“There’s no doubt about that,” said Dr. Trey Berry, president of SAU, during Wednesday’s dedication of the new Engineering Building, formerly the National Guard Armory. “It’s been a long road,” he said of getting the building ready, “but we’re here.”
Distinguished guests included Fourth District Congressman Bruce Westerman – an engineer by training – state and local officials, area public schools and chambers of commerce, and Arkansas National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Mark Berry. President Berry announced that the interior of the building would be named the Robert and Edna (Cook) Norvell Center, in honor of a gift of more than $1 million by the alumna. Funds from this endowment will benefit future students in the form of what will be known as NORCO SAU Engineering Scholarships.
“This day is not just about the dedication of a building,” Berry said, “it’s about students living and learning here for generations to come.”
Berry thanked the SAU Board of Trustees for “believing in this project and its impact from the very, very beginning.” He also acknowledged SAU President Emeritus Dr. David Rankin, “whose vision for the Engineering program four years ago led us to today.” He also thanked the SAU Foundation Board and the College of Science and Engineering for supporting the project. “Their dogged determination made this program happen,” Berry said of the College.
“We had planned to build a $2.2-million engineering building that would have been half this size,” Berry said. “And then we heard that the Armory was slated for closing. SAU has had a connection with the National Guard that goes back long before this building was built in 1976. This gift, Gen. Berry, was truly a blessing. To have this facility right in the middle of campus, literally double the size of what we were hoping for, saved us about $1 million. It’s the perfect building.”
Berry said that in 2017, the old skating rink, or “Mule Barn,” will be turned into a 78-bed residence hall for engineering and science students. “Living and learning for engineering students is just about to expand,” he said.
Westerman told the large crowd that he was “excited to be here to celebrate this program.” He called the granting in 2015 of the armory back to SAU “a great story – this government property being used to further an extremely important degree field.”
A $1.4 million renovation project turned the former armory into the new state-of-the-art engineering facility neighboring the SAU Science Center. Six labs were created along with three large classrooms, and the motor pool has been converted to a machine shop for hands-on instruction and training.
Westerman joked that engineers are frequently referred to as “boss” just five years after they graduate. “There’s such a need for more engineers. Being able to produce these graduates will have a huge impact on the local economy.”
He said engineering teaches students “how to solve problems – how to break problems down, be discerning and come up with a reasonable answer. The fruits of this program might not be realized for many years, but you can take satisfaction knowing it will do good things for this community for years to come.”
Junior engineering student Aaron Stanich spoke on behalf of his fellow students in the program. He told donors that thanks to their generosity the program has “evolved drastically.”
He said the extra space the new building provides is vital to the program. “We have five labs that allow for more specific work that relate to jobs we’ll all be looking for in the marketplace,” he said. “We now have a room dedicated just for 3-D printing that is always open for student use.”
Industry partners were represented by Colin Sterling, Camden site director of Lockheed Martin, which provides internship opportunities for SAU students and resources for the engineering program.
“As Dr. Berry talked about the contributions that Mrs. Norvell made to this facility, I couldn’t help but think what a pioneer she was,” Sterling said. “I can’t imagine the impact she had on the lives of the students she taught around the world. I’m really grateful to her today.”
Sterling said Lockheed Martin has helped provide engineering students with what they need to know “to hit the ground running” when they are ready to enter the job market. Internships such as those provided by Lockheed Martin can give students “an extra edge” in finding jobs.
He said donors should be “tremendously proud” of the program and the new building, and that SAU has done well in generating programs that meet the needs of companies like Lockheed Martin. “Qualified candidates are needed for Lockheed Martin to be successful,” Sterling said. “This truly makes South Arkansas more attractive for employers who may be looking to come to the state.”
Dr. Scott McKay, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, spoke about the features of the new facility. “I want to thank all those who contributed to this day,” he said. “This building is the cornerstone of future economic growth. This facility … will provide unprecedented opportunities for collaboration. Let’s put them to work.”
McKay said the “industry-grade equipment” makes collaboration possible with industries and entrepreneurs. “From concept to production, we’re here to help.”
SAU Engineering, which started fall of 2014, has seen steady enrollment growth. Enrollment numbers for fall 2016 show close to 200 declared majors, up from 172 in fall 2015.
The popularity of SAU Engineering, the only such program in all of south Arkansas and most affordable in the state, is due to many reasons, according to Berry. Strong industry support since the program’s inception has offered students internships and job opportunities. This support has also translated into more than $400,000 in gifts and grants from industry partners to provide the program with the latest technologies and equipment so students enter the workforce with hands-on experience.
SAU Engineering offers several areas of emphasis, including Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Engineering Technology, and a new Welding Engineering Technology program developed by the SAU System. This new program is started this fall and is one-of-a-kind in Arkansas and among only a few in the country. The Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved SAU’s addition of a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics with an option in Welding Engineering Technology at the Board’s April 22 meeting. This integrated program utilizes the strengths of both SAU and SAU Tech and will provide highly skilled welding supervisors for the region’s aerospace defense and oil and gas industries.