Gift to boost student support services, help more graduate

wingfieldMike Wingfield, a retired director of counseling and career services at UALR, didn’t expect the call. He was even more caught off guard by what he heard.

The family of a 1991 UALR graduate, Tabitha Jordan, wanted to donate $75,000 to the university to honor Wingfield for the help he extended to Tabitha as a first-generation student. It would be a “pay-it-forward” gift to help future UALR students.

Through the C. Michael Wingfield Endowment, the Adam J. Weissman Foundation established the fund to support a counseling intern stipend for years to come in the UALR Office of Counseling Services.

Jordan, a former Donaghey Scholar, is executive director of the foundation named after her husband, a technology entrepreneur.

“My motivation is to help students at the university graduate,” she said.

Jordan remembers how important counseling services were for her, when as a freshman in the late ’80s, she sought academic and career advice.

At the time, Wingfield worked in a university office that offered everything from resume tips and academic advising to services for people dealing with severe bouts of depression.

Although Wingfield specialized in mental health counseling, he was the only staff member in the office when Jordan arrived. He provided guidance and further got to know her through the years. They stayed in touch after Jordan graduated.

“She’s a special person to me, a very good friend,” Wingfield said. “As time has gone by, in many ways we’re like family.”

Jordan said Wingfield is like a godfather to her children, and they have a lot of common friends they met through the university.

“We have a wonderful friendship,” Jordan said.

Help for the helpers

Today, UALR’s Counseling Services department provides support, encouragement and psychotherapy to students dealing with issues ranging from relationship struggles, time management problems, and roommate angst to more serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, said Mike Kirk, UALR director of Counseling Services.

For aspiring counselors, there’s a dearth of paid internships, and internships are required for those seeking jobs in the counseling profession.

“These students are going to need a place for an internship,” Kirk said, “and we need the help desperately.”

Some years, however, it has been difficult to find enough quality interns. The gift from the Weissman Foundation will give a boost to that process, Kirk said.

“It really is a godsend to have someone walk in and say, ‘I want to help you,’” Kirk said.

Jordan continues to be grateful for the guidance she received as a student, and she knows the value of support services.

In providing the gift to the university, Jordan hopes more students will “cross the finish line” and earn the degree that she knows can make a big difference in their future.

Memories of student life

In the late 1980s, Jordan was a first-generation student who didn’t know much of the world outside her Little Rock-area hometown. She excelled in math and science and was considering a pre-med major. The Donaghey Scholars program exposed her to the humanities, and also gave her the opportunity to study in France.

That was life-changing.

In a short time, Jordan went from being an 18-year-old who had never been on an airplane to someone who developed a passion for international studies and French — her eventual majors.

“That was a big transformation for me in just four years,” Jordan said. “I just became very interested in the world.”

At the same time, she realized her academic opportunities were only parts of the equation. Jordan remembers the pressure, the difficulties, and the stress from being a student who also held a job while pursuing a degree.

Support services that help students manage finances, time, and personal challenges play vital roles on campus, she said.

Where they are now

Jordan, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, has made a career out of her love of technology and helping people. Her work often has international connections.

Immediately after graduation, she took a job at Heifer International, where she put her French language skills to use by translating letters from African farmers seeking aid. She currently works in philanthropy, serving a leadership role in her family foundation and on nonprofit boards.

Her family’s foundation also donated money to the C. Earl and Kathy Ramsey Distinguished Lecture Series at UALR, honoring Earl Ramsey for his leadership in the Donaghey Program that was so influential on Jordan’s life.

Wingfield, who still lives in central Arkansas, devoted his career to giving students the support they needed for the challenges they faced. He said a lot of people want to make a difference.

“The counseling services, to me, is a really excellent way to do that,” he said.

UALR’s counseling services staff members are available to meet with students to discuss just about any topic in a secure, confidential manner, Kirk said. The department can be reached at 501.569.3185.

Thanks to the donation from the Adam J. Weissman Foundation, UALR has more resources to assist future students.

“It was a great gift,” Wingfield said.

Story published on UALR Now.

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