Congressman French Hill Leads Forum at Philander Smith College

U.S. Rep. French Hill (R-AR 2nd District) paid a visit to Philander Smith College on Monday, April 5th to hold a public affairs forum with students, faculty and administrators. The Congressman spoke about a range of issues including public-private partnerships, investment in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), student loan debt repayment programs, and the need for allied health care professionals in Central Arkansas, among other topics.

In his fourth term, Hill serves as the Co-Chair to the Bipartisan and Bicameral Congressional HBCU Caucus. In 2019, he hosted a summit on HBCUs in Little Rock that attracted participants from across the state and nation. He also supported the permanent reauthorization of more than $250 million in funding for HBCUs.

“We appreciate the focus and work of Congressman Hill in support of the nation’s most venerable institutions,” said Philander Smith College President Roderick Smothers Sr. “He has certainly been an unwavering advocate of Arkansas’s HBCU delegation, so it is not surprising that he would engage our scholars in dialogue about critical issues impacting their lives and our communities.”

The Congressman praised Philander Smith for its history of preparing young people for careers that will allow them to benefit not only Central Arkansas but communities across the nation. He also encouraged students to communicate the “value proposition” of HBCUs to corporate entities as they seek professional opportunities. 

 “I have been a champion for HBCU schools and students, and I am excited to continue to serve the HBCU communities in Congress,” Hill said. 

Hill engaged with students at the invitation of Dr. Daniel Egbe, Chair of the Division of Social Sciences at Philander Smith College. Several PSC students greeted Hill, including SGA President Keilan Patterson, SGA Chaplain J’Nya Thompson, Miss PSC Jerrin Cooper, and Mister PSC Terrian Livingston. Sophomore Class President Imri Davis introduced the Congressman.

Gift Celebrates Iconic Philander Smith Alumnus

On the heels of Black History Month, Philander Smith College is pleased to announce a $25,000 gift from Rush and Linda Harding of Little Rock to honor Scipio A. Jones who attended the institution in 1883.  Later this year, a commissioned portrait of Jones – painted by Wade Hampton, a Little Rock native now living in New York City – will be hung in the downtown Little Rock post office that bears the name of the pioneering civil rights lawyer.

The lead gift to fund the project, which is estimated at a total of $50,000, is being made by the Hardings who, as longtime supporters, have strong ties to Philander Smith.  A former member of the College’s Board of Trustees, in 2018, Rush Harding was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the institution for his valued service and financial contributions.

“Dr. Rush and Linda Harding have been staunch supporters of Philander Smith College for a very long time,” said Roderick L. Smothers, Sr. president of Philander Smith College. “Their latest act of generosity to ensure that a portrait of our alumnus, Scipio A. Jones, is placed in the post office that bears his name is just another example of how they continuously seek ways to lift up Philanderians and our institution.”

Born to an enslaved person in Tulip, Ark., Scipio Africanus Jones attended Walden Seminary (now Philander Smith College) before receiving his bachelor’s degree from Shorter College in North Little Rock. Denied admittance to law school because of his race, Jones passed the Arkansas Bar in 1889 after serving legal apprenticeships and was admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court bar in 1905.

Jones is perhaps best known for his skillful dense of the Elaine 12 during the Elaine Race Riots of 1919 when twelve Black sharecroppers were wrongly charged and sentenced to death by an all-white jury for their alleged involvement in the murder of a white man. As another 87 other Black men were convicted for participating in the ensuing riots, Jones was hired as the defense attorney for all 99 of the convicted men in a case that was heard before the United States Supreme Court.

“In 1969, I was in the first totally integrated class in Clarendon, Ark., where I am from. Elaine schools played in Clarendon’s conference in sports and I have vivid memories of my Black teammates being apprehensive about traveling there to play because their grandparents shared with them what took place in 1919,” said Rush Harding.  “This is why as stakeholders in Philander Smith College, Linda and I are honored to make this gift to honor such a distinguished Arkansan and Philander Smith alumnus.”

Signed into law in December 2020, it was legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. French Hill (R-AR) that is allowing the Scipio A. Jones Post Office Building located at 1700 Main Street in Little Rock, just minutes from the Philander Smith campus, to “accept and display” a portrait of Jones’ likeness.

