UA Little Rock Presentation | U of A Board of Trustees January Meeting

Board of Trustees Presentation

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UA Little Rock Presentation by Chancellor Drale to the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. Note: Embedded video was excerpted from the Zoom recording provided by the UA System office. The resulting video quality is less than ideal. Transcript below.

{Chancellor Drale} Good morning, Trustees, Dr. Bobbitt, and esteemed guests. It is my pleasure to welcome you to our campus, and the theme of my report today is Connecting Our Students to Arkansas’s Future. While most of our students stay in Arkansas after graduation, we know that our real job is making sure that the education we provide will connect students to a bright and productive future for themselves but also for the state of Arkansas.

So today, I’m going to talk about several elements that go into making those connections and connecting our students to Arkansas’s future.

I’m going to focus on access, which really means getting students into the educational setting so that we can help them plan their future and prepare for their future.

Also about support for student success so that once we get them here, they have the proper tools and experiences that will help them connect the dots to what they’re doing after they graduate.

And then finally, the community connections that help us bring all of that together so that students can actually see through our connections with partners in business and industry where that educational pathway is going to take them, and they can start having those experiences while they’re still in school.

So, let’s start with access. We know that for a lot of our students, the cost of education is still a primary barrier for them. For the last two years, we’ve really been working on the affordability factor. In addition to our one-time $15 million dollar donation for need-based scholarships that we got about two years ago, we have been working for the last two years on endowed scholarships and not just any kind of endowed scholarships. We’ve really changed the template on our gift agreements to emphasize need-based scholarships.

So all of our scholarships that come in now, some of them may have merit elements to them, but they are all need-based oriented so that we can increase then the number of opportunities for our students. As an example, or not an example, but as an illustration of this, I can share with you that we have grown our endowment in the last two years by $44 million since 2019, and as part of that, we’ve added 50 new endowment accounts also since 2019, most of those are scholarships.

So this all goes towards that affordability issue and trying to make sure that we can help Arkansas students get in the door so that we can start working with them. Also starting in the fall, we are offering a half off scholarship initiative that for qualifying students, they will get half off their tuition not just for their freshman year, but if they remain in good standing, also for their sophomore year. So these are some ways that we are starting to work on that affordability access issue.

Now also what we’re doing there is improving access to and the quality of our financial aid information. Some of you know that we’ve really done a turnaround in our financial aid operation, and one of the things that we’ve added fairly recently is something called “Scholarship Universe.” It’s a scholarship matching tool. It is a service that we subscribe to, but what it does is really kind of interesting. It takes all of our internal scholarships and puts them into this database, but it also surveys all of the external scholarships so when students go to this app and they enter their information, they get a list not only of the institutional scholarships that are available to them, the private scholarships that we provide but also external scholarships that might be available to them for which they qualify. So Rotary Club or Lions Club or whatever it might be, and then our financial aid counselors can work with them to stack those scholarships to prepare a package that will maximize their benefit and make college all that much more affordable for them.

All of this together has addressed what is called the “net price.” If you’re not familiar with this concept, let me just remind you that the net price is the average actual price that students pay for cost of attendance. So, this illustrates that over the last three years or two years since fiscal year 19, we have lowered our net price by 13.5%. We’re very proud of that and we intend to continue working on that to enhance that affordability aspect of working with our students and getting them in to college to have those educational experiences.

The second area is the focus on student success. And this is an area that we’ve either invested in anew or reinvested in things that we’ve already had. So what you see here is a list, it’s actually not a complete list, it’s a partial list of our student support, our student success support programs and the ones that are highlited are all the ones that are new that we’ve started up just in the last couple of years. And I’ll tell you all this also that 90% of this is private funding supported, so we have gone out and raised the money to support much of what you see here.

I want to just highlight a couple of the new ones. I won’t go through this whole list. The endowed Student Retention Initiative Office is something that we started up several years ago. The anonymous donation we got a couple of years ago allowed us to endow that office in its entirety, and it provides a whole range of services that I’ll talk about also in this list. But they’re there for advising and counseling and coaching and all of those things.

One of the things that the office does in conjunction with student affairs is something called the Care Team. And the Care Team is an intervention team. It is there to intervene when it is noticed either by a faculty member or staff member, an advisor, or the student him or herself can self refer for students that are having challenges whether it’s financial, whether it’s academic, whether it’s trying to find daycare. Whatever it is, this Care Team will intervene and help that student find solutions to their problems and remove those barriers or at least mitigate those barriers and try to keep them in school. This has been tremendously successful. This team also has a full-time licensed social worker on the team to help students deal with any kind of issues that may be in that category.

