May 11 2015

Gift supports 'smart classroom' renovation in UM's liberal arts building

Thanks to gifts from UM alum, businessman and philanthropist Dennis Eck from Wolf Point and his wife, Gretchen, from Butte, the University of Montana’s College of Humanities and Sciences will soon have some of the most advanced technology on campus.

The Ecks’ contributions will create a vertical technology corridor of “smart classrooms” in the college’s Liberal Arts Building. The gift will enable about a dozen classrooms to be upgraded, offering professors advanced audio/visual resources for their teaching and research.

The Ecks’ gift also will help the college develop a comprehensive master plan for upgrades and renovations to the building.

“This new technology will enhance the kind of teaching, learning and research opportunities we can offer our students and faculty,” said UM College of Humanities and Sciences Dean Christopher Comer. “It is an immensely important step toward our goal to renovate the Liberal Arts Building and move the College of Humanities and Sciences forward.”

Artistic rendering of new technology in the classroom.The smart classrooms will be easy-to-use, technology-rich, flexible environments that support and facilitate many learning methods and styles, including distance education. The classrooms will allow faculty to explore new and more engaging methods of interacting with students and help students become more successful scholars and lifelong learners.

Technology enhancements planned for the project include interactive smart boards and video walls, multiple LCD screens, video conferencing capabilities and capacity for interaction with faculty and students’ tablets and computing devices.

Other room refurbishment may include improved temperature control, moveable furnishings and other aesthetic upgrades to improve the educational environment. The first phase of renovations to the vertical corridor will begin Monday, May 18, with the removal of window coverings on the building’s façade.

In his business management career, which has spanned the United States and Australia, Eck discovered that technology benefited not only his customers and shareholders but also his employees. He appreciates the way technology integrates different methods of doing things and helps distribute information among staff.

“I am a fan of technology being used to help people,” he said.

He sees the same potential at UM.

“When I came for a visit to campus last year, I looked in the Liberal Arts Building and not much had changed since the 1960s,” Eck said. “I thought, there is no reason you couldn’t take this building and bring it into a technologically modern era, to keep pace with the great professors.”

Eck graduated from UM in 1968 with a degree in political history. He says his liberal arts education provided a foundation for critical thinking that has benefited him throughout his life. Now he is grateful to be able to give back.

“I’ve been lucky. Now it’s time to make a difference.”

For more information on the Liberal Arts Building renovations call campus Architect Jameel Chaudhry at 406-243-5576 or email For more information on the Eck’s gift to the UM Foundation, call senior writer/editor Kate Stober at 406-243-2627 or email