$18.7 Million Gift to Double Nursing Grads, Expand Arts Programs

Friday, September 9, 2022, the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith announced the largest single gift in its 94-year history – a transformational $18.7 million from the Windgate Foundation that will radically empower the university’s acclaimed nursing and visual arts programs.

The gift addresses critical needs in the Arkansas River Valley, creating a pathway to dramatically increase nursing graduates and cultivating an immersive arts experience for students and the public through the expansion of the Windgate Art and Design building and its offerings.

“The Windgate Foundation cares so deeply about Fort Smith,” said Blake Rickman, Executive Director of the UAFS Foundation and vice chancellor for University Advancement. “This is their hometown, and they understand the unique relationship this institution has with our city. We aren’t just a university in Fort Smith; we are Fort Smith’s university, and we couldn’t be more thankful for their support.”

“This foundation has walked hand-in-hand with us for so many years,” said UAFS Chancellor Terisa Riley, “and I take a lot of pride in their trust in us. It’s an honor, and I am so impressed by how they have used their philanthropy to ensure that we are empowered to adapt to our community’s changing needs.”

“In some ways, I think they can dream bigger than even we do,” Riley said. “And to dream big dreams to improve our community together is so special.”

Prior to this gift, the Windgate Foundation awarded more than $25 Million to UAFS in support of the Windgate Art and Design building and endowment, visual arts and design programming, and a comprehensive scholarship endowment for high-need students.

Over the past three years, Rickman said, the university and the Windgate Foundation pivoted from discussing a single gift to improve fine art facilities at UAFS to designing the multi-tiered plan to holistically advance the health and wellness of the River Valley unveiled today.

“This gift empowers the university to tend to the human needs of every member of our community,” said Katie Waugh, Head of Art and Design at UAFS. “Cultivating overall wellness is crucial for nurturing a functioning society and arts environment.”


Fostering Public Health through Nursing

In service to the region’s public health needs, more than $9.9 million of the Windgate Foundation’s gift will be dedicated to the immediate and sustained expansion of the UAFS Nursing program.

“This gift has created a new beginning for Nursing at UAFS by affording us the opportunity to address one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime, access to health care, by educating and training the registered nurses our community and our region so desperately need,” said Dr. Paula Julian, Executive Director of the UAFS Carolyn McKelvey Moore School of Nursing.

“We have a distinctive nursing program that has been known across the state as offering a truly exceptional education,” said Riley. “The brightest, most dedicated nursing students in the region choose UAFS because they know they’re going to get the best education right here in Fort Smith.

“But like other universities, we share a difficulty in recruiting and retaining the exceptional faculty members who teach in this program, especially amid a global pandemic. Nationally, nursing faculty have been drawn away from academia by high salaries at hospitals and a call to do the important work of caring for patients during this time of crisis, so the financial means to recruit and retain the devoted educators who will train the next generation of qualified nurses is critical to expansion.”

An initial investment of close to $4 Million will allow the university to hire 27 additional faculty immediately while expanding and equipping simulation labs to maximize existing infrastructure. This is expected to serve an additional 200 students annually in the university’s Bachelor of Science of Nursing (BSN) programs, which include traditional and accelerated options.

“With this gift, UAFS will not only stay on the cutting edge of healthcare through our remarkable equipment and facilities but will lead the industry as we recruit some brightest minds in healthcare and clinical instruction. By 2024, I envision UAFS as competitive as any imaginable institution when hiring new nursing faculty members – and that means that our students, who already pay the lowest tuition in the state for a four-year degree, will also have access to the best possible education and educators.”

“We anticipate a doubling in the number of nurses we produce at all levels,” Riley continued. “This is a gift to this entire region, not just to the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith. It reaches far beyond the boundaries of this campus to absolutely transform this area.”

The second phase of investment will allow the university to add two new proposed degrees - an Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN) and an RN-to-BSN pathway. These flexible degree plans will accommodate the diverse needs of varying populations. Though neither program will be brand new to UAFS, they have seen a resurgence of interest following the pandemic, and graduates from these programs are highly sought after by regional hospitals.

In total, 40 new faculty members will be hired over the two phases, with programs expected to graduate close to 300 additional nurses per year once complete – more than doubling the size of the nursing program and near-fully meeting the vacancy rate of regional hospitals.

“With this gift, the Windgate Foundation is investing in a prominent need across the United States,” Riley continued. “They are empowering this institution and indeed this region to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty members who will help us continue our legacy as the highest quality nursing education. And I think it means that they value what we contribute already, and they trust us to continue that legacy.”

“I am extremely grateful to the Windgate Foundation,” Julian said. “This generosity will be felt for generations as the talented nurses we educate at UAFS heal the patients of the River Valley with the deepest knowledge and care.”


Building a Vibrant Community Through the Arts

In further support of the visual arts, more than $8.8 million will allow the institution to expand the Windgate Art and Design building, enabling a more immersive public experience of the space and holistic fine arts studios for students and faculty.

“This gift will meaningfully augment every aspect of our department: the ways we educate students in each of our degree programs, the scope of our exhibitions and art collections, and the services and programming we can offer to the River Valley region and to broader art communities,” said Waugh. “This will shape not only how we address our current needs, but will also substantially inform our trajectory going forward.”

“I feel exceptionally grateful, respectfully humble, and ready to get to work,” she said. “It is such a rare, special opportunity to work towards a project that is this transformational, that will have this much impact on each individual student’s education in art and design. I am so deeply grateful to the Windgate Foundation for the many ways they have substantially improved our students’ lives. I’m also exceedingly grateful to the many dedicated colleagues at UAFS that have allowed us to develop this vision. A gift of this size, given to support both art and healthcare, can set a course for the future.”

Beginning in 2023, UAFS Art and Design will begin a physical expansion of the Windgate Building, as well as an expansion of curricular offerings through both new courses and broadened existing courses, including book arts, 3D-design, art history, graphic design, gallery and collections, museum preparator training, sculpture, ceramics, and digital fabrication.

A Book Arts Center will further open access to the public. The center will advance the study and practice of book arts in a way that will be as unique as it is remarkable and will bolster what is already one of the most well-equipped Book Arts studios in the region. Additional workshop spaces, accessible entrances, and common areas throughout the building will further public collaboration with students, faculty, and alums.

“We aim to develop workshops and educational opportunities, fostering new passions in the field while also serving as an important resource to those who are well-established,” Waugh said. “We are continuing the strong legacy of growth and excellence that previous leaders have established over the years; the efforts of Don Lee and Katie Harper chiefly among them.”

“I believe everybody should have this level of faith in the university,” Riley said, smiling. “The faith to invest every penny they can because they know that we do the right things with their money. Because they know at UAFS, we dream together about how to make this entire region better. Because every student we graduate is better for having come here, and every place that has the benefit of hiring one of these graduates or recruiting them to contribute to their incredible research is in a better place because of what they learned here. That’s why I do what I do,

“The highest moment for anyone serving in higher education is watching your students walk across the stage at graduation,” Riley continued. “The second highest moment is knowing that we had any part of it. And when we get to connect these amazing, philanthropic people in our community with students who have such incredible potential and, sometimes, such incredible need – that is so special.”