We’ve had additional investment in our student leadership programs, and you’ll see some of those on here. One of the programs that I also want to highlight is called Trojan Works. Trojan Works is a comprehensive work study program, but what’s different about this is it does two things that are different than the typical federal work study program. It, first of all, takes the federal work study program combines it also with an institutional work study program for students who don’t fully qualify for the federal program so they can still do work study on campus even if they don’t qualify for federal work study. But here’s the really unique thing about this: we don’t just provide campus jobs. What we do is we add workshops. All the students that participate in this have to participate in workshops for financial literacy, communication, professional practices, and a host of other things that, in addition to their work experience, help them prepare for professional life and professional career paths. So we’re very proud of that. That is donor-funded; also, of course, the federal part is federally funded. So that’s Trojan Works.

Another thing that we’ve done is the Internship Expansion Program. We have a lot of paid internships that are available to our students, but we also know that there are organizations out there that can provide great experiential learning but for a variety of reasons aren’t able to provide a paid internship. So we have a program that works with those organizations to provide a stipend to students who want to intern at that organization or that business and still get paid even if the organization can’t provide that payment.

We also have a wide variety of programs that offer student success coaches, academic coaches, expanded mentoring programs. We’ve done a little bit of this prior to 2019, but a lot of that was cut or we disinvested, you might say, in some of those programs and we have reinvested and added more to all of that activity.

And the last one that I’ll highlight in this category is called Child Care Connections. We just got a federal grant for this, a CCAMPIS grant for about $600,000, and what this does is this allows us to work with students to find qualified child care. This is working with students who have small childeren so what it does is since we can’t actually provide a child care center on campus, we don’t have the means to do that right now, but this program allows us to work with students to essentially provide a voucher program. They can sign up for this program, and then we can work with them to find qualified child care in the community. In case you’re wondering what CCAMPIS stands for, let me see if I can remember this, I think it’s Child Care Access Means Parents In School. That’s what it’s all about is trying to keep those students with children in school in a viable way.

Next category I want to talk about is community connections. And this is kind of coming back to our internships and those kinds of experiences, but one of the things that we pride ourselves on being in the capital city is to take advantage of the opportunities and the resources that we have here in Little Rock and in the surrounding communities.

Most of our, well in fact, all of our pre-professional programs have some kind of field placement: internships, clinicals, teacher placement, and so forth. And we’re expanding those internship opportunities in the liberal arts field as I just described with our Internship Expansion Program. So these are all experiential learning opportunities that really transform the educational experience by helping students connect those dots to their career path. But in addition to those, we have other kinds of field prep partners as well that make up this sort of fabric of community connections.

So we have educational partners up here. We have other types of field prep partners who serve as clients in capstone courses and who also work with us in other kinds of experiential learning opportunities. These include government agencies like the Department of Corrections, Department of Children and Family Services; non-profits like Easter Seals and Heifer International; and local small businesses. These are all operating as educational partners by serving as clients or experiential learning partners with our students in our regular classes. There’s a long list of these types of partnerships too numerous to mention today, but you’ll see on the previous slide some of the logos here of the people that we’re working with.

Other educational partners involve some pretty significant projects that we have going on. UA Little Rock’s Construction Management program is proud to partner with Vilonia High School’s new K-12 Conversion Charter Pathways Academy in construction. So through our high school concurrent enrollment program, Vilonia construction students will be able to earn college credit in two stackable certificate programs that build towards an associate degree in Construction Science. We have students engaged in this program right now, and we expect to see some of the first graduates this spring.

Also on December 1 of just last year, UA Little Rock along with UA Pine Bluff, the Forge Institute, and Acxiom Corporation announced the Consortium for Cyber Innovation that will leverage shared resources to grow industry presence in cyber technologies in Arkansas through workforce education and applied research.

These are the kinds of things that we’re working on to enhance the learning experiences of our students but, more importantly, to create opportunities for them to connect with people in our community that are in the professions, the industries, the government agencies, the organizations that will be career paths for our students, and we’re very proud of those connections.

Another area that we’re working on in terms of enhancing the student experience is working on something we’re calling “the living and learning environment,” and we have several projects underway right now where we’re trying to enhance the physical environment that our students are living in and learning in. So we have a couple of these on tap. We’re working with industry and other donors to support this work.

