Dr. Trey Berry, president of Southern Arkansas University, enthusiastically shared that the University continues to see growth in the midst of the pandemic and a low number of positive COVID-19 cases. Berry made the remarks in his report to the SAU Board of Trustees on Wednesday, April 14, in a virtual session.
The Board welcomed two new members, Laura Winning of Little Rock and Nathan Evers of El Dorado, and heard an update from Dr. Jason Morrison, chancellor of SAU Tech. Following, trustees adjourned into a private session for board training.
Berry thanked all faculty and staff for their inspiring work in keeping SAU and SAU Tech safe during the pandemic. As of Wednesday morning, there were zero positive COVID-19 cases on or off-campus and zero quarantine cases. “It can’t get any better than that,” said Berry. “This is truly a testament to all of us working together.”
Progress continues to be made on the vaccine front at SAU, with all faculty and staff who have expressed a desire to have the vaccine receiving it. More and more students are receiving the vaccine every week, he said. Berry praised University Health Services as well as Dr. Donna Allen, vice president for Student Affairs, for orchestrating the many vaccine clinics on campus. “It really is a great thing to see,” said Berry of the vaccination efforts, which will continue through the semester and into the summer. “We will continue monitoring the success of the vaccine and the course of the virus,” he said.
The goal is to move the campus toward a normal fall semester. “We are doing all we can to move toward in-person classes,” Berry said. “We are getting there.”
Though all universities face unprecedented recruitment challenges due to the pandemic, Berry is encouraged by an uptick in campus tours and the admissions staff’s innovations in reaching high school students. Berry was enthusiastic about graduate school enrollment.
“Those numbers continue to grow,” he said of graduate programs and students. “We are seeing promising signs for the fall.”
He shared that several of SAU’s graduate programs have been recognized nationally, with both the Master of Arts in Teaching and the Master of Science in Computer and Information Science ranked fifth nationally. The Master of Science in Kinesiology and Coaching was also ranked first nationally. The MBA program was ranked the most affordable in Arkansas.
“These are great signs and another reason our programs are growing even in the pandemic,” Berry said.
Berry announced that SAU Nursing graduates achieved a 100 percent first-time pass rate on the NCLEX licensure exam on the academic front. And, for the first time, 100 percent of all graduating SAU pre-med students who applied have been accepted into medical schools.
Thirty-two doctoral students have been accepted into the new Rural and Diverse Educational Leadership Ed.D. program, which begins this fall. “This is the first class, and we are extremely excited,” Berry said. The significance of the program in the students’ lives “speaks to what our mission is all about,” he said.
The new band rehearsal hall is now in use, and the new College of Education building is expected to be finished by May 1. Berry expressed enthusiasm for the new Indoor Practice Facility, which will be available to all athletic programs, the band, and the community at large. Berry noted private donations from alumni funded the construction of the facility.
Though the past year proved challenging for athletics, spring sports are back in action at SAU, with track, tennis, baseball, and golf in full swing. Berry looks forward to SAU hosting the GAC Championship Track meet that will bring thousands of visitors to Magnolia. He said the Mulerider men’s basketball team recently won the Eastern Division of the GAC for the first time in 31 years.
Turning to the budget process, Berry said SAU is in a fortunate position given the challenges faced by other universities in the pandemic. The budget committee is having “good, frank discussions,” and the budget should be presented to the Board in June.
Berry informed the Board that Bryant native and Marine Biology major Whitney Brown was named Disc Golf Individual Women’s Champion at a national disc golf competition in North Carolina, where the men’s and women’s teams competed last week. And Malli Dooly of Emerson takes the reins as SAU’s new Mulerider mascot.
Morrison said that SAU Tech has no on-campus positive cases or any students isolated or in quarantine in his report. SAU Tech has orchestrated several vaccination clinics for area industries, often serving as the host site. Tech continues to reach out to students, faculty, and staff with education about the vaccine.
Tech has seen increases in tours and applications and offers such recruitment opportunities as Welding Wednesdays and Tuesdays at Tech.
Tech’s men’s basketball team recently brought home the Region II championship in only their second year of eligibility. The team will play in the national tournament on April 20, facing off against some of the best in the country. The team is the No. 12 seed and will play the No. 1 team in the nation. “This is historical for this institution,” Morrison enthused. “We’ve dominated in the state, and we are extremely proud of what our student athletes have done in a short period of time.”