The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff hosted state dignitaries and local elected officials Friday morning including Gov. Mike Beebe, University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt and Interim Director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education Shane Broadway, as part of the groundbreaking ceremony for the new STEM Academy and Conference Center that will be constructed along L. A. “Prexy” Davis Drive adjacent to the HPER Complex.
UAPB interim chancellor Calvin Johnson spoke to a crowd that included the student body of the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] Academy.
“Today is a great day at UAPB,” Johnson said. “I bring you greetings and great joy. The process that has brought us to this day has been a collaborative and great effort. The hard work and perseverance of Mary Benjamin (principal investigator, UAPB STEM Scholars Academy) and others has brought us here. I thank them for their continuing emphasis on the STEM area of education at UAPB and throughout the Delta as well.”
“We are committed to helping our STEM Academy students find jobs in their fields of study,” Johnson said. “We have 213 students in the program, which is eight percent of the total student body. They average a 3.30 GPA and have an 87 percent retention rate. Twelve students are on track to graduate this fall and another 27 will graduate in the spring of 2013.”
STEM Academy Building Committee Chair and state Rep. Hank Wilkins thanked those responsible for the development of the STEM program at UAPB.
“I want to thank Dr. Benjamin and Chancellor Johnson for the hard work they have put in and I thank the UAPB faculty for their vision and insight into developing a program that is good for UAPB as well as the rest of Southeast Arkansas,” Wilkins said. “I am reminded of a verse from the Book of Jeremiah; to give you a future with hope. The new STEM Academy building is part of a larger vision of hope for UAPB, Pine Bluff and the state of Arkansas.”
Charles R. Colen Jr., chair of the Department of Mathematics and Technology, said that he has been part of the STEM program at UAPB since 2003.
“This is a historic occasion as we prepare to break ground on this 29,000 square foot facility to house our STEM program,” Colen said. “We hope to occupy it by the spring of 2014.”
Johnson once again assumed the podium to introduce Beebe.
“The governor’s support for this program is noteworthy because it places Arkansas with only a few other states that continue to fund education at the same levels that it has in the past,” Johnson said.
Beebe emphasized the importance of having a STEM program at a historically black university.
“Jobs in STEM-related fields are some of the most sought-after and well-paying jobs in the country,” Beebe said. “It is therefore appropriate and exciting that UAPB will provide minority representation in this field. As the high tech field continues to grow more complex with developments we could not have imagined even 10 years ago higher education must continue to provide the education and technical skills that students will need to succeed in this field.”
“The building is necessary to attract top faculty and to give the students what they need but it is what goes on inside the building that makes the difference,” Beebe said. “To all who had a hand in this I say congratulations.”
Broadway added his congratulations.
“This is truly a great day in the history of this institution,” Broadway said. “It is important that we inspire young people to look at these career fields. It’s about starting at an early age and encouraging and exciting students about careers in the STEM field.”
Bobbitt commended the foresight of those who conceived of the new building several years ago.
“The thing that jumps out at me is that planning doesn’t happen in a short period of time,” Bobbitt said. “It shows real courage and insight to think of this project when the way forward in terms of funding and other factors was not clear. This building will be a multiplier. Each graduate will impact many other people over the course of their life.”
Other dignitaries attending the groundbreaking included state Sen. Stephanie Flowers and Pine Bluff Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr.
The breaking of ground
The assembled dignitaries made their way about 80 feet from the speaker’s platform to an area of freshly turned dirt where each was given a golden hard hat and asked to take their positions behind a row of shovels.
As the Musical Marching Machine of the Mid-South percussion section tapped out a drum roll, the shovels hit the ground in unison and together tossed synchronized loads of soil, topped off by the requisite cymbal clap.
The project is expected to cost $8.2 million and will consist of two stories covering 29,000 square feet with construction expected to be completed by the spring of 2014.
Con-Real LP of Little Rock will manage the construction of the complex that was designed by Moody-Nolan and Woods Group Architects.
The project is primarily being funded by Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965 under the U.S. Department of Education’s Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities Program.