Putman Returns to Where Journey Started

Putman Returns to

Where Journey Started

Dr. Rhyne Putman, a Williams Baptist University graduate and highly regarded theologian, returned to his alma mater this past 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 is serving as Dean of the Faculty and is responsible for providing academic leadership for faculty and academic programming. As Director of Worldview Formation, he has a primary responsibility for developing and implementing strategies that facilitate worldview formation for the university community. As a member of the faculty, Dr. Putman is providing 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.

Jerry Gibbens Receives An Honorary Doctorate

WBU Awards Gibbens

Honorary Doctorate

Jerry Gibbens, who served for more than half a century as an English professor at Williams Baptist University, was presented an honorary doctorate by the university during its commencement ceremony on Aug. 8.


“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.”

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.

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.

The professor emeritus title signifies faculty who have provided noteworthy and longstanding service to WBU. Any member of the faculty who retires after at least 20 years of full-time service to Williams, with a minimum rank of assistant professor, and who has rendered “distinguished and meritorious services” to the university, maybe appointed professor emeritus.


In 2017 the “Jerry Gibbens Atrium” was officially dedicated in the Maddox Center after extensive renovations were made to the building. At the time Gibbens was the longest-serving member of the faculty at WBU and was bestowed with honors after spending much of his career teaching in the building.


“Jerry Gibbens is a master teacher across generations, mentor to younger faculty, relentless learner, formidable academician, serious Christian, and his legacy is now appropriately recognized in this gathering place for students, in this wonderful place for learning,” Startup said at the dedication ceremony.

Senior Year In A COVID-19 World

Student Perspective:

Senior Year In a Covid-19 World

By Molly Mingo


Everyone’s senior year is crazy in comparison to their previous years in college, but never ever in a million years did I think mine would be this crazy. (Thank you, Covid.) As if the stress and excitement of one’s senior year aren’t enough, we now have to worry about whether or not we’ll be able to actually have one.

One thing that Covid has taught me is not to take things for granted. Some of the best times I’ve had at WBU involved things that required, well, going out, whether it be with friends or just to have a change of scenery. Now, before going out with friends, we have to ask each other the Covid questions: Do you feel sick? Do you have a fever? Is your throat sore? Do you have a cough? Have you been around someone with Covid recently? Then we have to figure out what’s open to the public. That restaurant you always go to because they have the best cheese sticks? Yeah, well, they aren’t open anymore because Covid put them out of business. Maybe you want to run into a store really quick and grab a few things, but because of Covid there is a limit to how many customers are allowed inside and you really do not feel like waiting outside in the freezing cold. (This may have happened to me on more than one occasion.)

It’s crazy how in the blink of an eye everything can be shut down. It’s pretty scary actually. Fortunately, WBU is one of the few schools allowing students to attend class instead of strictly doing online classes. Never have I been so thankful to get the opportunity to sit in a classroom for an hour and listen to a lecture. I know many students love the thought of online classes because it does not require one to actually move. Or get out of bed. Or attempt to make oneself look presentable.

Call me crazy, but I find it hard to garner motivation to complete a task if the said task does not require me to even get out of bed. The one-semester I had of online classes was simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest semesters I’ve ever experienced. I found it harder and harder to make myself wake up for “class” because I knew I really didn’t have to pay attention if I didn’t want to. I took for granted the opportunities I had of going to class and having conversations with my professors on a more personal level, something that I could never do in online classes. A surprising amount of students on campus have similar thoughts about online classes as I do. As much as the average college student likes to complain about going to class every day, it really sucks when that opportunity is taken away from you.

I’ve never been more relieved to go to a small school in a rural area. Having small class sizes has been really helpful when it comes to social distancing and makes me feel more at ease. (Everyone’s feeling a bit paranoid now lately. Or is it just me? I feel like Covid is lurking around every corner.) As graduation is drawing near, I’m trying to become more appreciative of the things I once took for granted. Going to class. Seeing friends. Being healthy! It never crossed my mind that these can be taken away from you before you know it.

So, if you’ve made it this far, first, congratulations! Second, I want to leave you with a Bible verse that may help any seniors out there who feel nervous about their future with all the added stress of recent events.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Just relax and know that there is a light at the end of this dark and dismal Covid-infected tunnel. Be patient and trust that God knows what he’s doing. I wish to see you all at graduation (Hopefully not virtually.)