We have, for instance, well, this is the Windgate Center so you know about the Art + Design Center that was funded by the Windgate Foundation. That has been a great partnership. Windgate has actually been supporting our art program for many years, and this building really has been the culmination of that, and with this building we were able to create exactly the kind of spaces and facilities that our students need to become professional artists. We often think of art as a liberal arts major that doesn’t have a career path, well, our art and design program does have career paths, and we emphasize that a lot.

Also we have worked with companies like Associated General Contractors and Clark Contractors to help build new facilities. So here, you’re seeing the Business Information Modeling Lab, and here, you’re seeing the Clark Project Management Lab.

We have had, in the last two years, six sponsored instructional spaces created for our students in these partnerships with our industry partners. We have over 22 advisory boards on campus that are filled with these community and industry partners that help us create these experiences, promote the living and learning environment for our students, and help us in any number of other ways to promote experiential learning for our students.

Some projects that are coming up that we’re working on right now is the Learning Commons. What we’ve done is we’ve taken the ground floor of Ottenheimer Library, and we are turning this into something called the Learning Commons. We are taking all of our student tutoring services, the writing center, the math center, the communications center. All of that. We’re bringing it into the library, bringing it into one place so that in the heart of the campus, students can come to the library and have a variety of learning support systems right there. If you have a chance to look at this before you leave today, Ottenheimer’s just to the west of us, to the west of this building, and it’s not 100% done yet, but it’s getting there. If you’d like to poke your head in and take a look, you’re welcome to go in there and look. It’s going to be a great facility. We’re very excited about that.

Another project that we have in the beginning stages is just outside of the Learning Commons — the Library Plaza — is to redevelop that into a completely new space for students and our employees that will serve as a physical part of the campus so that it will be aesthetically inviting. There will be a tree canopy, there will be tables and chairs, and a beautiful setting for students to congregate in and to enjoy as they come in and out of the Donaghey Center, as they come in and out of the library, and as they come in and out of the Starbucks which is right around the corner from that. And we think that this will also enhance the experience of our students. And we have secured private money, too, to pay for that.

We also, as you know, have been talking about a redevelopment project for the southside of the university which is the University Plaza property, which we own. We have had tenants in that space. We have also occupied the space ourselves. But we really think that this needs a complete redesign to make better use of it. We are anticipating launching a P3 project through the RFP process. Now, the image you see here is not the artist image of what we’re going to have. This image is actually from the 2005 master plan, a couple of my predecessors ago, and this was the vision for a southside entryway into the campus. And we still think that it can be a grand doorway, gateway into our university. It won’t look exactly like that, but it will be, I think, a dramatic improvement when we get that project fully underway.

So those are things we are doing in terms of improving the elements of access, improving the elements of student support.

I want to just add very quickly that we’re also in the process, I mean, we’re moving ahead, but we also realize that we have do some strategic planning to make sure that we stay on track with our fundamental institutional priorities. And you’ll see in this somewhat unlovely graphic here that I made myself on my computer so it’s not professional, but the idea what we did this year is we launched a strategic planning process that you know, and I know you always hear about people doing strategic plans and then they put them on the shelf and they think, “Okay we’re done with that. Our accreditors will be happy with that.”

We’re doing this a little bit differently. We’re talking about this as an integrated strategic planning process, and we’re going sort of in and out of those concentric circles so at the core we want our plan to reflect our role and scope, our mission, our values and all of that. And we’re going to come up with a five-year plan that identifies institutional goals and objectives, but meanwhile when we’re doing that, we’re also going to have what we call component plans. So we’re going to have a variety of other groups, and it won’t all happen at once, but it will happen over the course of the next few years, those component strategic plans like academic, the academic, the master plan, the enrollment management plan which we already have, and other plans that feed into that. Those will all be integrated with the institutional plan so that we can make sure that we stay focused on the things that we think are so important: access, support, student success, and the other areas of our role and scope which include research and community service. So we think that this is all going to come together and serve us very well, but I wanted you to know that we have this strategic planning effort in the works as well. We just launched it this year.

Finally, I want to leave you with a sense of why we believe it is so important to help students connect with the regional community and what this ultimately means to our students, to our local leaders, and to our professional partners in the Little Rock area. So right now, we’re going to show you a brief video, so please enjoy this video, and then when we come back, I’ll introduce you to a few students.

{video presentation TRT 5:33}

So now I’d like you to meet several of our students who have taken and are taking advantage of these connections, and so, I’ll let them say more about themselves. I’ll just tell you that we have Stephen Malec, who is a finance real estate and financial services major. He’s interning with Windstream, and he’ll start working for Windstream after graduation.

