Dr. Edward Serna, interim chancellor, and other representatives from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith touted the university’s workforce education programs at the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce’s First Friday Breakfast Friday morning (Nov. 2).
“We offer a suite of services to our local businesses,” Serna said, saying workforce development is one of the core components of the university.
Serna referenced the university’s new mission statement — UAFS will be a national center for preparing students for workforce mobility through education and professional development while serving as the thought leader in the region’s workforce training — as proof of the university’s commitment to companies in the region.
Dr. Debbie Koch, associate professor of nursing in the College of Health Sciences at UAFS, updated the room on the school’s various programs.
“(In the bachelor of science in nursing program), 100 percent of graduates seeking employment are hired before or upon graduation,” Koch. “Our graduates are earnestly sought not just in Fort Smith and regionally but in Texas and Missouri as well.”
She said 10% of all nurses in Arkansas have been educated at UAFS. An accelerated nursing program, supported by Mercy Fort Smith and Sparks Regional Medical Center, and the practical nursing program offered to high school students through the Western Arkansas Technical Center provide the region with more available nurses, Koch said.
“Upon graduation from the (practical nursing) program and reaching 18 years of age, these graduates may sit for the practical nursing and licensing exam and get a job with a make $40,000 as a base salary. How many high school graduates do you know who can immediately get a job upon graduation making $40,000 a year?” Koch said.
Students in the College of Health Sciences also help with the health of the community, Koch said, noting the After School Smile program manned by dental hygiene students as just one example.
Dave Robertson, director of the Family Enterprise Center and the Center for Business and Professional Development at UAFS, said the Center for Business and Professional Development develops the workforce of the future while working with the workforce in the region to better meet companies’ needs. The center offers programs for certificates of proficiency, technical certificates, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees.
“There are lots of opportunities for young people and those already working to come back and get a certificate,” Robertson said, who said grant programs allow the center to help Fort Smith area workers even more.
The Job Driven National Emergency Grant, a two-year-grant offered a few years ago, allowed the center to put 136 displaced workers through training resulting in 113 of those who completed the training finding employment, Robertson said. Office Skills Development grants through Arkansas Department of Career Education helps the center provide training for local business and industries, Robertson said, noting the center works with those businesses to train employees in many areas during times convenient to them.
On the other side of the coin, Ron Orick, UAFS executive director of Career Services and director of the Doug and Kathy Babb Center for Student Professional Development, discussed the university’s distinction of professional development program for students at UAFS. The program connects students with area business through workshops, mock interviews, mixers and more, Orick said.
Of the approximate 100 students who have received the distinction of professional development certificate, almost all have been placed in a job, Orick said.
“It is very rewarding to see the students start (in) their sophomore year when they are too nervous even to walk into the room where the employers are to leaving with a top notch job,” he said.