There is excitement on campus as we begin a new school year. No matter how many “first days of school” one experiences, the promise and potential of each is marked by embracing our goals anew. Over the summer, at every campus department retreat, the administration, faculty and staff reaffirmed our ongoing priorities:
- Promote enrollment growth and improve retention
- Improve “customer” service
- Reaffirm commitment to liberal education with curriculum revolution and opportunities for Signature Experiences
- Hold true to our urban metropolitan mission
- Improve campus appearance and campus climate
- Support and celebrate NCAA Division 1 Athletics
- Build our “ALL IN” Capital Campaign
- Enhance focus on student success
New projects set in motion last term will be realized this semester, including the installation of the Joe Jones mural at UA Little Rock Downtown, which is projected to open in mid-November. We envision the space as a recruitment space, an event space, and a classroom for relevant downtown lectures. This dream realized will make the university visible and accessible in the heart of the River Market but also serve as a destination for inspiration, a place of civic reflection, and a vital, functioning, advertisement for the university.
For the past two years, I have showcased the value of UA Little Rock to the City of Little Rock. Our future and the city’s future are integrally linked. This message is gaining traction! Some of you may have noticed evidence of this in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Columnists Rex Nelson and Wally Hall are writing about us in ways they have never done before. It’s crucial the city recognizes this great university, and the support of these columnists is key to transforming the perception of UA little Rock for anyone who has not experienced how great this university is. Rex Nelson is committed, as am I, to the aspirational goal of making Little Rock a college town.
Over the summer we have boosted our community partnerships. We have renewed our contract with Rock Region Metro to provide free transport on all metro buses to students, staff, and faculty. This is in line with making the university affordable for our commuter students. We also have established a relationship with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra to provide free tickets for all of our freshman for every performance the entire season. We have expanded our nursing program – first with a partnership with CHI St. Vincent and now with a new partnership with Saline Memorial to train cohorts of nurses from these two hospitals. We are also committed to expanding our Benton campus to serve place-bound students by offering three complete degree programs and two associate programs starting this fall.
I am pleased with our progress with campus improvements. We are chipping away at our deferred maintenance and have almost completed renovation of the physics and astronomy building, courtesy of bond money. The Donaghey Student Center will soon get a new roof – also courtesy of bond money.
We are starting construction on a new collaborative classroom in the library that will be a high-tech innovative teaching space, thanks to generous funding from Ottenheimer Foundation. Renovation of the Field House, the home of our coaches’ offices and weight rooms in the Student Center will begin soon, with generous funding from the Donaghey Foundation. We have also completed a University Police substation on Fair Park Boulevard. This high-profile operation will help safeguard this edge of the campus close to our residences.
I am sure you have read about the establishment of a new wrestling program at UA Little Rock. We will soon begin the construction of a state-of-the-art wrestling training facility. This is made possible by a generous gift from Greg and Lee Hatcher. We have hired a coach, Neil Erisman, who is already working on establishing a world-class program here. Beginning fall 2019, we will have the only NCAA Division 1 wrestling program in Arkansas. Since announcing our intention to start wrestling, we have had more than 700,000 impressions on Twitter and have 4,930 followers, which is 550 more than for men’s basketball! And speaking of basketball, we encourage you to get your season tickets. We are looking forward to our inaugural season with Coach Darrell Walker, and the legacy of Trojan Pride will continue with Coach Joe Foley and our women’s championship basketball team.
A report update about the football feasibility study is now available, and we have formed a working group that will review this substantial report over the coming months before making their recommendation.
And finally, thanks to Chancellor’s Circle funding, our commitment to the teacher-scholar model is encouraging an increasing number of students to embark on a Signature Experience. Last year we funded an additional 80 signature experiences for students, who each received up to $1,000 to cover the cost of materials for this one-semester project in research or creative works. The impressive results were presented in posters at our annual Research and Creative Works Showcase. See Janessa’s article in this month’s newsletter to learn more about our focus on research. Thank you again for your support of our work and of this university.