We have Turner Hudson, a mechanical engineering major who’s also in the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps, one of those student leadership programs I was talking about, and has interned with Cromwell Architects Engineers.

And then we also have Nikki Mullen who is a graduate student in systems engineering, and she’s interning with NuShores Biosciences.

I’ll start by inviting up the first individual, and that will be Stephen.

{Stephen Malec} Thank you, Chancellor Drale, and thank you to the Board. Thanks for being here today. It’s a pleasure to speak to you. My name is Stephen Malec, and I’m a senior Finance major, as Chancellor Drale mentioned, with concentrations of Real Estate Finance and Financial Services and Risk Management. When I first enrolled here at UA Little Rock, I was not only new to the university but to the State of Arkansas as well. So this is where my wife is from and where we ultimately decided to raise our family.

Pursuing an education and potential career opportunities as a nontraditional student in a place where I didn’t really know anyone initially felt like a large mountain to climb. However, the learning resources, outstanding faculty, flexibility, and great networking opportunities made available here have all been key contributors to making my experience a rewarding one.

Being a student here has made me feel more supported than I could have imagined. I found this is a place where teachers become mentors, and classroom assignments often expand well beyond the conventional realm. For example, within the real estate finance program, I was challenged to complete an extensive research assignment centered on the relevance of Little Rock as an inland port city.

In addition to this real world work, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet, network with, and heard industry experts who are land planners, architects, developers, and brokers in the real estate profession. This type of interaction is all part of what makes the student experience here extraordinary.

Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with various organizations as a School of Business ambassador, vice president of the Epsilon Pi chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, and the vice president of the Accounting Society. Within these roles, I’ve experienced many great networking opportunities with various leaders in the Central Arkansas business community. The events organized by the Career Center, I believe, play a crucial role in helping students to connect to opportunities. I experienced this firsthand in the fall of 2020 when I attended an internship market event. As a result, I was a selected intern with Windstream’s Finance Leadership Program this past summer where I continue to work today.

The organizing of these types of events has led to the placement of many of my peers with leading organizations and has materialized for me into a full-time contract with Windstream, beginning in May. I believe the experience I have had as an intern has played a pivotal role in shaping my future and has been an exciting opportunity to put much of my educational experience into practice.

I’ve also learned greater insight as to what can potentially help me to add greater value within an organization and achieve future success. As an intern, I have discovered a greater sense of direction involving my selection of electives, a stronger appreciation for technical skills such as data analytics and a heightened interest for returning for a graduate degree.

Balancing the demands of full-time enrollment, family, and working part-time can be challenging. However, the flexibility made available by accommodations such as synchronous hybrid class options and virtual networking events help make the balance more manageable. In my view, being able to actively learn and continually work is perhaps the most mutually beneficial relationship a student can experience. I believe internship opportunities should be a center focus for college students everywhere much like they are here at UA Little Rock.

Overall, my experience has surpassed my expectations, and I am hopeful for an exciting and rewarding career in this great state of Arkansas. I appreciate being able to speak with you today and all your leadership efforts to further elevate the student experience and help the student body achieve greater success both in and out of the classroom.
Thank you.

{Turner Hudson} Good morning! I just want to start off and say thank you for letting us speak to you today. I know you all have very important busy schedules, so it means a lot for students like us to come up and be able to share some of our experiences that we’ve had here at UA Little Rock.

So like Chancellor Drale said, I am Turner Hudson, and I am a senior in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, studying mechanical engineering, hopefully graduating this May, fingers crossed.

I’m also not only a member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps, but I’m also a mentor in that, so I’m able to give back to the students as they come in to campus and show them where to be involved.

Along with that, I’m also the chief of staff for the Student Government Association, former IFC president, as well as the member of the Delta Chi fraternity here on campus, so if you can’t tell, I like to be involved. I like to be in the middle of things.

I’ve loved all of my experiences here at UA Little Rock and wouldn’t trade them for anything. So this past summer, I had the great pleasure of being able to intern at Cromwell Architects Engineers. At Cromwell, I worked very closely with a lot of other mechanical engineers that have worked in the HVAC design industry for many, many years and learned a lot of tricks of the trade, as they’ll say, along with just being able to learn what kind of software and stuff that they do.

During the first two weeks of working there, it actually felt like I learned more in those two weeks than I had the entire two years prior in school just because of how much I was being able to do things hands-on and work with them, so it was a lot of fun.

