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.