Walton Foundation Makes Gift to University of the Ozarks in Honor of Dr. Rick Niece

The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation has made a $525,000 gift to University of the Ozarks in honor of the University’s long-time former president and foundation board member, Dr. Rick D. Niece.

Niece was president of Ozarks for 16 years – from 1997 to 2013 – and served as a director on the Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation (WFCSF) from 1997 to 2019. Niece and his wife, Sherée, are retired and living in Hot Springs Village.

In its December board meeting, the foundation approved the gift to the University to honor Niece’s 22 years of service to the foundation and to “preserve the lasting impact that he has made for hundreds of students from the U.S. and around the world.”

A majority of the gift – $500,000 – will go into the Dr. Rick and Sherée Niece Endowment for Student Enrichment fund, which provides competitive grants to students in support of their research, creative projects, and professional preparation through internships and study abroad. The remaining $25,000 will be invested in the Lewis H. and Dortha J. Geyer Niece Scholarship Endowment Fund, named in honor of Niece’s parents and provided for students majoring in performing arts and communications.

Jim Walton, past chairman of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, said, “Dr. Niece’s vision, generosity and sense of service made a lasting impact for the University, our state and the field of education, as well as for our family. He and my mother, Helen Walton, worked closely and shared a commitment to creating access to opportunity through education for students in Arkansas and across the world.”

Under Niece’s leadership, the private, Presbyterian-affiliated University saw student enrollment increase by 20 percent, the endowment grow by more than 200 percent, and the number of full-time faculty increase from 28 to 48. The University also raised nearly $150 million during Niece’s tenure and added several new facilities, including four apartment-style residence halls, the Walker Hall teacher education and communications center, the Rogers Conference Center and the Mabee Student Fitness Center.

Niece was named president emeritus by the University in 2013.

“We are excited and humbled that the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation would choose to honor Dr. Niece’s service in this special way,” said Ozarks President Richard Dunsworth. “He and Sherée certainly left an indelible mark on Ozarks through their work, and these gifts to the endowments they established will build on their efforts to change students’ lives for generations to come.”

Niece, who was vice president of the WFCSF for several years, said it was an honor to serve on the board of a foundation whose mission includes the support of higher education.

“I have served on a number of boards during my lifetime, and the 22 years as a member and vice president of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation were the most memorable and rewarding,” Niece said. “The foundation’s generosity has done so much for so many. I am especially proud of our generous gifts to several Arkansas universities for academic programs and student needs.”

The Nieces established three endowed programs at Ozarks, including the two endowments that will benefit from the Walton gift.


“Sherée and I are eternally grateful to the Walton family and the foundation for touching our lives, once again, in such a moving and significant manner,” Niece said. “Our association with the Waltons is an honor beyond compare.”

The foundation was established by the family of Walmart founder Sam Walton and his wife, Helen Walton, who had a 50-year association with Ozarks. That connection started in 1956 when she sent her son, Rob, to a Presbyterian Church summer camp that was being held on campus. Helen Walton was first elected to the University’s Board of Trustees in 1975 and was elected honorary lifetime chair of the board in 1985.

Helen Walton spoke of her long-time connection with Ozarks during a campus talk in the late 1990s.

“Forty years ago when I brought my son Rob down here to go to camp, I was amazed at the friendliness of the faculty who were greeting everybody and the students who were there to help in any way they could to get us settled into places,” she said. “There was something about this campus that simply caught me. At the time, I said to myself, ‘There’s something about it. It’s a very special place.’ I think part of that was that I knew it was a place where so many young people were going to get an education they probably would never have received had they not come here.

“Then I learned that it was a mission school for the Presbyterian Church. Maybe that was part of what made it so special. There was that sense of mission, that sense of helping those who really needed help. This school has always played an important role in advancing the Church’s emphasis on education and personal enlightenment. It holds a special place in my heart because of its work to build the character of, and improve the quality of life, for many young people.”

Niece gave the eulogy at Helen Walton’s funeral in 2007.

“Mrs. Walton was an amazing woman and about as common a lady as you’ll ever meet,” Niece said in his eulogy. “I feel sadness now, but knowing that her influence will continue to touch generation after generation of students is a good feeling.”

Niece was named the University’s 24th president in July of 1997. Only former presidents F.R. Earle (1858-1891) and Dr. Wiley Lin Hurie (1923-1949) served longer tenures than Niece in the University’s 186-year history.

