Williams Baptist University Notches 12% Enrollment Gain

A challenging time for higher education hasn’t slowed enrollment growth at Williams Baptist University.  WBU’s on-campus enrollment for the fall semester increased more than 12 percent over last year, marking the second straight year of double-digit gains for the private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge, Ark.

Numbers were up across the board at WBU, including a record-breaking freshman class.  The growth was propelled by the university’s new Williams Works initiative and strong recruiting numbers for WBU athletic teams and music groups, among other factors.

“There are many people across campus who worked very hard to bring these students to Williams, overcoming the hurdles of a very challenging year.  Beyond that, it is clear to us that these incredible enrollment numbers far exceed our human abilities.  Simply stated, God is blessing WBU in a mighty way, and we are both humbled and deeply thankful to Him,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of the university.

WBU’s on-campus headcount this fall is 581 undergraduate students.  That number reflects a 12.4 percent jump from last fall’s figure of 517.  Williams saw an even larger increase in its full-time equivalent, or FTE, which is a critical budget figure for colleges and universities. The on-campus FTE stands at 594, a 14 percent increase over last year.

WBU has 220 freshmen on campus this fall, a record in the modern history of the university, in addition to 67 students who transferred to Williams or are otherwise new to the school since last year.  The total population of new students is up eight percent over last year.

Returning students also gave WBU’s enrollment a boost.  The 294 on-campus returners reflect a 17 percent increase.

More students are living in WBU campus housing, as well.  Williams has 422 students in its residence halls this fall, an increase of 11 percent.

“Everyone at WBU deserves a thank you for their hard work in bringing students to this institution.  Vice President for Enrollment Management Angela Flippo and the admissions and financial aid staffs did amazing work.  Our coaches and the directors of our music groups recruited diligently and very effectively for their programs, even with the many restrictions necessitated by the pandemic.  The effort by our entire university family was tremendous,” Norman commented.

“The Williams Works initiative brought in more than 40 students in its first year, accounting for a significant share of our growth, not to mention the level of excitement it continues to generate both on and off campus,” the president said.  WBU launched Williams Works this fall, giving selected students the opportunity to work in exchange for their cost of education.

In addition to its on-campus numbers, WBU saw growth in its online programs.  Williams offers two online master’s degrees in education, as well as an online bachelor’s in criminal justice.  Combined, those programs account for 39 students this fall, a 30 percent increase.

Total enrollment moved above the 600 mark, with 620 enrolled overall at WBU, and that number stands to increase as off-campus extension sites report numbers in the days ahead.

“The most exciting thing is what these numbers and percentages represent.  These numbers reflect young men and young women with their adult lives before them, lives that can be transformed by the Christ-centered commitment and academic excellence of Williams Baptist University.  It is humbling to realize the impact WBU will have on their lives, and the impact their lives will have on the world,” Norman said.

It is the second year in a row for WBU to experience double-digit percentage growth.  On-campus headcount has increased by 126 students since the fall of 2018, which is a 27 percent jump over two years.

WBU began its fall semester on Tuesday, August 18.  Enrollment figures were compiled after the university’s fall enrollment period ended Friday.

Williams Baptist University Presents Doctorate to Jerry Gibbens

Jerry Gibbens, who served for more than half a century as an English professor at Williams Baptist University, was presented an honorary doctorate by WBU Saturday.  The honor was bestowed during the university’s commencement exercises.

Man receives honors during graduation ceremony

“It is astounding to think of the contributions Jerry Gibbens has made to Williams Baptist University through more than 50 years of service.  His intellect, his dedication to academic excellence and his exemplary Christian commitment are hallmarks of his tenure at WBU.  As I remarked to him, it was one of the highlights of my own academic career to present him the doctoral hood,” said WBU President Dr. Stan Norman.

The presentation was made by Norman and Dr. Kenneth Startup, a longtime academic dean and emeritus professor of history at Williams.

