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.

UAMS, Philander Smith Partner to Increase Minorities in Health Care and Address Health Disparities, Physician Shortages

Until December 2019, Philander Smith College student Hunter Black wanted to be a pharmacist. Then, he did some research over the winter break and realized that he could have an even greater direct impact on the lives of his patients if he became a doctor.

Medical student Hunter Black and Cynthia Burroughs, Ph.D.

“It was like I had to cross a mental threshold,” Black said. “I had to let myself know that I was capable of doing more, that I was capable of being anything I really wanted to be. It wasn’t so crazy anymore, this idea of being a doctor.”

Back at school after the winter break, he got to work setting this plan into action, and quickly found out about the HBCU Med Track program by Philander Smith and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Fast-forward through months of dedicated studying – in the midst of a pandemic, no less – and Black was one of 14 students who recently took the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) this summer, which is a requirement for getting into medical school.

“I wouldn’t have been able to have done it without them,” Black said.

The Med Track program provides a combination of mentoring, tutoring and assistance navigating the application process for medical school and other health care careers. It is a partnership of UAMS, Philander Smith College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). It was funded in 2019 from part of a $4.6 million grant to UAMS from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to address the rural physician shortage in Arkansas.

HBCU Med Track aims to create a partnership between the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the state to help more minority students enter the medical field. The goal is to train people from Arkansas who represent and understand its wide diversity, so that those individuals can stay in Arkansas, treat underserved communities, and lessen the impact of an ongoing rural physician shortage that is only expected to worsen in the coming decades.

Cynthia Burroughs, Ph.D., site director for the program at Philander Smith and a professor in the biology program, said the program’s combination of tutoring, mentorship and system navigation is key. It is modeled off of other successful programs, like one at Xavier University in Louisiana.

“We’ve had a long relationship with UAMS, but this makes it more formal and organized,” Burroughs said. “Students of color who want to go into medicine are coming to Philander Smith already. They seek us out. This program helps us give them a more personalized relationship with UAMS before they apply for medical school so that they are more likely to consider UAMS when it is time for them to apply. Because currently, our top students are going out of state, and they might not come back.”

Sederick C. Rice, Ph.D., site director for the program at UAPB and an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, said many UAPB students understand health disparities and physician shortages firsthand.

“We have students from different parts of the state, including the Delta,” Rice said. “This program helps us support students from these communities who are already familiar with the cultures and the challenges of the places they come from and are dedicated to being a part of the solution. I had one student say: ‘you know, Doc, I come from a small town and we don’t have a pharmacy or a clinic. We have to drive several miles to access that. I want to go back and establish a clinic so that not only my family members benefit, but other people in that community.’”

Students and faculty alike agreed that the support provided by the program model is key to improving opportunities for underrepresented minorities in medicine. Students in the HBCU Med-Track Program are interested in health science career options, an opportunity to learn “the ropes” to be able to prepare competitive applications and personal statements, improve their interview and test-taking skills – all on top of a strengthening their science and math backgrounds. Mentorship, relationships and support are the special glue that holds it all together.

Renisha Ward is education coordinator of the HBCU Med Track program at UAMS. Ward graduated from UAPB a firm believer that HBCU’s can play a unique role in encouraging and supporting minority students.

“Life is a struggle,” Ward said. “There’s always going to be a struggle. But sometimes it’s nice to know I can look to my left and my right and there will be a brother and a sister who are there in the struggle with me. Not only that, but there are people in corporate America, in education, in medicine, and science who will fight for you.”

Ward said through the Med Track program, she is able to become that contact at UAMS for these students. Pre-pandemic, some would come and sit in her office daily. Now, they all log on together for tutoring online.

“Now they literally have a face, someone they know at UAMS who is truly invested in them and who they can reach out to,” Ward said.

Black agreed. He said the mentors and current med school students at UAMS who have spoken to them have been a great support.

“They’ve been really open to talking to us about everything from the MCAT to what it’s really like in medical school,” Black said. “They’ve helped us to stay motivated by showing us what is possible and then feeling like we have people in our corner.”

Ward points to the numbers to show that the program is making a difference. Among the students who have participated in HBCU Med Track since it began in November 2019, four have been accepted in the College of Pharmacy (including one, who, at 19, is the youngest student to be accepted to the college), one in the College of Public Health with three more applying, and the 14 students applying for medical school.

Ward said that she’s seen buy in from UAMS, UAPB and Philander Smith that has really made a difference. The program enjoys the support of the top leadership in the UAMS College of Medicine, and Ward is thankful for the many faculty and industry mentors who volunteer their help.

