As Chancellor Andrew Rogerson welcomed faculty and staff to a new academic year at UA Little Rock during the Faculty and Staff Convocation on Aug. 16, he updated the campus community on the state of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
His address included updates on new campus initiatives to address falling enrollment, the status of several campus renovation projects, changes in campus athletics, and updates on fundraising and research.
UA Little Rock formed a new recruitment committee and retention committee over the summer with the goal of increasing student enrollment on campus.
“Our attention was highly focused on increasing the yield of applicants for this coming fall and looking at ways to do business differently in the year ahead,” Rogerson said. “This is our focus: increasing enrollment and moving forward sustainably, while remaining true to the mission of UA Little Rock, a university that continues to offer possibility and promise to so many.
“Academic year 2018-19 has been a time of self-imposed inquiry and evaluation for our campus. Collectively, we have wrestled with a myriad of challenges. UA System budget and policy changes, the main one being a focus on our net position, required us to make $6 million in cuts before this July.”
The Office of Communications and Marketing, Financial Aid, and Admissions implemented a campaign to encourage people to register for fall classes with the encouragement of removing the scholarship application deadline. Ads placed on social media, billboards, and digital channels resulted in 7,900 visits to the university’s website, 708 inquires, and 365 registered students.
Additionally, Communications and Marketing has been conducting focus groups with internal and external audiences to gather data to create a new brand messaging strategy that will be launched later this fall.
An agreement was reached with eStem Public Charter Schools to provide temporary space for dining and recess for the more than 500 high school students who go to school on UA Little Rock’s campus. Last year, overcrowding was a problem in the Donaghey Student Center.
“This agreement will eliminate congestion in our student center. We shall work hard over the coming year to find a longer-term solution to ensure sustainability for both institutions,” Rogerson said.
Rogerson congratulated UA Little Rock’s women’s basketball and soccer teams, both 2018-19 season Sun Belt Conference championship winners. He also introduced Bob Denman, who will serve as the interim vice chancellor and director of athletics.
This fall, UA Little Rock has become the only college or university in Arkansas to offer Division 1 wrestling. Thanks to the generosity of Greg Hatcher, UA Little Rock has hired Neil Erisman as head wrestling coach, brought 30 wrestling student-athletes to campus, and recently completed construction of a state-of-the-art wrestling training facility.
“With an award-winning coach from Oklahoma State, and our acceptance into the prestigious Pac-12 Conference, a new exciting Trojan pathway has emerged, and we are attracting top wrestlers,” Rogerson said. “Our donor-funded Hatcher Wrestling Center is ready, and we can now compete with teams like Stanford and Arizona.”
With the addition of wrestling, UA Little Rock is now home to nearly 250 student-athletes on campus with some of the highest academic achievements in the Sun Belt Conference. UA Little Rock’s student-athletes have an average GPA of 3.36 and average graduation rate of 82 percent.
Fundraising and Research
UA Little Rock raised more than $20 million during fiscal year 2019, an 11 percent increase over last year. This is the third consecutive year of gift growth. New endowments totaled $2,774,937, bringing UA Little Rock’s total endowment to more than $80 million.
Rogerson also highlighted the work of faculty members who received research grants and contracts during the 2018-19 academic year, noting that faculty brought in around $32 million in grants and contracts.
“Dr. Alex Biris, for example, heads our nanotechnology center. Working at the molecular level, he has developed scaffolding for regenerating bone loss in gaps up to 10 cm, as is often the case after traumatic injuries,” Rogerson said. “Although the center runs many research projects, his bone work has resulted in a spinoff company, NuShores, and substantial external funding over the last five years totaling $23 million. Another Arkansas Research Alliance fellow, Dr. Nitin Agarwal, has just landed a $2.4 million dollar cybersecurity award from the Department of Defense.”
Last year, donors funded 140 signature experiences for students at UA Little Rock. These one-semester-long experiences create a unique opportunity for undergraduates to gain creative and professional experience. The Signature Experience program continues to grow. This year, donors have provided $175,000 to fund 175 $1,000 signature experiences.
“These programs help students connect with their majors, develop skills, and ignite the ambition for graduate school,” Rogerson said. “We are committed to serving this region with graduates equipped for the innovation required to thrive in the 21st century.”
The UA Little Rock campus had undergone a number of renovations and improvements over the past year. These campus improvement projects include:
Renovation of the Physics and Astronomy Building and Stabler Hall
Installation of a new roof on the Donaghey Student Center
Renovation of the athletic space in the Donaghey Student Center, including coaching offices, meeting spaces, and a weight training facility
Installation of a technology-rich, collaborative classroom in Ottenheimer Library
Renovation of the Trojan Café and addition of a game room in the Donaghey Student Center
“Our grounds team and beautification committee have worked to improve the look of the campus, improving landscaping, as funds permit,” Rogerson said. “Every step we take propels us to innovate. At the same time, we seek to address how to move forward sustainability.”
One of the university’s major accomplishments of the year was the opening of UA Little Rock Downtown in January 2019. The 4,000-square-foot space is divided into two sections. The front area is used for recruitment, specialized events, and college and community lectures, while the back area houses the historic Joe Jones Mural and has become a “space for civic reflection and appreciation of an important work of art.”
“We wanted to create a space that honored the past, engaged the present, and imagined the future,” Rogerson said. “That is what this multi-use space reflects.”
Since its launch, UA Little Rock has hosted 72 events with more than 2,100 attendees. These events have included college access events, K-12 discussions, and numerous community business meetings. UA Little Rock Downtown also hosted a Wednesday night lecture series to explore important research and community work being done by faculty members, with seven new presentations lined up for the fall.
In the upper photo, Chancellor Andrew Rogerson presents to faculty and staff during the 2019 Faculty and Staff Convocation. Photo by Ben Krain.