New Plaster Center Opens Doors to Student Success

The newest academic building on campus pays homage to the past while simultaneously pushing Northwood into the future.

Enterprise Center opened this year to rave reviews, with students and faculty alike taking an immediate shine to the sleek, modern facility. The building was originally constructed in 1971 and has been used for various purposes.

The Plaster Center welcomes big thinkers and those with an entrepreneurial spirit. It serves as the home of finance, accounting, healthcare management, and management information systems faculty offices and houses new, state-of-the-art classrooms and study lounges.

Robert Plaster himself grew up in southwest Missouri, molded through the tough years of the American Great Depression. His “I can” approach to everything in his life was initially motivated by the loss of his father at a young age, but as he grew it was fueled by a powerful drive to succeed. 

Plaster’s strong beliefs in God, family, country, the free-enterprise system, and hard work formed a foundation on which he built a successful career. He founded Empire Gas Corporation in 1963, and when the company was sold in 1996, it was one of the largest retail propane distributors in the country. Plaster founded more than 500 different corporations in numerous countries and in several industries. 

When the Robert W. Plaster Foundation was created in 1983, it was with the primary goal of helping academic institutions provide affordable college education to ambitious young students, promote pride in America, and highlight the benefits of a free-enterprise system. The Robert W. Plaster Foundation now ensures Robert Plaster’s “I can” legacy of entrepreneurialism lives on in learning facilities nationwide. 

The east end of the building is a new addition to the structure and houses the Robert C. and Janice S. McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, a creative combination of think tank, student research lab, and advocacy center. The McNair Center produces numerous studies, reports, and opinion statements annually.  

  The massive double doors that towered above visitors to the original building that now houses the Plaster Center have not been abandoned. The spot where those doors once stood is now an inviting stone-metal-glass entry, and visitors walk inside to be greeted by the original doors, which form the bulk of the facing wall, adding grandiose character to the central gathering area just inside.

The massive double doors that towered above visitors to the original building that now houses the Plaster Center have not been abandoned. The spot where those doors once stood is now an inviting stone-metal-glass entry, and visitors walk inside to be greeted by the original doors, which form the bulk of the facing wall, adding grandiose character to the central gathering area just inside.

“The McNair Center espouses the benefits and blessings of entrepreneurship and the role of the entrepreneur. It is centered around the study of moral and ethical capitalism. Compassionate capitalism,” said Dr. Timothy G. Nash, Northwood senior vice president and director of the McNair Center. “When you get to know Bob McNair, you know why he founded the McNair Center. He has long been an advocate for freedom and free enterprise. His family has lived the American dream because of the American Competitive Free Enterprise System. In a conversation, Mr. McNair once told me that perhaps the greatest gift one person can give another is the independence, pride, and fulfillment of a job. This is perhaps the main reason why Bob wants to see entrepreneurship flourish in America.”

McNair graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1958 and has lived in Houston, Texas, since 1960. He founded the world’s largest privately owned cogeneration company, and after he sold it to Enron in 1999, he took on a variety of investment projects. Most famously, he founded the Houston Texans National Football League franchise, which he still runs as CEO.

It was at a Texans game, in Cleveland against the Browns, that McNair told Nash and Northwood President Keith Pretty that he had decided to fund creation of the McNair Center on Northwood’s Midland campus with a gift of
$5 million.

“Bob has a great belief in and respect for Northwood University because of our mission,” Northwood President Keith Pretty said. 

The McNair Center opened in 2015.

“We didn’t have a home. Basically, my office was the Center,” Nash said. “The new building is a major step forward. It is world class in every way. The center has 6,000 square feet of functional space. We have a 100-seat auditorium-style classroom. We have a beautiful outdoor patio area for entertaining. Having a physical home of this caliber adds a lot of gravitas to the Center. It takes recruiting of top scholars up a notch. We hope to attract even better and brighter students to the university and the Center as a result. We now have a dedicated area which allows us to have enhanced student activities and student research.

“The center is a dream come true for Northwood University and our unique mission.”