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Sugihara Hall opens at NDSU

$51.2 million facility boasts natural light, state-of-the-art equipment and name of man who loved his students.

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Sugihara Hall on the NDSU campus is named for James M. Sugihara, an NDSU faculty member and administrator who died in 2019 at age 101. The new science building houses the Departments of Chemistry and Geosciences.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

FARGO — Neil Gudmestad was about to give up on his dreams of becoming a university professor when he met with former North Dakota State University Chemistry Dean James Sugihara for the first time in the 1970s.

When the graduate student told Sugihara he thought he couldn’t make it at NDSU, Sugihara said, “Oh yes, you can."

Knowing he was not the only student that Sugihara made feel welcome at NDSU, an emotional Gudmestad said Monday, Jan. 10, during a ribbon cutting ceremony that it is only fitting that a 105,000 square-foot science building be dedicated in Sugihara's name.

Jim Sugihara obituary story
Jim Sugihara is seen in this photo holding his great-grandson, Connor. Special to The Forum

“I was going to bail,” said Gudmestad, who went on to become a distinguished plant pathologist at the school. “I owe everything to James Sugihara.”

Sugihara Hall welcomed chemistry and geosciences students on Monday with its official opening. At $51.2 million, Sugihara Hall is the most costly project NDSU has tackled in recent history, beating out the Sanford Health Athletic Complex that cost $45 million.

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The project that began in May 2020 stands at the site of a geosciences building and parking lot, but it was built to replace Dunbar Hall, which still stands just south of Sugihara Hall. Built in 1964, Dunbar was deemed a hazard for not meeting fire safety codes, with several fires breaking out in the building.

NDSU’s chemistry department had asked for a new building for more than 25 years when the Legislature approved $48 million for the project in 2019. The remaining came from fundraising.

NDSU made several requests to fund a project over the years, but lawmakers hesitated. Firefighters told NDSU they may let Dunbar burn to the ground if it caught fire , President Dean Bresciani told the State Board of Higher Education in 2016 as he requested funding for a replacement building.

“Embarrassing and dangerous are not overstatements,” Bresciani told The Forum on Monday. “When it ultimately got approved, it had very strong, broad support."

The new building is cutting-edge with state-of-the art technology, Bresciani said in excitement. Some sides are completely made of windows to allow more natural light in, making it easier to analyze samples, geology and geography Professor Peter Oduor said as he worked in one lab.

The new building opens the door to conducting research that was once impossible in Dunbar, Bresciani said. It also makes NDSU more competitive for recruiting faculty, researchers and students, he added.

“The faculty are over the moon about it,” he said. “It’s going to allow them to do research at a much higher level.”

Dunbar will be demolished in the coming weeks, and a green space will take its place by the fall 2022 semester.

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A classroom in the new Sugihara Hall on the NDSU campus on Monday, Jan. 10.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

'About time'

Sugihara Hall is named after James Sugihara, who died in 2019 at age 101. He was the first to receive a chemistry Ph. D. from the University of Utah and was named NDUS chemistry dean in 1964. He retired from NDSU in 1989.

When he was 24, the Japanese American and his family were sent in 1942 to an internment camp in Utah following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The camps were established out of fear that Japanese residents would become spies for Japan and have been criticized as a violation of civil rights.

Sugihara was welcomed with open arms when he came to Fargo, and no one questioned his ethnicity, his grandson, Brandon Sugihara, said.

“Before he passed away, he still had all the thesis projects books he had from his students, and he didn’t want us to get rid of those, so we still have those out of respect for him,” Brandon Sugihara said. “He definitely cherished his students.”

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A ribbon cutting ceremony at NDSU on Monday, Jan. 10 celebrating the new science building named after Dr. James M. Sugihara, an NDSU faculty member and administrator.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

The Sugiharas easily could have been resentful, Gudmenstad said. Instead, they were compassionate humans, he said.

“It’s about time,” Gudmestad said of the Sugiharas being honored as an NDSU icons. “It’s long overdue.”

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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