on campus that make up the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, she said.

Instead, the facility’s four stories will be home mainly to graduate student training programs, clinical faculty and researchers. Each floor focuses on a different area of clinical studies, from neuroscience to nursing education.

To that end, the facility includes a myriad of hands-on spaces for instruction, including a hydrotherapy pool, a nursing lab as well as clinics for research on movement, hearing and balance.

Foley said when the idea for the Center for Clinical Excellence came about years ago, the programs and people it now includes were spread throughout 10 buildings on campus.

“Now people can come to this one facility, and we can serve their children from birth through adulthood,” Foley said.

Plus, the Center for Clinical Excellence can serve rural parts of the Beehive state thanks to state-of-the-art technology, she added.

“We can really reach any part of Utah with specialized services that are not available in those communities,” Foley said.

Although the facility is not fully occupied yet, a faculty member and student The Herald Journal spoke with during a tour of the building Wednesday said they are happy to be in it.

That includes WooLee An, a USU doctoral student, who was working in one of the building’s research suites.

Her favorite part about the building: windows.

“Previously, my lab was underground,” An said. “(This building) is actually really pretty and beautiful.”

Michael Twohig, a USU professor, said his office and research lab are now in the same building.

“It’s speeding things up,” he said. “I’m not just being nice; this is about the nicest building I’ve been in. The way nature is tied in and you can almost see the outside everywhere you are, it’s really calming, nice, comfortable and peaceful.”

The Center for Clinical Excellence includes several gardens and sky bridges with study spaces on each floor.

Aside from the necessary instructional, clinical and study space the facility provides, the facility will also include several things that set it apart from other buildings on campus.

One of them is on the ground floor, where there’s an art gallery featuring work from people with disabilities.

“I want people to see that the label of autism doesn’t mean much — that every person is different and every person has their own extraordinary talents,” Foley said. “This is a great example of that.”

The Center for Clinical Excellence also includes a “smart apartment” — a space with a kitchen, shower, living and laundry rooms that is fitted with automated technology.

The room will be beneficial for Aggies Elevated, a program that allows college-age students with disabilities to live on campus and obtain a certificate from USU.

Jeff Sheen, director of Aggies Elevated, said the apartment-like space will help students in the program practice skills needed for living on their own.

“Students end up going out and living independently far more than their parents thought,” Sheen said.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at of the Clinical Excellence building, 1005 E. 850 North, Logan, at 12:30 p.m. Speakers will include Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and the president of the Sorenson Legacy Foundation. Tours will begin at 1:30 and end at 3:30 p.m.

Kevin Opsahl is a staff writer and features editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at 435-752-2121 ext. 1016 or by email at kopsahl@hjnews.com

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