WBU Enrollment Increases

WBU Enrollment Jumps 27% in Two Years

Williams Baptist University’s enrollment is defying the odds. The pandemic was one of several challenges facing higher education this fall, but it didn’t slow enrollment growth at Williams. WBU’s on-campus enrollment for the fall semester increased more than 12 percent over the previous year, and it’s up an eye-popping 27 percent over the past two years.

Numbers increased across the board, 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 was 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 stood at 594, a 14 percent increase over last year.

WBU had 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 was 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 had 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 (’93) 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 accounted for 39 students this fall, a 30 percent increase.

Total enrollment moved above the 600 mark, with 619 enrolled overall at WBU. That figure, which included on-campus, online and off-campus sites, also reflected a 12 percent increase.

“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. The on-campus headcount has increased by 126 students since the fall of 2018.


WBU Launches Williams Works

WBU Launches
Williams Works

WBU made a bold step toward the future this fall. In doing so, it embraced a proud tradition from its past.

The university launched Williams Works – a new initiative that enables students to work their way to an academically excellent, Christ-centered university education.

“Williams Works is our future,” declared Dr. Stan Norman, WBU’s president. “In spite of the pandemic and the many challenges it presented, we were delighted with a successful start to this initiative. What we have on the horizon is even more exciting as we make plans to expand Williams Works rapidly over the next few years.” 

The concept is simple. Students work 16 hours per week through the fall and spring semesters. In exchange, their tuition and student service fees are covered. And those who qualify and are accepted into the summer program can work fulltime through the summer to cover their room & board, giving them the chance to complete their WBU education debt-free.

Students work a variety of jobs. Some are working at Eagle Farms, WBU’s new agricultural endeavor. Others are working at Custom Pak, a community partner near the Williams campus that makes plastic goods. Still others are working in the cafeteria or other jobs around campus, and more jobs are on the way.

More than 40 students were selected for the first year of Williams Works. The university hopes to add at least that many this fall and in years to come.

“Over the next several years, we plan to grow our Williams Works initiative as quickly as possible, which means more jobs will be added around campus and around the community. Eagle Farms is expanding on multiple fronts, and we also plan to expand jobs on campus and with our community partners,” Norman said.


In embracing the work-college model, WBU is at the forefront among its peers. No other colleges or universities in the state of Arkansas or in the Southern Baptist Convention have such an initiative. And yet, the student work concept is not new to the campus. In fact, Williams Works harkens back to the early years of WBU and its founder, Dr. H.E. Williams.

“We are truly going back to the future,” Norman quipped. “Dr. Williams, ever the visionary, provided all manner of campus jobs in the early days of Southern Baptist College. He had a print shop, an auto repair shop, a woodworking shop that made church furniture, a farm, two radio stations, and a host of other opportunities to employ students.”

The president added, “Dr. Williams did it for the same reason we are, to make it possible for students from working class families to earn an outstanding, transformative, Christian university education.”
Indeed, WBU is moving toward becoming a work-college at a time when the more traditional higher education model is proving problematic for families, and for the universities themselves.

“The tuition-driven model of higher education has been the norm for many years, but its challenges are increasingly apparent,” Norman explained. “Families have reached a point where costs are becoming prohibitive, so colleges and universities feel compelled to discount their tuition in the form of scholarships. As schools compete with one another, they discount their tuition to the point they can no longer meet institutional expenses, and yet it is still too expensive for many students and their families.”


The work-college model opens the door for students who might not otherwise be able to afford a university education, and it is particularly well suited to the working-class families who typify WBU’s region of the country.


“We are delighted with the growth in WBU’s endowment over the past several years, but we are not to a point where we can rely on endowment income to cover most of our university expenses. We continue to seek support for scholarships and endowment, but we have also devised Williams Works in a very strategic way to generate revenue as we provide jobs for our students,” said the president.


The Eagle Farms business plan is structured to provide jobs to fund student work scholarships. A locally grown produce operation is already underway on previously undeveloped university property, and a student-operated store will open in coming months to sell Eagle Farms products to the general public. The store is to be situated at the corner of Fulbright Ave. and Hwy. 67, near the WBU entrance.