“Especially during the pandemic, people who suddenly had more time on their hands reached out and offered to be speakers or mentors,” Ward said. “They had messages for the students like, ‘hey, I was just like you once. You can get to where you want to go.’”

At UAMS, the HBCU Med Track program is one part of the larger Arkansas Medical Education Primary Care Partnership, which is a project of the UAMS College of Medicine, UAMS Regional Campuses across the state, and the UAMS Department of Family & Preventive Medicine. Program Director Christopher T. Westfall, M.D., UAMS executive vice chancellor and College of Medicine dean; is assisted by co-directors Marcia Byers, Ph.D., director of clinical innovation for UAMS Regional Campuses; Daniel Knight, M.D., associate professor of Family & Preventive Medicine; and Leslie Stone, M.D., M.P.H., director of Medical Student Education for the Department of Family & Preventive Medicine.

Social Justice Institute at Philander Smith College Announces 2020-2021 Fellowship Program

The Social Justice Institute at Philander Smith College (SJI) has announced a new partner for its Undergraduate Fellowship program. Wright Lindsey Jennings (WLJ), a premier law firm based in Little Rock, has pledged a two-year collaborative commitment to underwrite the Fellowship program. 

Now in its third cohort, the Social Justice Fellows program offers Philander Smith College students the unique opportunity to become deeply engaged in advocacy and leadership activities. Through immersive social justice education, public policy training and personal development, Fellows are expected to gain firsthand experience in the steps and processes to policy reform and the foundation needed to build equitable systems in communities.  

“We are excited to have the support of Wright Lindsey Jennings as this program moves forward,” said SJI Executive Director Tamika Edwards, J.D. “True social justice is rooted in policy reform and addresses laws that serve as a breeding ground for inequality in our communities. Through this collaboration, not only will Wright Lindsey Jennings provide program funding, but we will also work hand-in-hand to identify educational opportunities to help our students understand the critical role the legal system plays in justice-oriented work.”

Wright Lindsey Jennings has a longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity within the practice of law and within the greater community. The firm has also demonstrated a commitment to civil liberties throughout its 120-year history through the support of causes such as free speech, prisoners’ rights, equality in public education and diversity in the legal profession. WLJ provides support to missions and organizations dedicated to improving the imbalance in legal representation and access to justice and policymaking. Through firm initiatives like WLJ Tech Law, they also work with community partners to improve economic opportunities for entrepreneurs of color in the tech and startup space. 

 “This collaboration is just one step in our fight against racism and systemic inequality,” said Managing Partner Steve Lancaster. “In 1957, we publicly denounced segregation at Little Rock Central High School and today, more than 50 years later, the moment is no less critical. We know that there is work to do and we will continue to listen and stand with those working to promote equity and equality.”   

Applications for the 2020-2021 Social Justice Fellowship are open now to Philander Smith College students with a minimum of thirty (30) credit hours. To learn more about the Social Justice Institute please visit 

Philander Smith College Celebrates Black History by Recognizing High School Excellence

For the last four years, Philander Smith College has dedicated a special Black History Month celebration to recognize local high school academic all-stars during the African American High School Honors Ceremony. Since its inception, the program has honored over nearly 1,000 high school seniors from Central Arkansas schools. This year’s event, which took place on Sunday, February 23 in the Crawford J. Mims Gymnasium was the largest yet, with approximately 300 students receiving recognition. 

photograph of students and college president

Established to celebrate academic excellence in the African American community among high school seniors with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, the program honors students from several school districts throughout the area including charter and private schools. In addition to recognition for their high school academic performance, Philander Smith also awards scholarships to eligible student attendees. For the 2020 program, a total of approximately $7.5 million in scholarships were announced.

“Because Central Arkansas is home to such bright and talented young people, it was our desire to not only applaud the outstanding high school careers of young scholars, but to also afford them with an opportunity to earn a first-class college education right here at Philander Smith,” said President Roderick L. Smothers, Sr. “We could not think of a better way to help observe Black History Month than by placing in the spotlight the next generation of future leaders and history-makers with an effort to encourage higher education.”

 A highlight of the afternoon were the two current PSC scholars featured as speakers, both of whom are from Little Rock and are alumni of the program to honor high school excellence. Jamese Lambert, ’21 and Nia James, ’20, attended the ceremony as high school seniors and their experiences in being recognized and awarded scholarships led them to alter their plans and enroll in Philander Smith College.

 Following the ceremony, the student honorees, their families, and guests were invited to a reception in the atrium of the Kendall Center where they were able to network with PSC faculty, staff, Division Chairs and current students to gain firsthand knowledge of the Philander experience – to include academic programs, financial aid resources and student services.