Huckfeldt Promoted to Assistant Dean of Students at University of the Ozarks

Caitlin Huckfeldt has been promoted to assistant dean of students and director of residential life at University of the Ozarks, according to Luke Morrill, vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

Huckfeldt has served as director of residential life at Ozarks since January and previously was assistant director of residence life and student engagement at the University. She was hired in July of 2018.

Morrill said Huckfeldt’s new role will include additional leadership responsibilities in areas such as student conduct, title IX and the administration of the Student Affairs office.

“During this upcoming academic year, a leadership position such as this will be incredibly important for Student Affairs and for the students that regularly engage with our office,” Morrill said. “I am excited for Caitlin to serve in this new role and I have no doubt that Caitlin will continue to serve the Student Affairs Office and the Ozarks community at the highest level. “

Huckfeldt said, “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to support our students and the Office of Student Affairs in this new capacity. I’m proud to call Ozarks home, and I feel very fortunate to be investing in such a special community.”

Prior to arriving at Ozarks, Huckfeldt served as a graduate assistant in the Office of Dean of Students at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, where she also earned a master’s degree in leadership, student affairs in higher education. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work and Bible and theology at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is currently pursuing a PhD in leadership Studies at University of the Cumberlands.

Huckfeldt also has experience as a social caseworker and as an academic advisor.

University of the Ozarks Receives Grant for Food Pantry

University of the Ozarks has received a $25,000 grant to create an on-campus food pantry for students beginning in the Fall 2020 Semester.

The grant is from the Roy & Christine Sturgis Charitable Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee, in Dallas, Texas.

Rev. Jeremy Wilhelmi, University chaplain and project director for the initiative, said the grant will be used to set up an endowment to fund a food pantry in a still-to-be-determined location on campus. The food pantry will be accessible to students throughout the year, including during breaks throughout the academic year.

“The pantry will help address food insecurity among our campus community,’ Wilhelmi said. “It will provide emergency food relief for students throughout the year. While students must overcome many obstacles along the way to graduate from college, the pantry gives me hope and confidence that food and nutrition will not be one of those obstacles for our campus community.”

Wilhelmi said the grant will help accomplish two main goals in addressing food insecurity on campus.

“First, it gives us the funding we need to set-up the pantry with adequate shelving, refrigeration needs, and food purchases to stock the pantry for the first year of operation,” he said. “Secondly, the vast majority of the funds will be used as an endowment to help financially support the financial needs of the pantry every year. When we decided to pursue the pantry, we realized early that to be successful we could not be solely dependent upon donations. The endowment will allow us to operate year to year with some financial consistency.”

Wilhelmi said the pantry will partner with the University’s Food for Thought Garden as well as with local food banks and business partnerships to help keep the pantry stocked.

University of the Ozarks Launches Data Analytics Program

University of the Ozarks has launched a new certification program in data analytics this summer.

The all-online program was developed in partnership with Podium Education in Austin, Texas, and will be available as credit-coursework for U of O students as well as a stand-alone certificate for the general public.

There are currently 18 Ozarks students enrolled in a summer session data analytics boot camp to launch the program. The summer boot camp consists of a pair of three-credit courses – Introduction to Applied Analytics and Data Visualization with Tableau.

The certificate program is 12 credits and can be completed over three semesters. The full program will begin in the 2020 Fall Semester.

University Provost Dr. Alyson Gill said data analytics is a much-requested skill set from both students as well as prospective employers.

“When we looked at regional market needs, we realized that there was a significant gap in training in data analytics—meaning that a significant number of posted positions listed data analytics as a preferred skill with no local or accessible program offering that training,” Gill said. “This program, which is for our current students and also as a stand-alone certificate for others outside the University, provides a ‘leg up’ in the job market. These skills are desirable for businesses as they lead to better understanding of their customers along with how to  market to those customers.”

Gill said students can benefit from data analytics regardless of their major or professional interests and that they do not have to have a background in computer science or statistics.

“This certificate provides numerous transferable skills, including problem-solving, project management and critical thinking,” Gill said. “At the same time, these skills extend across all academic disciplines, and, because of this multidisciplinary impact, it benefits everyone.”

Gill said the University is exploring expanding the data analytics certificate program into a minor.

Henderson Named Director of Annual Giving and Alumni Engagement at University of the Ozarks

University of the Ozarks alumnus Brian W. Henderson has been named the new director of annual giving and alumni engagement at the University, according to Lori McBee, vice president for advancement and alumni engagement. He will begin his new duties on Aug. 3.

