With $50,000 Retool Your School grant, Jackson State University students get what they want: an outdoor study space

(JACKSON, Miss.) — After earning $50,000 in the annual Home Depot Retool Your School project, perennial winner Jackson State University is showcasing several beautification projects throughout campus that students suggested, including an outdoor study space.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the opening of an outdoor study space at Jackson State University. (Photos by William H. Kelly III/JSU)

Since 2009, the Home Depot Retool Your School Program has provided more than $4.1 million in campus improvement grants that allow HBCUs to make sustainable improvements to their campuses. The selection process is based on the most votes achieved within a certain timeframe by supporters of the institutions. Voting is unlimited.

After JSU’s second-place win, more than 400 students completed a campus survey seeking ideas for projects. The majority of them requested that an outdoor study space be developed because of concerns over COVID-19.

Students and staff developed the outdoor study space near the residential Stewart Hall as part of the Home Depot Retool Your School Program. (Photos by William H. Kelly III/JSU)

Heather Denné, Ph.D., director of JSU’s Community Engagement and the Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition, said, “Students felt that these funds would be best utilized for this purpose. Because of the ongoing pandemic, it is essential to provide outdoor spaces where students can socially distance.”

She added, “This space incorporates all of these safety measures, and the students are really pleased. It was amazing to see them using the space even before it was completed. They kept commenting on how nice it was and asking when the furniture was going in. It was also great to have so many students help with the installation of the furniture and landscaping. It truly is the students’ space.”

JSU has won this grant for the past five years and aims to keep the streak alive. “We hope that this project will spark more interest from our students so that they can request other projects with future winners,” Denné said.

The outdoor study space includes furniture and plants. (Photos by William H. Kelly III/JSU)

In addition to landscaping, the beautification project also includes artwork.

“The mural completed by JSU Communications and art students really makes this space unique and brings a special touch only JSU can provide,” Denné said. “It adds an element of design and art that makes you say, ‘Wow. Thee I Love.’ ”

Denné also acknowledged support from the Retool Your School planning committee: Carol Woodson, Willie Bell, Michael Bolden, Susan E. Powell, Ph.D., and Kentrice S. Rush.