Philander Smith College Ranked Among HBCUs with the Highest Four-Year Graduation Rates in the Nation by U.S. News and World Report

Philander Smith College has been ranked seventh among 41 HBCUs in the nation for the highest four-year graduation rates among first-time, full-time students who started in fall 2013. This ranking was announced by the U.S. News (and World Report) Short List, that magnifies data points in specific areas for colleges and universities across the country. 

 “It is extremely rewarding to have Philander Smith College recognized on a national level for the outstanding work done by our faculty on an ongoing basis. Our mission is to graduate academically accomplished students, grounded as advocates for social justice, determined to change the world for the better,” said Dr. Roderick L. Smothers Sr., President of Philander Smith College. “This report is another confirmation that we are achieving our mission,” he added.

Among the 41 ranked historically Black schools that provided this data to U.S. News in an annual survey, the average four-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students who started in fall 2013 was around 22%. However, at each of the 11 HBCUs with the highest four-year graduation rates, including ties, more than 30% of first-year students graduated within four years. Philander Smith College’s graduate rate is 35%.

Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer for Philander Smith College, Dr. Anthony B. Johnson  said, “ The Office for Academic Affairs and the faculty of the college support Philander Smith College’s mission and strive to foster an environment that is intentional, corrective, and forward in student development. The graduation of our students is the culmination of an environment that includes a rigorous curriculum, co-curricular and experiential activities, undergraduate research and internships, and leadership and cultural studies.”

Many of the nation’s most prominent African Americans earned their undergraduate degrees from historically Black colleges and universities, commonly known as HBCUs. These schools were established during the era of segregation to grant Black Americans academic opportunities they would otherwise have been denied due to discrimination. HBCUs have a significant track record of educating influential Black leaders.

Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the 15th Surgeon General of the United States and the first African American and the second female to head the U.S. Public Health Service; Lottie Shackleford, the first African American Mayor of Little Rock; and Robert Blue, former ExxonMobile executive and noted philanthropist are among many outstanding Philander alumni.  

According to U.S. News and World Report, how long it takes a student to graduate can depend on various factors. For instance, a student may elect to transfer to another school for a better fit, potentially increasing his or her time to graduation depending on how many credits are carried over. Academic struggles, changing or adding majors, financial difficulties or other personal challenges can also play a role in whether a student is able to graduate in four years.

For more information about the ranking, visit

Philander Smith College offers 20 undergraduate majors across five core academic divisions. For more information about admissions and enrollment, please visit  or call 501-370-5300. 

Philander Smith College Receives $65,000 HBCU Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative Grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Philander Smith College is pleased to announce that a $65,000 grant to support a Rehabilitation Plan for the Sherman E. Tate Student Recreation Center is being awarded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a part of its HBCU Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative program. Included in the award is a $5,000 grant from the Wunsch Americana Foundation and Chipstone Foundation that will be used to support a professional development opportunity for a Philander Smith College student.

“Philander Smith College is fortunate to have a number of beautiful and historic buildings on its campus, including the Tate Student Recreation Center which is such an important gathering place for our scholars,” said PSC President Roderick L. Smothers. “These critical funds will aid in the efforts toward its restoration and rehabilitation as we work in tandem with our alumni and other partners to preserve it for future generations.”

“Congratulations . . . The work your institution is doing to preserve its historic resources to tell the full American story is energizing and inspiring. We are looking forward to this new partnership and working with Philander Smith College,” said Katherine Malone France, Chief Preservation Officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Philander Smith College is only one of eight HBCUs across the nation to receive this inaugural grant. HBCUs have long been underfunded as a result of decades of structural racism and lack of equitable public funding, said Brent Leggs, executive director of the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, which is supplying the grants. He added, “They stand as a living testament to African American history and the ongoing achievements of highly influential Americans, but they continue to be overlooked and underfunded.”


