University of Arkansas-Fort Smith receives largest monetary gift in school history

The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith plans to use the donation of $18.7 million, the largest in the school's history, to improve both its nursing and art and design programs.

The Windgate Foundation awarded UAFS the money after much discussion and a grant proposal requesting money to draw more students to both nursing and art and design.

The $9.9 million reserved for nursing will bring in new students and faculty. After speaking with the Fort Smith medical community, Paula Julian, the executive director of nursing, said that the area needs double the number of nurses it has. This is something that Julian hopes to address as more people join the nursing program and become eligible to practice nursing in the community.

“As I’ve said before, this is the greatest nursing shortage of our lifetime," Julian said.

For nursing, officials have divided the money into two phases. In the first phase, Julian expects to hire more than 20 nursing educators.

"So having this opportunity and this investment in the future of nursing education is beyond what I could imagine putting into words," Julian said.

Although the number of students in nursing dropped during the height of the pandemic, Julian said that numbers are rising back to pre-pandemic levels. There are about 200 students in the program.

The second phase of the plan creates two new degrees, the associate degree of nursing and the RN-to-BSN pathway.

Julian said that along with these new degrees, the school will offer classes at non-traditional hours such as evenings and weekends.

“So this very generous gift from Windgate Foundation will allow the university to expand both in our nursing and in our creative arts and art and design," Chancellor Terisa Riley said. "It is an incredible opportunity for us to meet the two greatest needs of any society. We need to have great health care, and we already produce great health care professionals out of our nursing program. This will allow us to produce more of them. You also know that the quality of life anywhere that you go is a critical element of why people move to a new town or community, and we are able to produce some of the best artists both in studio art and graphic design to support businesses and community investment and entertainment."

There is $8.8 million of the gift that is dedicated to art and design. In 2023, construction will begin on an expansion to the Windgate Building. Katie Waugh, the head of art and design at UAFS, tentatively expects the expansion to be complete in 2024. This new space will be partly used as studio space for faculty and students.

The department will also expand the number of classes it offers. Waugh said that with this money, UAFS will push into new disciplinary areas of art such as ceramics. The department now has about 140 students, but it is one of the fastest-growing departments in the university.

“As an artist and an educator it’s just extremely grateful, I’m just extremely grateful and excited about this idea that more students want to become artists and designers," Waugh said.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Windgate Foundation donates $18.7 million to UAFS, largest monetary gift