Photo of man wearing a suit
Brian Henderson

McBee also announced two promotions within the advancement office that will be effective July 1: Rebecca Lester will be the director of foundation relations and major gifts, and Mary Jane Spillers will serve as director of operations, data and research.

A 2002 graduate of Ozarks, Henderson has worked in higher education since 2007 and has been at the University of Arkansas since 2013, where he served as the director of employer relations and student placement in the College of Engineering.

“I am happy to have Brian joining our team,” McBee said. “He brings a great deal of experience in relationship building and stewardship of donors and alumni. Because Brian is an Ozarks graduate, he personally understands the value of the annual fund and will be a great leader in his role with donors and our alumni.”

At Ozarks, Henderson will manage the day-to-day operations of all annual giving, athletic giving and alumni engagement initiatives, including donor research and identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship elements of the University’s fundraising cycle. He will also oversee alumni engagement and alumni programing.

“I am thrilled to be joining the Ozarks family,” Henderson said. “I have a deep passion for the University of the Ozarks and the Clarksville community and feel this is a perfect place for my faith and work to mesh in showing God’s love to others. This opportunity is more than a just a job to me. My wife and all of her family are from Clarksville and I have numerous family ties to the area as well. I look forward to building new relationships with Ozarks alumni and, more importantly, I look forward to connecting with alumni that I have lost contact with over the years. Ozarks is a special place and I look forward to working closely with our donors and alumni to make it even more special for future generations.”

“I have more than 12 years of higher education experience and in my wildest dreams would have never thought returning to Ozarks would be a possibility. I am so thankful for this opportunity and look forward to advancing Ozarks mission and leading the annual fund and alumni engagement office.”

Prior to joining University of Arkansas, Henderson was the director of Student Services for the College of Business at UA-Little Rock from 2009 to 2012. He also worked at Arkansas Tech University from 2007 to 2009 in several positions, including career development specialist/instructor and director of intramural sports and recreation.

A native of Berryville, Ark., Henderson was a basketball standout at Ozarks, earning team MVP and team captain honors in 2002. After graduating from Ozarks, he went on to earn a master’s degree in health and human performance from Northwestern State University in Louisiana in 2004.

Henderson and his wife, Jaye, have two sons, Hayes, 8, and Harris, 4. Jaye, a native of Clarksville and professor of nursing at University of Arkansas, recently accepted a new teaching position at Arkansas Tech University.

Henderson’s hobbies include, spending time with family, traveling, playing sports with his boys, golfing, and laying on the beach listening to music when not in Arkansas.

Hagaman Named Dean of University of the Ozarks’ NSM Division

Dr. Joel A. Hagaman, associate professor of psychology, has been named the dean of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, effective July 1.

He will replace Dr. Sean Coleman, who will leave the University following this semester to take a teaching position at Wartburg College in Iowa.

“I am delighted that Dr. Hagaman will be taking on this new role,” said U of O Provost Dr. Alyson Gill. “I have every confidence that the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the University will benefit from his leadership, and I look forward to working with him in the future.”

Hagaman, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas in 2008, has taught at Ozarks since August of 2008. He was promoted to associate professor of psychology and granted tenure in April of 2014.

“I’m excited to serve the school in this new capacity,” Hagaman said. “After 12 years of teaching, it will be a new, and I anticipate fulfilling, challenge to take on this roll. I’ll do my best to continue the fine leadership of the division modeled by my predecessors.”

Hagaman also holds degrees from Monmouth College in Illinois and Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.

University of the Ozarks Board Votes No Tuition Increase for 2020-21

The University of the Ozarks Board of Trustees on April 25 voted to freeze tuition for the 2020-21 academic year amid the uncertainty brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic

It is the sixth time in the last eight years that the University has not raised tuition. Since 2013, tuition at Ozarks has risen just 5 percent.

University President Richard Dunsworth said the Board took into consideration the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on students and their families in the decision to keep tuition flat.

“Now, more than ever, our decisions need to be mission-driven and focused on accessibility and affordability,” Dunsworth said. “We understand that families are struggling and that there is a lot of uncertainty regarding the future. One of our primary goals has been to reduce the amount of debt for students through controlling the cost of tuition and allocating existing resources, including scholarships, grants and other financial assistance. Our efforts to control costs and improve quality are consistent with the mission and values of the University and are more paramount than ever.”