“Jerry Gibbens has been a faculty member of truly singular significance during his long, distinguished tenure at Williams,” Startup said.  “His passion for teaching, his remarkable skill as a teacher, his love for learning, his unfailing support of his colleagues and of the university and its mission are unlikely to be surpassed.”

Gibbens, a WBU alumnus, returned to his alma mater in 1967 as a member of the English faculty, serving for 53 years in that capacity before retiring this spring.  He was also chair of the Division of Arts and Sciences and the Department of English and Communication Arts.  He was named an emeritus professor upon his retirement.

Dr. Blake Perkins, chair of the WBU Department of History, had recommended to the Williams administration and Board of Trustees that Gibbens receive the honorary doctorate.  His recommendation was read at the commencement ceremony.

“Professor Gibbens has also been an exceptional colleague and outstanding mentor to fellow faculty members over the years.  As a faculty member, department and division chair and committee member, he has been a stalwart champion and promoter of the highest-quality of Christian liberal arts education,” Perkins’ citation read.

WBU’s commencement had been scheduled originally for May, but it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It was rescheduled for Saturday with social distancing protocols in place, giving graduates and their families the opportunity to celebrate the milestone.

Dr. Christopher Hair Joins Williams Baptist University English Faculty

Williams Baptist University has announced that Dr. Christopher Hair will be joining the WBU English faculty this fall.  Hair, who has more than 20 years experience in higher education, will serve as professor of English, chair of the English Department, and chair of the Division of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Christopher Hair

“Dr. Hair is a great addition to our already outstanding English faculty.  He is an accomplished scholar in the study of literature, and he excels in classroom instruction.  He has an abiding Christian faith which he integrates seamlessly into his teaching.  We are blessed to have his talents and his leadership on our faculty,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of Williams.

Hair served for the past three years at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he was associate dean of humanities and social sciences and chair of the Division of Language and Literature.  He also taught for ten years at Emmanuel College in Georgia, with previous teaching duties at Oklahoma State University, Baylor University and the University of Kentucky.

Hair earned his Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky, where he specialized in British renaissance literature, with a special focus on the 17th century, especially Milton.  He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Baylor University.

“We are delighted to welcome the Hair family into the WBU campus family and the Walnut Ridge community.  They will be a great fit here, and we look forward to everyone getting to know them,” said Norman.

Hair and his wife, Amanda, have four children: Ethan, age 19, Becca, 17, Sarah, 12, and Lilli, 9.

WBU is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge, Ark.

Williams Baptist University Students to Manage Hotel Rhea

The Hotel Rhea will soon be under the management of students at Williams Baptist University. Through the university’s new student work initiative known as Williams Works, students will manage and operate the historic hotel in downtown Walnut Ridge.

A woman and four men pose for photograph while signing a document

WBU recently signed a lease agreement with Snapp Family, LLC, which has operated The Hotel Rhea since buying and thoroughly renovating the facility in 2013.  The lease signing is picture above.  Front row (left to right) are Charles Snapp, Jackie Snapp and Dr. Stan Norman.  On the back row are Brayden Brewer and Dr. Brett Cooper.

“Charles, Jackie and Carrie Mae Snapp are longtime friends and supporters of WBU, and they have made available a great opportunity for our students to work and get ‘real world’ work experience in the process,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of WBU. “The Hotel Rhea provides a welcome addition to our Williams Works program and strengthens our connection to downtown Walnut Ridge.  We are very excited about this initiative.”

Hotel Rhea is on Main Street in Walnut Ridge and dates back to 1904. The hotel covered most of a city block at the time it was built. A fire in 1914 destroyed all but the current remnant of the structure. The Rhea is now a boutique hotel, with four large suites which were renovated to match the history of the facility.

Jackie Snapp, who has managed the hotel since her family acquired it, came up with the idea to have WBU students run the facility after reading about the Williams Works initiative. Jackie is a WBU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business, and she recalls the impact Williams had during a difficult period of her life.

