The largest single gift in the 94-year history of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith will double the number of nurses educated at the university and expand the Windgate Art and Design building on the university’s campus.
UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley announced Friday (Sept. 9) an $18.7 million gift from the Windgate Foundation that will empower the university’s nursing and visual arts programs. The gift addresses critical needs in the Fort Smith metro, creating a pathway to dramatically increase nursing graduates and cultivating an immersive arts experience for students and the public through the expansion of the Windgate Art and Design building and its offerings, press information from the university said.
“This (Windgate) foundation has walked hand-in-hand with us for so many years, and I take a lot of pride in their trust in us,” Riley said. “In some ways, I think they can dream bigger than even we do. And to dream big dreams to improve our community together is so special.”
More than $9.9 million of the Windgate Foundation’s gift will be dedicated to the immediate and sustained expansion of the UAFS Nursing program, Riley said. UAFS Associate Dean Dr. Paula Julian said the gift will create a new beginning for UAFS nursing by affording it the opportunity to address the challenge of access to health care by educating and training registered nurses.
“In communication with our clinical partners, we know the hospitals here in Fort Smith need twice as many nurses as they have. Expand that regionally, and as I said, this is the biggest nursing shortage of our lifetime,” Julian said.
An initial investment of close to $4 million will allow the university to hire 27 additional faculty immediately while expanding and equipping simulation labs to maximize existing infrastructure. This is expected to serve an additional 200 students annually in the university’s bachelors of science in nursing (BSN) programs, which include traditional and accelerated options. Julian said the gift will allow the university to offer competitive salaries, which will help greatly.
“We have a distinctive nursing program that has been known across the state as offering a truly exceptional education,” Riley said. “The brightest, most dedicated nursing students in the region choose UAFS because they know they’re going to get the best education right here in Fort Smith.
“But like other universities, we share a difficulty in recruiting and retaining the exceptional faculty members who teach in this program, especially amid a global pandemic. Nationally, nursing faculty have been drawn away from academia by high salaries at hospitals and a call to do the important work of caring for patients during this time of crisis, so the financial means to recruit and retain the devoted educators who will train the next generation of qualified nurses is critical to expansion.”
Phase one will involve hiring 11 bachelors of science in nursing (BSN) faculty and serving 150 students annually to expand the existing program; hiring 16 new BSN faculty and serving 48 students annually to expand the accelerated BSN program; and adding a new simulation.
“By 2024, I envision UAFS as competitive as any imaginable institution when hiring new nursing faculty members – and that means that our students, who already pay the lowest tuition in the state for a four-year degree, will also have access to the best possible education and educators,” Riley said, noting that the university anticipates doubling in the number of nurses it produces at all levels.
ADVANCED NURSING SUPPORT
The second phase of investment will allow the university to add two new proposed degrees back into its curriculum – an associate degree of nursing (ADN) and an RN-to-BSN pathway. UAFS discontinued its ADN program 10 years ago and its RN-to-BSN program two years ago, Julian said. Building out the ADN and RN-to-BSN programs will take approximately two to two and half years to operationalize.
“Reintroducing these really is the foundation of what we are doing here,” said Dr. D. Antonio “Dean” Cantu, dean of the College of Health, Education, and Human Sciences. “It’s creating different methods to meet the students or prospective students where they are.”
Presuming all new programs are approved, the university will hire eight new ADN faculty to teach 60 students annually and five new RN-BSN faculty to teach 40 students annually. In total, 40 new faculty members will be hired over the two phases, with programs expected to graduate close to 300 additional nurses per year once complete – more than doubling the size of the nursing program and near-fully meeting the vacancy rate of regional hospitals, university-provided information said.
“With this gift, the Windgate Foundation is investing in a prominent need across the United States,” Riley said. “They are empowering this institution and indeed this region to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty members who will help us continue our legacy as the highest quality nursing education. And I think it means that they value what we contribute already, and they trust us to continue that legacy.”
The other part of the Windgate gift will focus on the university’s visual arts program. More than $8.8 million will allow the institution to expand the Windgate Art and Design building, enabling a more immersive public experience of the space and holistic fine arts studios for students and faculty.
“This gift will meaningfully augment every aspect of our department: The ways we educate students in each of our degree programs, the scope of our exhibitions and art collections, and the services and programming we can offer to the River Valley region and to broader art communities,” said Katie Waugh, head of Art and Design at UAFS. “This will shape not only how we address our current needs, but will also substantially inform our trajectory going forward.”
Prior to the gift, the Windgate Foundation awarded more than $25 million to UAFS in support of the Windgate Art and Design building and endowment, visual arts and design programming, and a comprehensive scholarship endowment for high-need students.
The 58,000-square-foot Windgate Art & Design Building, located on the UAFS campus at the intersection of Kincaid Avenue and Waldron Road, was the first building to be constructed as part of the university’s new master plan. It was completed in 2015 and brought all art department programs under one roof. Funding for the facility was provided by a $15.5 million gift from the Windgate Charitable Foundation. However, the foundation challenged UAFS to raise $2.5 million in private support to help establish an endowment for the facility.
Beginning in 2023, UAFS Art and Design will begin a physical expansion of the Windgate Building and an expansion of curricular offerings through both new courses and broadened existing courses, including book arts, 3D design, art history, graphic design, gallery and collections, museum preparator training, sculpture, ceramics, and digital fabrication. Construction is tentatively scheduled to be completed by fall 2024, Waugh said.
A Book Arts Center will further open access to the public. The center will advance the study and practice of book arts in a way that will be as unique as it is remarkable and will bolster what is already one of the most well-equipped Book Arts studios in the region. Additional workshop spaces, accessible entrances, and common areas throughout the building will further public collaboration with students, faculty, and alums.
“We aim to develop workshops and educational opportunities, fostering new passions in the field while also serving as an important resource to those who are well-established,” Waugh said.