About Philander Smith College:  Founded in 1877, Philander Smith College is one of the oldest private, historically Black institutions of higher learning in Arkansas. A four-year liberal arts college, the institution is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is the only United Negro College Fund member school in the state. The College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of NCA.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded, nonprofit organizationbased in Washington, D.C., that works in the field of historic preservation in the United States. The member-supported organization was founded in 1949 by congressional charter to support the preservation of America’s diverse historic buildings, neighborhoods, and heritage through its programs, resources, and advocacy.

Lilly Endowment Invests $1M in Philander Smith College to Strengthen Ministries in Black and Small Churches

Philander Smith College is excited to be the recipient of funds totaling $1,049,130 to help establish the Strengthening Ministries in Black and Small Churches in Central Arkansas program. It is part of Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Thriving in Ministry, an initiative that supports a variety of religious organizations across the nation as they create or strengthen programs that help pastors build relationships with experienced clergy who can serve as mentors and guide them through key leadership challenges in congregational ministry. 

Earlier in the year the College received a $50,000 award from Lilly Endowment to support the development of the Thriving In Ministry grant submission. That planning grant, combined with the full grant award of $999,130, represents a total $1,049,130 investment in PSC’s effort to strengthen the pastors serving small churches in Arkansas and nearby states.

Thriving in Ministry seeks to help pastors develop meaningful relationships with wise colleagues who can help guide them through key leadership challenges, especially during transitions in their ministerial careers. The initiative builds upon recent studies that have examined the importance of colleagues and mentors who help pastors face and overcome common professional challenges. These studies include research from the Endowment-funded Flourishing in Ministry project. 

“Philander Smith College has a legacy of developing clergy who have become leaders and mentors to generations of ministers and pastors,” said PSC President Dr. Roderick L. Smothers, Sr.  “Our alumni have broken barriers, published extensively in the field of religious studies, and blazed spiritual trails for a new cohort of preachers and scholars. Funding from Lilly Endowment will help us to continue building upon this sacred foundation,” he continued.

“Leading a congregation today is multi-faceted and exceptionally demanding,” said Christopher Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for Religion. “When pastors have opportunities to build meaningful relationships with experienced colleagues, they are able to negotiate the challenges of ministry and their leadership thrives. Promising efforts in this initiative including the Philander Smith College program, will help pastors develop these kinds of relationships, especially when they are in the midst of significant professional transitions.” 

The grant period at Philander Smith College will run from December 2020 through December 2025.

Windgate Foundation Awards $859,000 Visual and Performing Arts Grant to Philander Smith College

Philander Smith College is pleased to announce that the Windgate Foundation of Little Rock, Arkansas, will fund a new Visual and Performing Arts Program and Visual Arts Scholarships with a $859,000 grant to be paid over the next three years, starting June 1, 2021.

“Because the arts help sustain the human spirit and are an essential cultural touchstone, we are deeply appreciative of this gift from the Windgate Foundation that will support our desire to nurture the creativity of our students. In turn, we believe that the College will be greater positioned to enrich the artistic community of our city, our state, and beyond,” said PSC President Roderick L. Smothers, Sr., Ph.D.

In response, Windgate Foundation Executive Director Patricia Forgy remarked that, “Windgate Foundation is pleased to partner with Philander Smith College as they expand their degree offerings for students to include visual art. This is a great step forward for the College and will benefit the entire community with future outreach and collaboration opportunities.”  Providing institutional support for visual arts and scholarships in higher education is one of the core areas of focus for the foundation which has funded multiple grants at Philander Smith College.

The Visual and Performing Arts Program will offer courses in applied digital media and graphic design, various studio arts, animation and photography classes, among others. Scholarship support will be available to those seeking to enroll in the program. Students who complete the program will be eligible for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in the Visual and Performing Arts. 

“Generous gifts from partners like the Windgate Foundation greatly help Philander Smith College continue to meet the needs and interests of our scholars. Providing training and instilling an appreciation for the role of the arts anchors a well-rounded educational experience,” said Charles King, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at Philander Smith College.

“We look forward to working with community partners to develop an academic program and a consortium of Black artists with whom we can partner to help our students achieve a level of success in their artistic pursuits that will be unparalleled in the south and second to none among Historically Black Colleges and Universities in America,” said Shannon M. Clowney Johnson, Assistant Professor and Director of the PSC McKinley Newton Honors Academy. 

