Lilly Endowment Grant to Help University Assist Rural Presbyterian Pastors

University of the Ozarks will receive a nearly $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to establish a program that will support pastors of rural and minority-serving Presbyterian Churches throughout Arkansas.

The grant is part of Lilly Endowment’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. 

The $997,322 grant will help the University establish the Arkansas Presbytery Thriving in Ministry Consortium program on campus. The program’s purpose is to “help pastors thrive in congregational leadership and thus enhance the vitality of the congregation they serve.” 

The program will be launched during the summer of 2021 and will be designed to assist and support rural pastors in areas such as launching new churches, serving communities of color, and serving small membership churches. The funding includes a new program director position who will serve as the “pastor to the pastors.”

University President Richard Dunsworth said the Thriving in Ministry program is a natural fit for the University, which has been affiliated with the Presbyterian Church since its establishment in 1834 in Cane Hill, Arkansas.

“Today, University of the Ozarks is in a position of responsibility and obligation of Christian service to step into this place of need within the Presbytery and provide a leadership role back to the Presbytery that will build bridges and foster pastoral development,” Dunsworth said. “This program is designed to support leadership and change-management programs to enable pastors to learn how to develop their own personal leadership and networking skills.”

Dunsworth said the new program stems from a planning grant that Lilly Endowment made to University of the Ozarks earlier this year through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving in Ministry initiative. Thriving in Ministry is part of Lilly Endowment’s grantmaking to strengthen pastoral leadership in Christian congregations in the United States.

The planning grant led to a series of focus groups conducted by the University this past summer with pastors from around the state.

“Pastors serving rural congregations and minority communities describe an almost unfathomable set of demands on their time, intellect and faith,” Dunsworth said. “The amazingly talented and committed women and men who occupy the pulpits of our rural and minority-serving churches are under-resourced, tired and in need of personal and professional support. With a Thriving in Ministry grant, together, we will create a supportive foundation and network to renew the faith of pastors, and ultimately strengthen the congregations that University of the Ozarks owes so much.”

Dunsworth said University’s long relationship with the Presbyterian Church and programs such as the University’s Struthers Pastoral Study Leave Program places the University in a strong position to provide a leadership role in this initiative.

The Struthers Pastoral Study Leave was established at U of O in 2005 by the late Rev. Dr. James R. Struthers of Stillwater, Okla., a long-time member of the University’s Board of Trustees. The program has brought more than 30 Presbyterian pastors to the U of O campus for personal and professional development in the past 15 years.

“We believe we are uniquely positioned to establish a Thriving in Ministry program and support these pastors,” Dunsworth said. “We have the experience and the confidence of pastors to create space for them to explore their gifts, develop new meaningful relationships and learn to manage competing demands on their increasingly scare time.”

Dunsworth said the University will begin the search for a program director in January.

Lilly Endowment is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion. The Endowment maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and its home state, Indiana. Its grantmaking in religion focuses on supporting efforts to strengthen the leadership and vitality of Christian congregations throughout the country and to increase the public’s understanding of the role of religion in public life.

Dr. Freed Named President-Elect of ArATE

Dr. Allison Freed, director of teacher education and assistant professor of education/science education at University of the Ozarks, has been selected as president-elect of the Arkansas Association of Teacher Education (ArATE).

Her term as president-elect will run from January 2021 until July 2021, at which time she will take over as president of the state-wide association. The Arkansas chapter includes members from all Arkansas colleges and universities. Some of the responsibilities of the president include, attending the National ATE conference on behalf of the Arkansas chapter and organizing and hosting the annual state conference next fall.

“I am pleased to serve as the president-elect of the Arkansas Association of Teacher Educators, one of the most active state chapters of the Association of Teacher Educators,” Freed said. “I became a member in 2015, after beginning my position at University of the Ozarks. From the start, the ArATE members were supportive, engaged, and willing to share ideas to continue to promote the education profession. I look forward to collaborating with other Arkansas teacher educators to organize and host the 2021 Arkansas conference and to represent Arkansas at the national conference in February.”

Sunderland Foundation Provides $500K Grant for Science Center at University of the Ozarks

University of the Ozarks has received a $500,000 grant from the Sunderland Foundation of Overland Park, Kan., for the University’s new science center project.

The gift is part of the University’s Climb Higher Campaign that recently surpassed the $68 million mark, significantly exceeding the campaign’s initial goal of $55 million. The campaign will conclude on April 14, 2021.

The Sunderland gift will go toward an $18.6 million renovation and addition to the University’s science center. The University has raised $17.5 million for the project to date.

