Dr. Wesley Kluck did not have a restful 2020. As university physician and vice president for student development at Ouachita, he led the university’s health efforts in response to COVID-19, chairing Ouachita’s Health Monitoring and Action Team (HMAT).
In the midst of a pandemic, Ouachita’s progress makes us an encouraging outlier in higher education. While total university enrollment in the country continues to decrease, Ouachita increases – our highest in 20 years. We’re also graduating students at our highest level in history plus a placement rate of 97%.
As we chose the theme for this issue of the Ouachita Circle, no words seemed sufficient. Even words that were accurate and appropriate had lost their meaning, becoming clichés in our collective consciousness. However, what we have done in 2020 as a global society and here at Ouachita, was truly unprecedented – both for the challenges we faced and the triumphs big and small that we achieved along the way.
Ask Dr. Ruth Plymale what she loves about Ouachita, and her answer is easy – the students! Born in Japan and growing up in Texas and Northwest Arkansas, Plymale arrived at Ouachita to teach biology in 2009 after earning degrees at the University of Arkansas and Penn State. Now Arkadelphia feels like home and her students like family.
While many of us were home in March learning to bake homemade bread or binging Netflix, Dr. Rob Hewell was working swiftly with IT Services and other campus partners to shift every Ouachita student to remote learning. Hewell thrived not only assisting current students but also faculty and staff with moving courses to Zoom and Moodle while continuing his typical daily work with students in Ouachita’s online degree programs.
"2020: The Worst Year Ever,” declared the Dec. 14 Time magazine cover. Thinking in terms of “worst” primes us to dwell on all that went wrong this year. Thinking of the ways 2020 is unprecedented invites us to acknowledge the negatives but to be grateful, too, for the good in this very challenging year.
The sports world has been no stranger to the impact of COVID-19. Seasons have been postponed, shortened and canceled. Teams have been forced to alter the way they prepare and what they even prepare for. Athletes, coaches and entire teams have been quarantined. An ever-changing understanding of an invisible opponent has led to frustration both for those who just want to play and coach the games they love and for the diehard fans left with empty spaces in their hearts and their weekends.
Dr. Allyson Phillips began her studies in psychology assuming her path would lead her to counseling, but a professor encouraged her along the way to consider focusing on research. It was Ouachita’s empirical approach to studying psychology, research and observation-based learning that drew her to OBU. She now serves as assistant professor of psychology and chair of the Department of Psychology.
It's the morning of the 2019 Battle of the Ravine football matchup, a tiebreaker year. A Henderson State win will force a shared Great American Conference (GAC) title; a Ouachita win will mean an outright championship for the Tigers, their third consecutive GAC title.
What is the value of the Ouachita experience? It depends on who you ask. Students and parents are pleased that Niche.com ranks Ouachita #1 for “Best Value” among Arkansas universities. This helps explain why our undergraduate enrollment increased 4.5% the last three years while overall statewide enrollment decreased 16% the last decade.
Establishing the first full master’s degree in applied behavior analysis (ABA) in Arkansas is a significant milestone for Ouachita as well as for families across the state. The university’s Master of Science degree in ABA officially launched in May and is designed to address a critical shortage of trained Board-Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) throughout the region. Graduates will be equipped to provide therapy options to treat such issues as autism, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Lewis Shepherd returned to his alma mater in August as special assistant to the president. In an interview for the Winter 2021 Circle, Dr. Shepherd answers questions about his new role, conversations he is having with students and alumni of color and university goals for working toward a sense of belonging on campus.
Ouachita’s progress in recent years reflects the input and ideas from listening to responses from two questions in regard to our future: “What shouldn’t change?” and “What should change?” A part of our listening includes hearing the voices of our students and alumni of color. Until we listen, we can’t understand how to make Ouachita a place where belonging is central to an outstanding educational experience.
Seven years ago, Christa Neal was named executive director of the newly established Percy and Donna Malone Child Safety Center in Arkadelphia. There wasn’t a “center” to speak of at the time, just a vision of helping children who were victims of abuse or maltreatment in the area. Soon, a location would be found, Neal would grow funding and support and families would gain much needed services.
In August 2020, the Ouachita Student Foundation (OSF) announced that its flagship event, Tiger Tunes, would be adapted due to COVID-19 with the theme “Tunes REWIND” and showcase recordings of favorite shows from years past in a single virtual event instead of its usual live, three-night format.
Only days after typically bitter December weather, 213 Ouachita graduates walked under a beautiful cloudless blue sky on Benson-Williams Field at Cliff Harris Stadium to receive their diplomas. Saturday, Dec. 5, marked nearly seven months since the class of 2020’s original May commencement date, which was canceled due to COVID-19 last spring.
As a first-generation college student himself, James Richards said that helping other first-generation students navigate paying for and getting settled into college was a perfect fit. “I believe this job was sent from the Lord,” James shared. “I wasn’t looking for new opportunities when Karen and Brant Matros shared this opportunity with me. I love what I get to do every day now at Ouachita.”
More striking than the elegant setting or carefully prepared meal were these words – spoken with a tone of admiration and, on several occasions, muffled by tears – recognizing three women at the 10th anniversary Stepping Up for Ouachita luncheon.
I’ve thought a lot about value over the last few months – what I value, what value Ouachita offers, the definition of the word itself.
When former Ouachita football star Cliff Harris is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later this year, you can bet that he will be thinking about his late father, O.J. “Buddy” Harris.
The Ouachita Circle is a publication of Ouachita Baptist University’s Office of Alumni Relations and Office of Communications & Marketing.
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