Crawford Hall: a look inside at creation, expectations of new business building


Anthony Scilla

Crawford Hall, a new building coming to Kent State’s main campus, being worked on April 19, 2023.

Anthony Zacharyasz, Reporter

When driving past campus, it is hard not to point out the tall cranes and metal beam outline of the new business building that will be ready to use at the start of the fall 2024 semester.

Students, staff, faculty and community members will have the opportunity to share Crawford Hall, which is named after Ambassador Edward Crawford. He donated the single-largest gift in university history at an estimated $28 million in 2021.

Crawford Hall will be the new home for the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship. The project budget for Crawford Hall currently is $83.5 million and was approved by Kent State’s Board of Trustees last year.

Crawford was the CEO and now director of Park-Ohio Holdings Corp., an industrial supply chain logistics company. Additionally, he is the chairman of Crawford United Corp. and CEO of the Crawford Group, his university bio page stated.

Finding avenues for change

Deborah Spake, the dean of the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship, arrived at Kent State in 2013. She said immediately after her arrival to the university, she and Todd Diacon, who was provost at the time and currently serves as the university’s president, began talks about the need for a new business building.

The Kent State Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship, located at 475 Terrace Dr. (Matthew Brown)

There were a few different reasons for a need for a new building, but the first one Spake recognized was the building being built in the early 1970s along with classroom set ups.

“[The current business building] was built at a time when the common approach to teaching business was a large classroom with a professor in the front who lectured and it wasn’t as interactive or collaborative as business education is today,” Spake said.

It is hard to perform group work and get the ability to participate in hands-on projects in the current setting. Those are concepts Spake “really wants to do” that can engage students and faculty.

Kathryn Wilson, economics professor and former chair of the economics department from 2018-2022 that assisted in discussions on the layout and development of Crawford Hall, also recognized the need for a new business building because of the layout of classrooms and spaces in the current building.

“This building was built back when the professors stood up in front and did all the lecturing,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of tiered classrooms in this building where you can’t move around, students can’t interact with each other.”

An additional reason for Spake’s persistence for a new business building was because the current building does not have enough space for faculty members affiliated with the college. Due to this, faculty is teaching and working in numerous buildings across campus, Spake said.

Wilson said faculty members from different departments are sectioned off and this lessens the sense of a community between them in the current business building.

“You don’t have much natural interaction,” Wilson said.

The technology and modern laboratory spaces that the current business building has does not enhance the educational experience for students, Spake said.

“To really build out a modern business college we needed a new building,” Spake said.

The process of finding the best location to construct Crawford Hall took time. A master planning process for the footprint and layout of the campus was conducted to see where the best location for the building would be. Along with that, it was taken into consideration what the future of the campus and surrounding buildings and infrastructure would look like, she said.

Focus groups were conducted surrounding the areas of improvement and potential possibilities of designs. Current students, faculty, staff, campus community members and alumni were among the various groups involved in giving ideas and critiques.

The college held a design competition with architectural firms in 2018 to engage in finding the best models that portrayed the vision of a new business building. Ultimately, the selections were made and fundraising and philanthropic work began shortly after, Spake said.

Establishing the relationship with Ambassador Crawford

Spake and Diacon initially went to meet with Crawford about two years ago after he returned from Ireland when he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland from 2019 to 2021, Spake said.

Crawford was shown the materials and anticipated plans for the idea of a new business building and had discussions with Spake and Diacon about the potential visions, she said.

“I always say we’re a university not just for the fortunate few, but for the meritorious many, meaning we really want to enroll you and help you graduate regardless of your financial circumstances,” Diacon said. “That message really resonated with Ambassador Crawford given his own family and personal history.”

Crawford was “really excited by the project” and agreed to partake, even though he has little to no affiliation with the university, Spake said.

“I’ve been looking for some time for something to contribute to and be a part of outside of my business and work,” Crawford said.

Crawford said he remembered the university and Kent area from playing basketball on weekends occasionally in his early adulthood.

University President Todd Diacon (left), Ambassador Edward Crawford (middle) and Dean Deborah Spake (right) stand in front of the beam right after they place their signatures on it April 20, 2023.
(Anthony Zacharyasz)

The ability to meet with Spake and Diacon gave Crawford a sense of what the administration looked like, but more so received an understanding of how the campus and university operated, Crawford said.

“I got a sense of the people here, like a special college of citizens,” Crawford said. “[Spake and Diacon] represented views I thought about when running a business.”

The ability of the college and the representatives sent in to speak with Crawford led to the monetary goal of the construction of a new business building to be met.

Crawford’s monetary donation to the business college was recognized by the university with a groundbreaking event last year that featured Crawford. Furthermore, his donation was noticed by others, like investor Mario Gabelli, the founder and CEO of GAMCO Investors, Inc.

Gabelli himself has a school of business named after him at his alma mater, Fordham University in New York.