“We are honored to have a new partnership with the Sunderland Foundation,” said Lori McBee, vice president for advancement and alumni engagement. “This investment will develop the careers of students from diverse economic and educational backgrounds, improve the environmental and health demands of society, enhance community partnerships through technology and research, and advance the career opportunities of graduates in Arkansas while keeping student costs down.  It’s exciting to move forward with them.”

The science center project will add 18,000 square feet to the current facility for the University’s natural and health science programs, including biology, environmental sciences, chemistry, health sciences, physics and psychology. The complete renovation to the existing building, which was built in 1969, will include state-of-art classrooms and laboratories as well as new dedicated research areas.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring on what will be the single largest capital construction project in the University’s 186-year history.

The Sunderland Foundation was established in 1945 by Lester T. Sunderland, who served as President of the Ash Grove Cement Company for 33 years as a highly respected leader in the cement industry. Since its inception, the Foundation, which continues to be led by Lester T. Sunderland’s descendants, has focused on supporting construction projects, awarding grants to nonprofits in the Kansas City region and other markets traditionally served by the Ash Grove Cement Company.  Grants are awarded in western Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, western Iowa, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Utah and Montana.

Dr. Poole Elected University of the Ozarks Board Chair

Dr. Sherilyn W. Poole of Park Forest, Ill., has been elected as chair of the University of the Ozarks’ Board of Trustees during the board’s annual fall meeting, held virtually on Oct. 2-3, 2020.

Dr. Sherilyn W. Poole

Poole’s two-year term will begin Jan. 1, 2021. In addition, Susan Pinson of Edmond, Okla., was chosen as chair-elect and Peter Van Dyke of Munster, Ind., was selected as board secretary.

Poole is retired from Governors State University in University Park, Ill., where she served as associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students from 2007 to 2012. She has broad and extensive experience in the areas of student life, student development, academic development, and teacher education.  She currently serves as a consultant evaluator for the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), as well as a member of the HLC’s Institutional Actions Committee 

Poole said she has been impressed with the work of the University’s trustees since first joining the governing board in 2016.

“As a senior administrator at several colleges and universities I have observed and participated in the work of several governing boards,” Poole said. “The trustees of the Ozarks are hard-working, take their responsibilities seriously, and care deeply about the University. Our board and committee meetings include lively discussions as we work towards consensus in our decisions. We are a group of individuals from various backgrounds and experiences with the shared goal of ensuring Ozarks fulfills its mission and serving its students well.”

She said it’s both an exciting and challenging time in the University’s history as the college navigates the Covid-19 pandemic, works to complete its $55 million Climb Higher Campaign and begins the reaccreditation review with the HLC.

“I am excited to assume the role of board chair to work with my colleague trustees to help the University through the pandemic, complete the capital campaign, have a successful HLC accreditation review, and support the leadership team in their work,” Poole said. “The Covid-19 pandemic created huge challenges for colleges and universities. The Ozarks leadership team responded initially in March by suspending classes until after Spring Break and then holding all classes online until the end of the school year. A Task Force to Repopulate the Campus was formed to prepare an effective plan with the goal of following the science and ensuring the safety of all campus constituents. Individuals involved in the planning included individuals from all areas of the campus. Data showing the small number of Covid-19 cases among campus constituents seem to verify the effectiveness of the Ozarks’ implementation of the plan.”

Poole said one of things she enjoys most about serving on the board is the interaction opportunities with students, faculty and staff.

“When trustees are on campus for meetings, President [Richard] Dunsworth ensures we have time to interact with students, faculty and staff,” Poole said. “These interactions give trustees opportunities to hear about campus constituents’ experiences, insights, and thoughts about changes they would like to see implemented. During these campus visits, trustees are sometimes able to attend student events: concerts, plays, art exhibits, and athletic competitions. One of my favorite events to attend each year is the annual Employee Recognition Banquet. As a trustee, I am proud of the loyalty, hard work, and fondness for Ozarks demonstrated by the award recipients and the number of colleagues who gather to celebrate their service.”

Poole holds an Ed.D. in educational administration and supervision from Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.; a master’s degree in student personnel services from Montclair State College in Montclair, N.J.; and a bachelor’s degree in English education from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. She works with the Career Development Ministry of the Trinity United Church of Christ, and serves as vice-chair of the Village of Park Forest Youth Commission.

She currently serves on the Board’s Governance, Academic and Student Affairs, Advancement; and Executive committees.

Ozarks Receives $1.6 Million Grant for Student Services

University of the Ozarks has been awarded $1.6 million in federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education for its Student Support Services programs.

The funds are awarded to colleges and universities to provide opportunities for students’ academic development as well as to motivate students toward the successful completion of their postsecondary degrees. Student Support Services programs are under the TRIO umbrella of federal education initiatives, which were established as a result of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.

The goal of TRIO programs is to increase the college retention and graduation rates of its participants, who include students from low-income families, first-generation students and students with disabilities. 