“At 34 years old I found myself divorced and a single mother of two. I was more than overwhelmed by other institutions. I went to Williams, and Dr. Swaim took me by the hand and got me where I needed to go. I was on my way,” she said, recalling the assistance of Dr. Jerol Swaim, a former academic dean who went on to serve as president of the school for 17 years.

“Williams was the best decision I made.  It gave me the education I needed, but most importantly it gave me the self-confidence I lacked,” she said.

Her husband, Charles, is mayor of Walnut Ridge and excited to see WBU’s increasing presence in the downtown area. “We grew up in a time when downtowns thrived, and we understand the need for revitalization of those areas. Industry is changing, and quality of life factors, like a vibrant downtown, are the future,” he said.

“Youthful direction helps establish the future of our community, not to mention the insight youthful minds bring, and that’s the future in itself,” the mayor added.

Charles’ sister, Carrie Mae Snapp, also has longstanding connections to Williams, where she taught oral communication and drama in the 1980s. She said she is very pleased to extend her family’s connection to the university.

“Having taught at Williams, I understand how they work to prepare students for life after graduation. As an instructor I was invested in the students’ education but also their work after graduation,” she said.  “To have an opportunity that allows WBU students hands-on experience in a real business operation will add a level of training well beyond the normal classroom. I’m proud to be a part of continuing education for Williams and for continued growth and revitalization for Walnut Ridge.”

WBU announced its Williams Works initiative last fall and will welcome its first students into the program this fall. Students selected for Williams Works will work 16 hours per week during the school year, and in exchange will have their tuition and fees covered. Some will also work full-time in the summer months to cover their room and board expenses, giving them the opportunity to graduate debt-free.

Brayden Brewer, a senior from Piggott, Ark., has been hired as student manager of the Hotel Rhea. As a finance major, Brewer has been steeped in business courses at WBU, and he plans to call upon that knowledge in running the hotel. He will be assisted by Williams Works students, who will tend to cleaning the hotel and other tasks as needed.

“Brayden is a fine student and a great choice to help us launch our management of the Hotel Rhea. We believe he will receive invaluable, real world experience, as will the Williams Works students who assist him. That is just one of the many benefits of our works initiative, and we hope to have many more opportunities like this one in the years to come,” Norman said.

The hotel is open again for reservations, after being closed for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We are taking all necessary steps to assure the rooms are thoroughly disinfected and safe for all guests before every stay,” Norman said.

The WBU president noted that as a boutique hotel, the Hotel Rhea offers guests a no-contact reservation and check-in system, which should be reassuring to guests during the pandemic.

For the Snapp family, renovating and operating the hotel has been a labor of love, but Jackie said she is now happy to hand over management to students from her alma mater.

“I’m in awe at the growth WBU has experienced since my graduation and so look forward to watching the Williams Works program evolve,” she said. “I am honored to be able to give back to Williams, they gave me so much.”

Those wanting to book a room or get more information can visit the hotel’s website at thehotelrhea.com.

Putman to Join WBU Administration/Faculty

Dr. Rhyne Putman, a Williams Baptist University graduate and highly regarded theologian, is returning to his alma mater.  Putman is joining the administration and faculty at WBU this fall as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Director of Worldview Formation and Professor of Christian Ministries. 

In his role as AVP for Academic Affairs, Putman will serve as Dean of the Faculty and will be responsible to provide academic leadership for faculty and academic programming.  As Director of Worldview Formation, he will have primary responsibility for developing and implementing strategies that facilitate worldview formation for the university community. As a member of the faculty, Dr. Putman will provide classroom instruction in the areas of Bible, Christian worldview, theology, and other courses related to the department of Christian Ministries.

Putman graduated from Williams in 2005 and went on to earn an M.Div. and Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  He was hired onto the theology faculty at the seminary and has been serving there ever since.  He has also been the Pastor of Preaching and Vision at First Baptist Church in Kenner, La., since 2017.