The mission of Philander Smith College is to graduate academically accomplished students, grounded as advocates for social justice, determined to change the world for the better. 

Philander Smith College awarded $200,000 grant from the Windgate Foundation

STATE-OF-THE-ART CLASSROOMS WILL BE CREATED at Philander Smith College using a $200,000 grant from the Windgate Foundation of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

According to President Roderick Smothers, these hybrid classrooms will incorporate advanced video conferencing technology capabilities in the Myer L. Titus Academic Center, the Kresge-Mabee Science Building, the Harry R. Kendall Science and Health Mission Center, the D.W. Reynolds Library, and the Ottenheimer Business Building. 

“Designated as a “COVID-19 Assistance” grant, the award will allow Philander Smith College to utilize the most sophisticated technology to reach our students and support our faculty,” Smothers added. 

Charles King, Vice President for Institutional Advancement said, “We are very grateful to the Windgate Foundation for their support. This partnership will help strengthen our academic enterprise as we navigate the challenges presented by this pandemic.”

In a statement, Patricia M. Forgy, Executive Director of the Wingate Foundation said, “We extend our best wishes to you and thank you for your efforts during this overwhelming time. It is our pleasure to be among your supporters.”

Six classrooms in the aforementioned academic buildings will be transformed into live teaching spaces utilizing technology.

In July 2020, Philander Smith College proactively introduced a limited services model for our campus community for the Fall 2020 semester. This model was implemented due to the continuing concerns pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this model, PSC students could enroll at our College in three ways – online, on-campus, or hybrid.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Anthony Johnson and Dr. Shannon Clowney- Johnson, Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs, identified a major problem encountered by the faculty because of COVID-19. Because of our small size, several courses are only offered once on the course schedule. As a result, many courses have a combination of students enrolled in them (online, on-campus, and hybrid) which causes the faculty to deliver the content of one course in three different ways. A solution that will immediately reduce this hardship is advanced technology in our classrooms.

With this equipment, a professor can teach live to both students in the classroom space and to those participating online. These technology upgrades will provide a smart conference camera that captures 360° video and audio for engaging distance learning that tracks movement and delivers crystal clear audio to students via distance. This will provide online students a classroom experience that is incredibly supportive to their academic success.

Smothers to Lead Philander Smith College Panthers as Interim Athletic Director

“MY GOAL IS TO ENSURE THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF ATHLETICS is producing scholarly athletes who become productive citizens while also building championship teams for every sport in which we compete,” said Roderick Smothers Jr, Philander Smith College Interim Director of Athletics.

A native of Vidalia, Louisiana, Smothers earned a Bachelor’s in Broadcast Journalism from Langston University and a Master’s in Sports Management from University of the Southwest. While at Langston he became co-founder of the intramural Basketball League.

Smothers demonstrated an exceedingly early interest in sports and started playing basketball at age of 4. While playing junior high school basketball, he simultaneously served as a manager for the high school basketball team. During the years spent as a team manager, Smothers said he took interest in how the team operated leading to his career choice.

He brings to his new role experience in coaching clinics, coaching youth basketball, serving as a referee and functioning as a play-by-play announcer for sporting events.

“On a personal level, my goal is simply to inspire through athletics,” Smothers added.

Three Philander Smith Collegiate Choir members participate in the HBCU National Concert Choir

Three Philander Smith Collegiate Choir members Nolan Butler, Heaven Clary, and Shanell Matthews are featured in a virtual performance by the HBCU National Concert Choir that was a part of the White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities 2020. 

These students are a part of the 105 Voices of   Historically Black Colleges and Universities National Video Initiative performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “United as One Global Voice.” All 105 HBCUs across the nation are represented.

According to Clary, “Over the summer, Dr. Stephen Hayes gave me an opportunity of a lifetime. In July of 2020, he asked me if I would do this audition and be a representative of Philander Smith College, and of course, I told him yes.”

Each student selected received a certificate of appreciation in recognition of their participation in this first-of-a-kind performance. The event premiered on YouTube September 23, as a kick-off for National HBCU Week 2020.