Building for brighter futures


As recently reported by The Commercial, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is ahead of schedule in its construction of the new STEM Academy facility. Space will be provided for a wet lab, computer lab, class/seminar rooms, student resource center, conference rooms and an 8,000-square-foot auditorium for large assemblies.

Con-Real LP of Little Rock is managing 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.

According to Mary Benjamin, vice chancellor for academic affairs, “We are about a week ahead of schedule thanks to the dry weather we’ve had,” Benjamin said Tuesday. “The foundation work is completed, the block wall is almost done and we are in the early stages of erecting steel.”

There’s more than a little metaphor in Benjamin’s observation. While the crews may be physically erecting the metal infrastructure of the building, the project represents much more. Their construction efforts will provide a home for young scholars — whose efforts will in turn provide a solid infrastructure for our communal future.

As we reported, the project, located on L. A. “Prexy” Davis Drive adjacent to the HPER Complex, is expected to cost $8.2 million and will consist of two stories covering 29,000 square feet. Green concepts are being incorporated into its design and construction.

We’re very happy to see more construction in Pine Bluff that incorporates green technology. Hopefully we will soon advance in our planning and construction ordinances such that all new buildings in Pine Bluff will utilize these environmentally responsible practices.

Speaking at the groundbreaking back in May, Interim Chancellor Calvin Johnson helped frame the initiative and its already swelling student body: “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 8 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.”

Gov. Mike Beebe was also present at the groundbreaking. He too championed the effort: “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.”

In her remarks earlier this week, Benjamin stated: “We are expecting the STEM Academy to be finished in April of next year. The conference center will be a little behind that. We hope that it will be finished next August. We are excited and our students can’t wait to begin their studies in the new building,” Benjamin said.

Nor can we. The more students we encourage (and support) in a STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), the more attractive our city will be for clean industries and their incumbent technical and professional jobs. These jobs mean more families, which mean better schools and neighborhoods.

While this is a sermon we routinely preach, it bears repeating — often and enthusiastically. For far too long we waited quietly, hoping some great outside force would come save us. While that would be a great thing if it happened, we have a responsibility to “grow our own” in the meantime.