During his time at NOBTS, Putman has become one of the foremost theologians in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a recognized scholar in the areas of theological method and worldview formation. His publications include When Doctrine Divides the People of God: An Evangelical Approach to Theological Diversity and In Defense of Doctrine: Evangelism, Theology, and Scripture. His forthcoming book, The Method of Christian Theology, is scheduled for release fall of 2021. 

“Dr. Putman has distinguished himself in his field of study, and he has excelled as a professor.  He is one of the most prominent young theologians in the field today.  He is a credit to WBU as an alumnus, and we are blessed to have him and his family return to Williams in this role,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of WBU.

“Rhyne embodies the ideals of a pastor-theologian. He has the mind of a scholar and the heart of a pastor. He understands the importance of local church pastors having a solid biblical foundation and a Christ-centered theological formation,” Norman said. “Rhyne is joining a Christian Ministries faculty that instills in our students a love for the Lord and a love for His church.”

Putman said he is excited to work in a university setting. He believes it is vitally important to impart spiritual truths at this stage of their lives.

“I am excited to put my training in worldview formation to use in a more global setting—to help build a robustly Christian liberal arts education in a university. We can shape minds who see the world through the lens of the gospel, develop rich habits, and stir affections for Christ,” Putman said. 

“College students are away from mom and dad for the first time in their lives. They are discovering who they are, and this is a crucial time in the formation of their worldview. My hope is to help students find their place in the grand drama of the gospel. This is God’s world, and no matter what vocation we train for, we all have a pivotal part to play in the story he is telling,” he noted.

The hire is doubly special for Norman, who served as a systematic theology professor at the New Orleans seminary and taught Putman as a student.  The two have remained close friends in the years since.

“Rhyne was a gifted student, and I was blessed to share in his theological formation. It has been a pleasure to see him gain prominence as a pastor and a theologian,” Norman said. “Rhyne also has a true heart for ministry and a love for the local church. As a committed churchman, he has a deep appreciation of the important role and relationship that Arkansas Baptist churches have with WBU. These traits will serve him well as he trains and prepares the next generation of ministers to serve in ministry in the local church as well as the marketplace.”

Norman noted that Putman’s influence will not be limited to Christian ministry majors. Putman will also provide interim leadership to campus ministries. “He will be a perfect fit at WBU, where he can reach students in the classroom and help shape the lives of young men and women all across this campus,” said the WBU president. “Rhyne will have the opportunity to interact with students in a broad array of academic fields who are preparing for a wide range of careers.” 

Putman and his wife, Micah, are both Jonesboro natives.  They have two young children. 

Tekla Research Providing Greenhouses at WBU

A donation to Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge will fund the construction of two greenhouses.  The $75,000 gift from Tekla Research, Inc., is providing the greenhouses for WBU’s Eagle Farms.

The farm operation is part of the broader Williams Works initiative, which will allow students to work their way through college.

Tekla Research CEO Dave Russell and CFO Beth Russell West, both of Jonesboro, Ark., along with company President Kevin Wilcutt of Fredericksburg, Va., are the major partners in Tekla. They provided funding for the greenhouses in memory of two close relatives, Dannah Russell Jones and Nora Leann Shuman.  Dannah Jones was Russell’s daughter and West’s sister, and Nora Shuman was Wilcutt’s granddaughter.

“We’ve been blessed as a company and we wanted to share that with Williams.  When I heard about the need for the greenhouses, I thought what a great way for Kevin and myself to provide a memorial for our dear daughter and granddaughter that we lost,” said Russell, who serves as chair of WBU’s Board of Trustees.

Pictured above are Rusell (center) presenting the check to WBU President Dr. Stan Norman (left), along with WBU Vice President for Institutional Advancement Dr. Doug Walker.

Eagle Farms is being developed on the western side of the WBU campus, where fruits and vegetables will be grown, harvested and marketed by students.

“The idea of new life growing and coming from such tragedy is somehow reassuring,” Russell said.  “I do think it’s a fitting way for us to honor their memory, and I’m sure their memory will continue to live on even after we’re gone.”

Dave and Deb Russell lost their daughter to a sudden heart attack, while Wilcutt’s granddaughter died of a rare syndrome.