“A university that’s educating the next generation of leaders needs faculty, facilities, financing and students,” Gabelli said. “What [Crawford] is doing here is an example of what is the most important part to keeping the United States as the core of where ideas and innovation can change the world.”

Crawford started his first manufacturing company at the age of 24 and wants to embody that mindset and ambition of business and entrepreneurship into higher education. That includes not only obtaining an education, but enduring rejections and hardships on the path of becoming an entrepreneur, Crawford said.

Crawford’s influence can be seen by the renaming of the college from the College of Business Administration to the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship.

Crawford wanted to ensure that the entrepreneurship aspect was emphasized because it teaches a lot of other things like how to handle situations that do not go well and the difficulties of life, he said.

“You got to start early to understand that there’s failures and successes and eventually successes will be the final result of everything you do,” Gabelli said.

Finding ways to positively influence “the already great business school” and enhance it is at the forefront of Crawford’s desires. Along with that, he hopes his donation can pave the way for future donors to contribute to Kent State, Crawford said.

“To me, as impactful as this building will be, what’s extra special is that the Ambassador really embraced our philosophy at Kent State,” Diacon said.

What Crawford Hall will look like

What the future looks like

As tall cranes continue to work away at the site and the base of the building is being established, the reception of the new building has led to exciting feelings, economics professor Wilson said.

There will be more open space where students can interact and congregate with one another. This is the most exciting part for Wilson because it will “build a sense of community for students,” she said.

Wilson said she commended the efforts put forth by the college to gather input from faculty, specifically on the idea of space in the building that can be utilized beneficially.

“It’s kind of a nice balance of we will have more interaction, but [faculty members] will still have an office,” she said.

Crawford Hall will allow faculty as well to be in closer proximity to one another. They will be able to have more causal interaction with one another, Wilson said.

Staying on the topic of space, Crawford Hall will be approximately 50% larger than the current building, said Spake, dean of the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship.

The building will open near the front of campus and will act as a “really good anchor” for the university because “think about the number of people who drive by the building,” Diacon said.

Crawford Hall being constructed April 19, 2023. (Anthony Scilla)

“The location and prominence of [Crawford Hall] on Main Street, that’s such a powerful symbol of who we are as an institution,” Diacon said.

Ryan McNea, sophomore finance major, will be a student that will be able to be a part of the new Crawford Hall, as he has an anticipated graduation date of fall 2024.

“I’m excited for the new state-of-the-art building,” McNea said. “I’m looking to see what new technologies they’ll have in the building.”

Newer technology is something that will better assist the students utilizing Crawford Hall, McNea said. He also acknowledged how some features within will keep students updated on current economic and financial news through televisions and monitors that will display that type of information.

The building was designed as well to assist students better by bringing together the college’s different student support services into one office. Academic advisors, Career Services office and advisors specialized toward graduate and international programs will all be within the Student Success Center.

The Student Success Center will also have interview rooms where outside employers can come in to meet with students and conduct interviews.

“It should make it easier for employers, as well as students to have one location to go to get any sort of student service,” Spake said.

The college’s 15 student organizations will have dedicated spaces to perform group meetings and work. For example, the sales team only has one space in the current building, but will have four spaces in Crawford Hall to make more pitches and practice more.

Along with the various organizations that run through the college, the business degree programs were also taken into consideration as to how to utilize the space.

“We were very specific about the different spaces and making sure that all degree programs have the spaces that they needed to deliver first-class education,” Spake said.

Signing of the beam

The Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship hosted a beam signing featuring Crawford and fellow donors to Crawford Hall April 20, 2023. Campus community members and donors were able to sign a beam that will stand in the new business building.

Spake and Diacon participated in the event and signed the beam with Crawford.


Donors to the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Joyce Kinicki (left) and Angelo Kinicki (right), place their signatures onto the beam in honor of Crawford Hall April 20, 2023. (Anthony Zacharyasz)

Fellow donors and alumni of the university, Angelo and Joyce Kinicki, were in attendance to sign the beam and they donated $150,000 that will be designated by a classroom.

“We believed in Deborah Spake, everything we do is because of her leadership,” Joyce said. “We got involved with her many years by doing some scholarships and we decided to donate money for a room [in Crawford Hall].”

The Kinicki’s affiliation with the school brought them back to the university and seeing what Spake and her staff had done for the college got them excited about anticipated plans, Joyce said.

“If I lived out of the country, I would want to come here and be in [Crawford Hall] and be a business student,” Joyce said. “I think it’s going to attract everything you want, the best students and the best faculty, and you can’t do much better than that.”

The building is a really good investment, as the university has been able to turn a parking lot into a classroom building, Diacon said.

“You don’t build a new business school very often,” Spake said. “We wanted it to really meet the needs of all the people that we serve from the day that it happens, and I think we achieved that.”

Anthony Zacharyasz is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].