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Welcome Plaza Opens
Galloping horses Proud and Immortal greet students and visitors at Oklahoma State University
By Elizabeth Keys
STATE Magazine Editor
The new Welcome Plaza opened Homecoming week for campus tours with a formal dedication before Walkaround.
The area on the southeast corner of the Student Union has traditionally been a designated gathering point for prospective and new student orientation groups and is many times the first impression of the university for students and families. The space connects the entrance of the Undergraduate Office of Admissions in the Student Union with the ConocoPhillips OSU Alumni Center across the street. The Student Union hosts over 2 million visitors and the Alumni Center has more than 300,000 visitors each year.
A crowd gathered at the dedication including alumni Paula and Jeff O’Dell of Arlington, Texas, who met at OSU.
“This is a special place to us,” Paula says. “We always take a couple of days off at Homecoming to come back to Stillwater. When students step on this campus and see the Welcome Plaza, it will make OSU even more desirable.”
The inviting outdoor living space provides shade and boasts native plants, which serve as a pollinator garden.
“The new landscape and plaza vibrantly greet visitors, potential students and their families, as well as provide a peaceful gathering spot for alumni, current students and employees,” says Steve Dobbs, OSU landscape services manager.
In 2012, Kyle Wray, OSU vice president of enrollment management and marketing, called Dobbs’ crew into his office in the Student Union and challenged them with the question, “What can you do with that space out there?”
Dobbs credits OSU alumnus Dave Brown, a landscape architect in the facilities management department, for creating a plan to warmly and symbolically greet everyone with a Cowboy welcome.
“The space epitomizes the strong bond of community and family that exists among students, alumni and employees,” Dobbs says.
The featured attractions in the plaza are two horse statues, a mare and her colt. Designed by Marrita Black of Gainesville, Texas, the sculptures are 1.25-times larger than reality and cast in bronze. The artist created the horses to show the emotion of parents watching a child become independent, leaving their side to blaze a new trail.
“The foal represents energetic and sometimes nervous prospective students ready to run wild out on their own and change the world,” Dobbs says. “The mare represents the older generation — guiding, nurturing, shaping, encouraging and welcoming that new generation to the Cowboy family.”
A social media contest helped name the two horses — Proud and Immortal. The two individuals submitting the winning names were a recent graduate in electrical engineering, Sean Tyler Hendrix, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Andy Kirby, an OSU senior studying landscape architecture.
Along the plaza sidewalks, arbor columns are inscribed with Cowboy ethics and the alma mater. A bronze sculpture of a saddle sitting atop a fence features a John Wayne quote, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
“It can be intimidating coming onto campus,” Wray says. “This helps start a conversation about how students will find a place here at OSU. We are thankful for all the high school students who give us a chance to make a first impression.
"The beginning of a great adventure for visiting prospective students and their parents will begin here and culminate across the street in the Alumni Center as graduates.”
The Welcome Plaza is an important component of OSU’s master campus beautification plan, which aims to sustain and increase the quality and quantity of green spaces. Donors have helped make the Welcome Plaza a reality. They include the President’s Fellows, Women for OSU Council, Claudia and Gary Humphreys, the family of Galyn Pownell, friends of Lynn Pulliam, Joe Weaver and family, and Alice and Paul Richardson.
The arbor columns inscribed with tenets of the Cowboy code of ethics also feature a plaque that can be engraved to a donor's specifications, offering a unique way to participate in this impressive project. Limited edition reproductions of the horse sculptures are available, too.
More giving opportunities remain. Visit OSUgiving.com/welcomeplaza to learn more. For more information, call Heidi Griswold at 405-385-5656 or Deb Engle at 405-385-5600.