A pasture-raised egg operation is also part of the farm, and an Arkansas Department of Agriculture grant is making a meat processing facility possible. The meat processing plant is expected to open this summer, a mile west of the main campus, and it will include an educational component to train a much-needed regional workforce in the meat cutting industry.

Another component of Williams Works is the Hotel Rhea, a historic, boutique hotel in downtown Walnut Ridge that is now operated by WBU students. The Snapp family in Walnut Ridge developed and still owns the hotel. After reading about Williams Works, the family reached out to WBU and offered to lease the Rhea as a part of its student work initiative.

WBU sees value in the work initiative beyond economics, as well. Students working their way to an education will learn responsibility, providing them with experience that future employers are likely to find very appealing. And it gives the university an opportunity to impart a Christian work ethic.

“The Bible begins with God at work in creation, and we read that work was God’s plan for Adam and Eve even before the fall. Scripture is filled with numerous examples and exhortations about work. This initiative gives us a great new platform for teaching a Christian ethic of work to our students,” Norman said.

“Educationally, we are equipping tomorrow’s leaders for work across a broad spectrum of careers. Incorporating the values of hard work and responsibility into the educational process will be of great value to these students and their future employers.”

With plans to expand Williams Works as rapidly as possible, the university is gearing up to become a full-fledged work-university. WBU administration and staff are busy with a multitude of tasks, which range from juggling students’ class and work schedules to developing the infrastructure for a working farm.

Dr. Brett Cooper helped design the Williams Works initiative and is overseeing its launch, while Dr. Marvin Schoenecke is shepherding the transition in such areas as academics, operations and student life. Cooper is vice president for communications & technology and special assistant to the president. Schoenecke joined WBU last year as executive vice president for student life, bringing a wealth of experience after 14 years at College of the Ozarks, a work-college in Missouri.

Donor support has made the Williams Works launch possible. Cox Implement of Hoxie donated a new Massey-Ferguson tractor, valued at $45,000, and Tekla Research of Jonesboro gave $75,000 to fund two greenhouses, which will be used extensively this spring for starting vegetable plants. Other key gifts have been a major boost as well. Norman notes that such support will be needed for the foreseeable future.

“Our friends have made this initiative possible with their generous support, and future gifts are essential for the continued growth of this program,” the president said. “We will have additional capital and equipment needs, and we need supporters to help us fund work scholarships for these student workers. This is an exciting initiative, and we are asking our friends to consider being a part of history by supporting Williams Works.”

Those interested in supporting the Williams Works initiative can go to williamsbu.edu/give and put Williams Works as the gift designation.

Learning To Learn In A Pandemic

Learning to Learn
in A Pandemic

Never before have educators and their students faced a challenge where simply finding ways to learn has been a struggle. 


Since the early part of March 2020, the education system has found itself adapting to an ever-changing set of guidelines in a COVID-19 world and Williams Baptist University has not been immune to these changes. 


The classroom setup is different. Students are spaced for social distancing and required to wear masks. Professors must also wear masks or face shields while teaching, which can present their own set of problems.

The changes have brought about new ideas in the classroom that have helped students ensure that they do not have to miss a lecture if they are unable to attend class. Professors now stream each lecture through Facebook Live and course work is turned in through e-mail or other options as deemed by the instructors. Group presentations have been presented through virtual calls and guest speakers also interact through those same platforms.


However, these ideas are not perfect and often present unforeseen issues.


“Not being able to see my professors’ faces when they are talking has been difficult at times,” said Kyla Hudson, a WBU senior from Cleveland, Tenn. “I never realized how much I rely on being able to see what they are saying. I know that sounds crazy, but now I have to focus on what is being said in class to make sure I am hearing it correctly.”


The same is true for professors, who often use non-verbal indicators to check for understanding among students.


“When I look across the lecture hall now, all I see areeyes staring back at me,” said Dr. Blake Perkins, department chair and associate professor of history. “It can be difficult to know if they have truly understood the message or have questions that they just do not want to ask.”


For students, the task has been equally as difficult from the learning side. When attending an in-person class, they can ask questions immediately when something is not clear, but such is not the case when watching through a livestream and students must follow up with their professors after class through email for a better understanding.