“My wife Peg and I can’t think of a better way to donate this money.  Besides educating others to preach the gospel it’s a great way to educate others on the rare cause of Nora’s death, Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child (SUDC),” Wilcutt said.

“She was a healthy 2 ½ year old who went to sleep one afternoon to never wake up again.  This is different than SIDS since it can happen to any child up to the age of 20.  Unfortunately SUDC does not get the recognition that SIDS does and the research is not funded by the federal government,” he noted.

Russell said he and Wilcutt are excited about the Williams Works initiative and what it represents.  Students selected for the program will work 16 hours per week all through the fall and spring semesters, and their tuition and fees will be covered.  Those who work fulltime in the summer months will also have their room and board paid, enabling them to graduate debt-free.

“As businessmen who interview and hire new job candidates regularly we know the value of an education that includes work as well as academics.  Our best new hires are people that worked their way through school with either work-study for their degree, internships or a wide variety of other jobs.  In fact, one of our best entry level hires was a landscaper while in school that is now leading multi-million dollar proposals.

“Too many institutions are turning out graduates and folks with advanced degrees that may understand the concepts but don’t understand how to apply them practically in a work environment.  Williams Works and Eagle Farms will give Williams graduates that experience,” Russell commented.

Wilcutt added, “It does a person good to get his/her hands dirty.  What a way to get and pay for an education!”

WBU President Norman said the greenhouses will be built on the front side of Eagle Farms and will be used to start plants which will later be transplanted outdoors. The structures will also serve as the entry point for visitors to the farm.

“The greenhouses were a huge need for our burgeoning farm operation, and we can’t thank Tekla Research enough for such a generous gift.  Dave and Kevin have captured the vision for the farm and for Williams Works.  The memory of their loved ones will live on in a very special way through these structures, and through the lives impacted by the Williams Works initiative,” he said.

Allison Family Gives Mower to WBU’s Eagle Farms

Velma Allison and her family have met a need for Williams Baptist University and its new endeavor, Eagle Farms.  Allison, who is from Walnut Ridge, recently donated a Bad Boy mower that had been used by her late husband, Jack.  The Allisons are longtime supporters of WBU.

Men pose in field next to large lawnmower

“We want Eagle Farms to maintain a professional look and become an operation the community will be proud of.  We are developing more than 10 acres in the first phase of the farm operation, giving us a lot of ground to mow between vegetable patches and around fruit trees.  The Allison family has provided us exactly what we needed,” said Dr. Stan Norman, president of WBU.

Eagle Farms is a component of WBU’s new Williams Works initiative, where students can work their way through college.  The farm is growing fruits and vegetables on the west edge of the WBU campus, utilizing university property that was previously undeveloped.

The gift was arranged with the assistance of WBU Board Member J.R. Cox, whose family operates Cox Implement in Hoxie.  The business serviced the mower and put new blades on it before delivering it to WBU.

Mrs. Allison was not on hand when the mower was delivered but extended her best wishes for Eagle Farms.  “Jack and I have always loved Williams and we have been proud to support it.  WBU means a great deal to our family, and we are especially excited to see Williams Works develop in the years to come,” she said.

Present for the delivery were Norman; Cox; Dr. Doug Walker, vice president for institutional advancement; Brad Flippo, farm manager; and Dr. Brett Cooper, vice president for creative services and technology, who is overseeing the launch of Williams Works and Eagle Farms.

WBU Business Students Win State Awards

Business students from Williams Baptist University earned five awards at the 2020 State Leadership Conference of Phi Beta Lambda. The annual event was scheduled to be held on April 3rd and 4th in North Little Rock, Ark., but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the competitions were held via the internet.

Of the five awards claimed by Williams students, one team earned first place honors.

The team of Andrew Taylor and Seth Haile took first place in the Business Decision Making competition.

The team of Tori Lovelady, Hannah Vernon and Brayden Brewer took second place in the Management Analysis and Decision Making competition.