There were also no changes to the University’s learning material fees and a slight $100 average increase to room and board for the upcoming academic year. In addition, the board approved a revamped model of the Jones Learning Center that will allow the program to reduce its fees by 48 percent, beginning the 2020-21 academic year.

Dunsworth commended the University’s alumni and friends for their support of student scholarships, pointing out that the current Climb Higher Campaign has already raised more than $32 million in scholarship endowment support.

“Our alumni and friends continue to faithfully and generously support the mission of the University by financially supporting out students’ education,” Dunsworth said. “We are extremely blessed to have such caring and engaged alumni and friends who understand the value and importance of an Ozarks education and who want to help our students experience that.”

There are approximately 200 privately funded scholarships available for Ozarks students from alumni and friends and the University awarded nearly $12 million in financial aid to Ozarks students in 2019-20.

U of O’s tuition of $24,950 is more than 30 percent less than the national average of $36,880 for a private, four-year university, according to The College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2019. Not raising tuition also runs counter to national trends in higher education. According to The College Board, the national average tuition increase was 3.4 percent for private nonprofit universities in 2019-20.

University of the Ozarks Innovation Hub Producing Ear Guards for Healthcare Workers

University of the Ozarks is utilizing its Innovation Hub to help provide relief to local healthcare workers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ethan Hefley, information technology network manager, is leading the University’s efforts in producing ear guards for masks on four 3-D printers in the Innovation Hub, which was established last semester.

The ear guards help healthcare workers who experience discomfort from extended use of protective masks. The ear guards were designed by Quinn Callander, a 12-year-old Canadian boy scout who was searching for a simple but effective device that would prevent the elastic bands on a mask from rubbing against the backs of people’s ears.

Callander’s design, a wide plastic strap that goes around the back of the head, has notches so the wearer can loop the mask’s elastic straps around whichever notches are most comfortable, allowing them to adjust the tension while keeping the mask firmly in place. He made the strap’s design available for others to download from the open-source 3D printing community Thingiverse.

3-D Printed ear guards

Hefley said he has printed about 150 ear guards as of Thursday afternoon and has distributed almost 100 to healthcare providers in Clarksville.

“I was looking for a way that we could utilize our 3-D printers in this effort to fight the coronavirus and I looked into masks, but that just wasn’t going to work,” Hefley said. “My wife saw (Callander’s) prototype on the internet and brought it to my attention. I felt like this would be a perfect way to utilize the 3-D printers to assist our healthcare workers.”

Hefley said the four 3-D printers can produce a combined 20 ear guards every two and a half hours at a cost of about 35 cents a mask in material, which is a corn plastic filament.

Hefley delivered about 20 ear guards to the Clarksville Medical Group on Thursday morning, much to the delight of administrator Jeri Williams and her medical colleagues.

“These ear guards will help tremendously for the nurses who are having to wear masks all day long a daily basis,” Williams said. “Our personnel have no choice but to wear masks right now at all times and the constant rubbing has become a real problem. The ear guards are the perfect solution. We are extremely excited and appreciative to get these.”

Hefley said he also dropped off 30 ear guards Thursday at the Johnson Regional Medical Center for their healthcare workers to try out. Before he even had time to get back to the office, hospital administrators called and requested 30 more.

“The neat thing is that the ear guards are making a difference and the healthcare workers are excited to be receiving them,” Hefley said. “It’s rewarding to know that the we can play a small role in assisting them in this fight against the virus.”

University of the Ozarks Alumni Board Names Grant in Honor of Joe Hoing

The University of the Ozarks Alumni Association Board of Directors has decided to name one of its most prestigious student grants in memory of Joe Hoing, the University’s beloved long-time dean of students.

Photograph of college teacher

At its annual winter meeting on Feb.22, the board voted to establish the Joe Hoing Student Involvement Grant. Formerly known as the Alumni Connections Student Involvement Grant, it is awarded for projects and initiatives that enrich connections between alumni and current students.

Hoing, who died in August at the age of 71, served as dean of students at Ozarks for 29 years, until his retirement in 2014. The former college All-American football player also taught fitness and weight training classes at Ozarks for many years.

“The Alumni Board members wanted a way to recognize Joe Hoing and the positive impact he left on so many students at Ozarks,” said Justin McCormick, associate director of alumni engagement. “In his honor, the board felt that by renaming a pre-existing grant serving student involvement would capture this dedication and allow students for generations to continue to work toward the legacy he left at Ozarks.”