And being able to actually use some of that information that I’ve learned excited me because it showed me a little bit of what I was working toward is actually important and actually useful and actually beneficial for me. During that time I got to work on designing some HVAC systems, some piping systems for some different buildings around Little Rock.

One thing I always like to tell people because it kind of cracks them up is the UAMS surgical annex was designed by Cromwell, and I got to help with some of the plumbing. So if you go on the third floor of the UAMS surgical annex and use the bathroom, I designed that. Unless it doesn’t work in which case I didn’t do it. But yes, it was a lot of fun being able to do thing like that. I went out a lot of time with them and helped them scan building and get different architectural scans that they do and see how they do that part of it as well.

So, all in all, it was a great experience and even if I’m not able to work at Cromwell in the future, I hope to be able to work in some sort of architectural firm so it kind of helped me decide what path I would like to take whenever I do graduate.

So, again thank you for your time, for letting me speak today, and thank you for listening. Thank you.

{Nikki Mullen} Hello, everybody! My name is Nikki Mullen, and I am a mechanical and material systems engineer PhD student. I actually graduated from UALR in 2020 for my mechanical systems degree, and during that time I was able to do an internship program.

So the engineering department has this really nice program that for three credit hours you can partner with a company and relay what you’ve learned and make sure everything worked out, right? So what I got to do was I got to intern at NuShores Biosciences, which is actually a startup company that started here at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock at the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences. Dr. Biris had come up with the bone scaffold that I’m not sure if any of you guys are aware of… yes? Awesome.

So we started up this startup company at UAMS, and it has now progressed to their own facilities out in West Little Rock. And so when I first started, I was actually the second employee to start at NuShores Biosciences. And the CEO Sharon Ballard had a custom curriculum set up for interns and so with this internship, it’s a very strict eight-week curriculum where they give you this project. You are the head of the project. You also have your mentor, but at the end of this eight weeks you present, and you relay all of your work. Well, my work was actually to come up and compile all the requirements for FDA approval. Now, that’s not a little project, that’s a big boy and remember, I am a junior in college. So to echo what one of my other students said, in that two years that I had been in school, it was nothing compared to those eight weeks at this industry, so I learned so I learned a lot during my degree.

Something unique about UALR was that in our classes, we would also have these projects. So, for example, one of my electives was mechatronics. In mechatronics, we were assigned to build a dancing robot, and with this dancing robot we, actually, each group focused on one side of the wheel and with this, we had several different backgrounds: electrical, mechanical, gear ratios, the motor, and all these different things, and we got to come together as a group.. electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and work on this project very similar to what happens in industry.

And so when I got into industry, I got to see this as well, how the company works on a project as a group and how things slowly come together from the very beginning all the way up to its fruition, and I don’t think my degree would have been nearly as impactful if I did not have this internship. Because originally, I did not plan on staying in Arkansas. I wanted to work at a research company to develop medical devices, and without this, I would not have known that we had a medical device company here in Central Arkansas.

And to relate that even more, one of the other students in my degree plan, Nigel Kelly, he also needed a couple of extra credit hours, and I said, “Hey, why not internship at NuShores Biosciences? It’s a lot of work; it’s very hard, but I feel like you’re going to learn a lot.” And so he did. His original dream and goal was to work for NASA, aerospace industry. When he saw how much work went into designing a concept and working on a project like that just in the medical industry, it completely changed his mind. He now loves NuShores as a full-time student, and he is staying in Arkansas as a result. That wasn’t the original case, and I know this situation with several other people hat I’ve talked to.

By getting to work in these companies and getting to see what’s happening on that surface level, you develop a bond with that company, and you’re able to say, “Hey, I really like what I’m doing,” or “This probably isn’t for me.” Because a lot of students, they’re coming right out of high school; we don’t know what we want you know? It’s brand new. There’s too many options and possibilities. So by actually working with a company and getting to see what you would be doing everyday, it kind of solidifies what your dreams are or what your thought for your career path is. And there are so many different industries around here, you know. Molex, Caterpillar, these are just engineering groups, but to get these guys to work with the university and say “Hey, let me show you what we need and let me contribute back,” it really does keep us in Arkansas, and it just gives us a great opportunity to see what is actually happening out in industry.

So just to relay back, thank you guys so much for letting us talk. I am very grateful to have this opportunity and thank you very much. Thank you.

{Chancellor Drale} I want to thank Stephen, Turner, and Nikki. Those were great presentations. That concludes my campus report, but we will be happy to take any questions, and you can also ask any questions you might have of our students that are here with us today. Thank you all.


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