Luke Breitkruiz earned second place in the Marketing Concepts competition.

Karla Garcia earned third place in the Retail Management competition.

And Brayden Brewer won third place in Sports Management and Marketing.

Phi Beta Lambda is the collegiate extension of Future Business Leaders of America.

The WBU Department of Business offers three bachelor’s degree majors: business administration, finance and marketing.

WBU is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge, Ark.

Williams Baptist Launches Prayer Society

Williams Baptist University is mounting a renewed focus on prayer, and it is calling on its supporters to join the effort.  WBU has announced the formation of a new group, the Eagles Wings Society, whose sole purpose is praying for the university and its people.

WBU President Dr. Stan Norman led in the formation of the Eagles Wings Society, and the group has been formally approved by the university’s Board of Trustees.  The president said the group has been in development for several weeks, but that the COVID-19 outbreak provides an ideal time to launch a prayer initiative.

Norman said he became convinced of the need for such an organization following several years of his own reading, preaching and commitment on prayer.

“In the course of my studies, teaching, and praying, I came to an obvious but somewhat startling realization – if prayer is so important, so absolutely crucial to the faith and service of God’s people, why have we not organized and mobilized the employees, students and friends of WBU to pray for the university and its mission?” Norman said.

“If Jesus prayed about His mission, why are we not praying more diligently and strategically for the mission of WBU?  This realization brought a conviction that led me to develop a plan, and to have our Board of Trustees approve the plan, to have a university-sponsored group whose sole purpose is to pray for the mission of Williams Baptist University.”

The Eagles Wings Society will be co-chaired by Dr. Johnny Hutchison and Dr. Bob Magee.  Hutchison is pastor of Highland Drive Baptist Church in Jonesboro and a member of the WBU Board of Trustees, while Magee is chair of the WBU Department of Fine Arts and director of the Williams Singers.

Norman said the society will be composed of people who commit to pray for Williams on an ongoing and strategic basis.  Some will be employees of the university, and others will simply be friends of WBU, both far and near, who are willing to engage in focused prayer for the institution.

“This group will be charged to engage in the ministry of prayer in all its biblical expressions (intercession, supplication, confession, thanksgiving, etc.).  Members must be people who will commit to a ministry of prayer that is consistent, diligent and strategic in expression and practice, praying faithfully to our God on behalf of the people and mission of WBU,” Norman commented.

“Guiding values for membership in the Eagles Wings Society will be: (1) a sincere commitment to pray for WBU; (2) a matured consistency in the spiritual discipline of prayer; (3) a sustained intensity in the expression of prayer; and (4) a willingness to pray in individual and corporate contexts.”

The president noted that universities form many types of boards with the intention of raising support from other people, in one form or another.  This group, however, is designed to seek support from God.

“It is common for universities to have various types of advisory board (fundraising, advisory, athletic, etc.) – these types of groups are extremely helpful to schools.  In fact, we have some of these types of groups at WBU.  The Eagles Wings Society is a different type of organization.  Membership in the EWS is not an honorific appointment, an award conferred or recognition given for some type of achievement.  This is a board of ‘working hard in prayer,’ and the members of EWS must be committed to this crucial work,” he noted.

Above all, Norman said, the intensified focus on prayer is intended to fortify WBU and its mission in today’s culture.

“The effectiveness of our mission is connected to our praying.  To be candid, we will not as Christians in today’s world faithfully and effectively serve the Lord if we do not study His word and pray.  And as this matter relates to WBU – Williams Baptist University will only faithfully fulfill the mission that God has entrusted to us through prayer,” the president said.

“The devoted servants of God who worked and served here in the past were a people of faithful praying, and this university known as a ‘Child of Providence’ will only move forward in the future that God has for us through prayer.  Our ability to continue to be a campus of Christian purpose is directly tied to our faithfulness to pray.”

Those who have prayer requests can email them to ews@williamsbu.edu.

For more information on the Eagles Wings Society, follow this link.

Williams is a private, Christian university in Walnut Ridge, Ark.