Ozarks’ TRIO program is funded to serve 180 eligible students through its Student Support Services grant. 

The University’s TRIO director, Connie High, said it is “inspiring to see first-hand the growth that occurs in our students as they persist from one year to another toward their ultimate goal of graduating from Ozarks.“

“Our team recognizes that the challenges faced by typically underrepresented students often have non-academic roots that are best addressed through a holistic approach,” High said. “Our services not only include academic support, but also college coaching, mentoring, and services designed to promote personal and professional development.”

In addition, Student Support Services provides small group tutoring; academic, career, and financial aid planning; preparatory skills sessions; success workshops; and assistance with researching and applying to graduate schools.

The TRIO programs at Ozarks has assisted nearly 1,000 students over the past five years. The new grant will allow Ozarks to continue its TRIO programs for the next five years.

Ozarks Spring Semester to Start Jan. 26 With Revised Calendar

University of the Ozarks officials have announced a revised Spring 2021 Semester calendar in which classes will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 26, and there will be no spring break.

The revised schedule extends the Christmas break one week by pushing the start of classes back a week.

There will be no spring break during the semester, but the University will observe Good Friday on April 2, making for a three-day Easter break for students, faculty and staff. The final day of classes will remain May 5 and finals are scheduled for May 7-12.

According to the new schedule, residential housing will open on Sunday, Jan 24, for students to move in for the spring semester.

“Our objective continues to be the well-being and safety of our students, faculty and staff while also maintaining our standard of excellence in all forms of academic instruction and activities,” said University President Richard Dunsworth. “As we looked at the spring calendar, it made sense to continue to do what we’ve done this fall and that’s keeping students on campus as much as possible throughout the semester to mitigate the risks involved with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The spring commencement ceremony is still scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 15, in a traditional in-person format. However, University officials said that could change depending on the status of the pandemic in the spring.

Important Dates Spring 2021 Semester

  • Jan. 18: Martin Luther King Holiday (offices open)
  • Jan. 24: Spring housing opens for move-in
  • Jan. 26: Classes begin
  • Feb. 1: Last day to register
  • Feb. 8: Last Day to Drop a class without a “W”
  • March 19; Mid-Term (grades due)
  • April 2: Good Friday Holiday (offices closed, no classes)
  • April 6: Last day to withdraw from a class
  • April 5-20: Student Self-Serve Registration
  • Man 3-7: New Student Registration
  • May 5: Last day of classes
  • May 6: Study Day
  • May 7-12: Final exams (spring housing closes on last exam day)
  • May 14: Baccalaureate
  • May 15:  Commencement

Rev. Wilhelmi Named to APCU Board

University of the Ozarks Chaplain Rev. Jeremy Wilhelmi has been appointed by the Presbyterian College Chaplains Association (PCCA) to represent the group on the board of directors of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities (APCU).

Wilhelmi is filling an unexpired term on the board due to the departure of the current president of the PCCA. He will move up from vice president to president of PCCA and his term on the APCU board is schedule to run through February 2021.

The APCU is an independent, non-profit association that is dedicated to assisting the 56 Presbyterian-affiliated colleges and universities throughout the United States. U of O President Richard Dunsworth is the immediate past chair of the board.   

Wilhelmi has served as the chaplain of the U of O since 2016.

“I am honored to fill this role on the APCU board,” Wilhelmi said. “The APCU recognizes the important role chaplains play on their campuses. I hope my role will continue to strengthen those bonds along with strengthening the ties between our institutions and the Presbyterian Church (USA.) I look forward to good work ahead.”

A native of Hot Springs, Ark., Wilhelmi joined Ozarks in August 2016 after serving the previous three and a half years as associate pastor for youth ministry at Salisbury Presbyterian Church in Virginia. He has also served as a youth and family minister and camp director in North Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas, since graduating from Arkansas Tech with a degree in music in 2003 and from the Columbia Theological Seminary with a master of divinity degree in 2007. Wilhelmi and his wife, Whitleigh, have two sons, Beckett and Jasper.

As part of its mission, the APCU advocates the important, ongoing role that higher education plays within the Presbyterian Church (USA) and assists presidents in the development of strategies that fulfill their respective institutional missions.  APCU member institutions are eligible to participate in APCU-sponsored programs that include an insurance and risk management program, an international student exchange with institutions in Northern Ireland and a tuition exchange for children of faculty and staff members.

University of Ozarks alum Vivar (’04) Finds Fulfillment in Finance Profession

For former University of the Ozarks Walton Scholar Juan Pablo Vivar ’04, it is an exciting time to be working in the finance industry.