A key component throughout the entire process has been communication by students and professors. Perkins said that being available to answer emails or jump on a Zoom call with a student is something that he now makes part of his daily routine, even going as far as doing it when he leaves campus for the day and goes home to be with his family.



“I often answer emails from students up until I go to bed in the evening,” Perkins said. “It was more hectic at the beginning of the school year because everything was new, but by the middle of the fall semester things seemed to calm down as we all fell into a routine that was normal for the situation we are in.”



Melinda Williams, assistant professor for speech, drama and journalism, said that she too often answers emails from students outside her office hours, but added that is part of why she has loved working at WBU for her entire teaching career.


Student in classroom

“If I ever get to the point where I find it a burden to help a student, then I don’t need to be teaching anymore,” she said.


From the student side, Hudson said she feels that her peers have to take a more active approach to their learning and simply cannot rely on traditional means as they have in the past. From her view, that is good because it made her feel more engaged in her learning process.



In the beginning, the senior said that she struggled between in-person and virtual instruction because each setting felt very different. She had to force herself to continue to pay attention when sitting in her room by herself listening to a lecture because the temptation to pick up her phone or look up something on the internet was incredibly high.



“It is something I think a lot of students struggle with,” Hudson said. “When you are in-person you are in an environment that is familiar to the learning process and while you might daydream or lose focus, you can quickly snap yourself back into it. However, when you are in your dorm room you actually have more distractions than you think and you can easily spend 15-20 minutes not paying attention to a lecture and then you will have to go back later to see what you missed.”



An unexpected obstacle that professors have faced is the task is keeping attendance for excused absences and non-excused absences. Often because of the complex nature of the quarantine process, instructors may not receive notification that a student is in quarantine before the start of class. If a student is in quarantine they are still required to attend class through the Facebook Live setup, but even that can be a cumbersome task for both professor and students.



“Personally, I often struggle to keep up with who should be in class, on Facebook Live or just who is absent for one reason or another,” Perkins said. “It has been a balancing act, but the students have been great about adapting to our needs and that is something that has not gone unnoticed by me and my colleagues.”



Professor writing on a notepadWhile Perkins has been able to adapt and overcome in a traditional lecture-style class, Williams has faced her own set of stumbling blocks in her performing arts classes, which require students to interact with one another.



When classes returned for the fall semester in August, Williams found herself with 30 students in her theatre workshop class that focuses on acting out scenes from plays and musicals, and she struggled to figure out how best to adapt the class to the new breed of instruction.



What transpired has been part inspiration, part ingenuity and a whole lot of throwing ideas against a wall to see what would stick.



To properly social distance the students but still take part in a production style class Williams and her students came up with the idea of a radio show where each student would read a radio program on stage with props and instruments at their disposal in their performances. Students read and performed excerpts from Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds”, the Grand Ole Opry, Fibber McGee and Molly and many others.



The “Old Time Radio Theatre” made its debut during homecoming week in Startup Chapel to a socially distanced audience.



“It was one of the most unique and rewarding performances that we have done,” Williams said. “I think it forced all of us to think outside of the box and come up with a creative way to present something different. I was extremely proud of the work the students put into making this happen.”


Students in a classroom

Both Perkins and Williams noted that while this new world of hybrid teaching has been difficult at times, it has also sharpened their skills as instructors.



Williams said it keeps her on her toes and ensures that she does not become complacent in what she does in class and in many ways, this has made her a better instructor and has allowed her to zero in on her teaching.



“I’ve been teaching for 37 years and in a lot of my classes it is just second nature how I do things,” she said. “I’ve been teaching a speech class since I first arrived here on campus and while things do change, 75 percent of what I teach is mostly the same, so my technique on how I present it is down to a science. Now, however, it has almost felt like I am starting over from year one because I have to be so aware of the virtual component and the in-person kids at the same time, but that is not a bad thing.”



The students of WBU have adapted, as well, and in some cases are already looking at ways they can improve upon techniques in the next stages of their life.



“I’m going to be a teacher and I think going through this now will give me an advantage when I go in for an interview,” Hudson said. “I feel a lot more confident that I will get a job just knowing what I’ve gone through and knowing what my students are going to be going through. I have been immersed in virtual tools and things that my professors are using now that I can use myself. Virtual is here to stay and that’s something that we all have to embrace.