Coming full circle and forging ahead

A message from Dr. Johnny Moore, president of United Methodist-related Philander Smith College

Philander Smith College is a beacon of hope and a vessel through which dreams become reality. For 135 years, the college has been exceptionally effective in creating bright futures for students with the tenacity and wherewithal to transform themselves through higher education.

Started as Walden Seminary, a place where freed slaves clamored for an education, we boldly stand as a monument to their determination and fortitude, preparing today’s students for a soon-coming tomorrow. Here we are, more than a century after our founding, and our alumni ranks are filled with some of the state’s and the nation’s most prominent educators, attorneys, legislators, elected officials, accountants, entertainers, thought leaders and more.

I know firsthand that starting here, you can go anywhere you want in life. Upon earning my bachelor’s degree in 1989 from Philander Smith College, I completed a Master of Science degree in mathematics from Arkansas State University and began my professional career as an instructor of mathematics at East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City, Ark.

After four years there, I accepted a teaching position at Indian River State College in Ft. Pierce, Fla., where I rose through the ranks from Master Instructor to tenured Full Professor of Mathematics and, ultimately, to Vice President of Student Affairs—all within a nine-year time frame. Later, I was recruited by Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas, to serve as the Executive Vice President. After two years there, I came full circle, back to Philander Smith College, as the institution’s 13th president.

Since taking the helm of my alma mater, I have been listening, observing and talking with numerous stakeholders who want to see the college continue to thrive. Imagine how thrilled we were to learn recently that Philander Smith College had been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s top 30 Historically Black Colleges and Universities!

While the recognition is great validation of our value, we are ever cognizant that academically qualified African-American students can attend college anywhere they choose, forcing us to compete with colleges with wider offerings and deeper pocketbooks. And threats to federal support of HBCUs loom large each year, with stricter rules on awarding loans, hampering the enrollments of not only Philander Smith College, but also some of the nation’s most prominent black colleges and universities.

And yet, we are undeterred. While proud of our recent accolades, we are compelled to become more diligent, enterprising and innovative in order to remain competitive. Toward that end, over the next couple years, some of our institutional priorities include:

•    opening the new Student Center;

•    increasing enrollment to 1,000 students;

•    increasing the number of Arkansas students;

•    increasing the number of student scholarships;

•    increasing the number of business mentors and internships for students;

•    enhancing alumni business collaboration;

•    Increasing the number of on-campus job fairs;

•    adding additional athletic programs (baseball, softball, soccer, tennis)

•    adding summer academic camps and summer job programs;

•    increasing faculty and staff development opportunities; and

•    developing graduate degree programs.

As you can see, our work is set before us, but these goals are absolutely attainable with a strong sense of direction, unity and the support of our trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, alumni and other champions. In fact, we see Philander Smith College as becoming one of the nation’s best liberal arts colleges, known and recognized by the excellence of our programs, the quality of our instruction and our desire to be a contributing partner to Little Rock, as well as to Arkansas, the United States and the world.

If our past has taught us anything, it is that our challenges serve to make us stronger, fortifying us to withstand the test of time. How glad I am to be home to have a page in the next chapter of our glorious and storied history, for truly the best is yet to come.