Man wearing dark suit with white dress shirt
Juan Pablo Vivar

Vivar is living in Mexico City and working as a senior consultant at the Dubai-based Amarante Consulting, a firm that offers advisory projects to a variety of public and private institutions in digital transformation and digital financial services. He works with financial intermediaries and associations in Mexico and throughout Central and South America, assisting in the development of digital strategies.

“These are the most exciting days to be working in financial services,” Vivar said. “Financial services had not been updated for more than 100 years and now we’re seeing the acceleration of innovation and mobile technologies that are allowing financial institutions to operate in a whole new competitive environment. Thanks to this wave of innovation and digitalization, the most vulnerable segments of society, especially in developing economies, are having the opportunity to have access to financial services and products and make a true difference in their lives.”

Originally from Guatemala City, Vivar graduated from Ozarks with Magna Cum Laude honors with a double major in business administration and marketing. Except for a year completing an MBA in finance in the United Kingdom, Vivar has lived in Mexico City since 2011.  

His current position allows him to combine his experience in and passion for technology and finance.

“My responsibilities include different tasks from business development, preparation of project proposals, client relationship management, institutional assessments and recommendations and building and developing business cases, models and feasibility studies,” Vivar said. “Basically, I’m working with clients to co-design solutions and create digital routes that help them maximize the digital wave within their institutions.”

Vivar especially likes helping underserved populations in his role. He works with clients throughout Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.

“The whole purpose of supporting financial institutions is to expand the access of quality financial services,” he said. “These institutions serve mainly micro, small and medium size companies, and undeserved individuals. It’s a very fulfilling career to be able to help individuals have the opportunity to expand their businesses, obtain a mortgage loan, facilitate their transactions, respond to a family emergency, modernize their houses, and those types of things. The lack of access to finance is the main challenged faced by many of these individuals and businesses, who represent approximately 90 percent of the total number of companies, 40 percent of the GDP, and more than 60 percent of the total labor force of the emerging economies.”

When looking back at his time at Ozarks, Vivar said he values most his acquisition of soft skills and the growth in his faith.

“Besides obtaining a degree from an American university and being able to speak a second language, I believe my time at Ozarks helped me in discipline, focus, self-confidence and networking. Those areas really helped me build my career,” Vivar said. “ I also got involved since my first days in Alpha and Omega campus ministries, an organization dedicated to spreading the Gospel on campus and organizing yearly relief trips to Central America. I started as a junior member and became the president of the organization during my last year. I also participated actively in a student-led Spanish Bible study called ‘Amisadai,’ which met every Friday during the school year for praise and worship events for the Spanish speaking students and the community. We shared the word of God in a cool, youthful manner. I am very thankful to the Baptist Collegiate Ministry for letting us use their facilities and for their unconditional support during those years.”

Vivar and his wife, Alejandra Leon, have been married since 2015. He said receiving the call in 2000 from former WISP Director Dr. Rickey Casey that he had earned the Walton Scholarship remains a transformational moment in his life.

Pablo Family

“I came from humble origins and my parents were not able to afford my university education,” Vivar said. “I had not attended a bilingual school back home, so attending a university in the United States represented a big challenge in terms of the language. Dr. Casey truly trusted that I was going to contribute to the WISP program and that I would improve my English since the first day in Clarksville. I will always be grateful to Dr. Casey, Ozarks and the Walton family.”

University of the Ozarks Ranked in Multiple Categories by U.S. News

University of the Ozarks has been ranked in multiple categories in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings.

In the 2021 edition of Best Colleges, released this week, U of O ranked in a tie for fifth overall among more than 80 regional colleges in the South — the 22nd consecutive year Ozarks has been ranked in the “top tier” among regional colleges in the South.

Ozarks has been ranked among the top 10 in the 12-state South Region in each of the past 10 years. The overall rankings examine such criteria as academic reputation, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving.

The magazine’s annual late summer publication that analyzes institutions of higher education also had U of O ranked second in the “Best Value Schools” in the South, trailing only Kentucky State University. The value rankings evaluate the cost of attending a university relative to the quality of the institution and takes into account such things as the percentage of students receiving need-based financial aid and the average institutional aid those students receive.

In addition, Ozarks was ranked third in the South Region in the category of “Most Innovative,” a new ranking based on “making the most innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities. The schools that received the most nominations for making promising changes on campus are listed here,” according to the publication.

In the category of “Undergraduate Teaching,” for colleges that put a focus on undergraduate teaching, Ozarks was ranked ninth in the South.

In the area of “Social Mobility,” Ozarks was ranked No. 27 in the South. This category represents those colleges that are most successful “at advancing social mobility by enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students awarded with Pell Grants. The vast majority of these federal grants are awarded to students whose adjusted gross family incomes are under $50,000,” according to the magazine.

The publication’s South Region consists of primarily undergraduate colleges and universities in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia.