Alumnus Visits New Class He Made Possible

Arkansas Tech University alumnus Bob Dickson had a vision to help faculty at his alma mater create an innovative new course that would bring together students from a variety of majors across campus.

He wanted the course to allow students to work together on solving a problem while learning critical thinking and communication skills as well as the ability to work with others regardless of their background.

On Tuesday, Feb. 21, Dickson saw his vision play out before him in Dean Hall room 207.

That is the site each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for Collaborative Solutions, a new class at ATU that was made possible by Dickson’s philanthropy and passion.

“I talked to some people at Tech about a class that would promote critical thinking,” said Dickson while leading a classroom discussion. “That is probably the most important issue to me. You’re either going to think for yourselves and make your own decisions, or you’re going to follow someone else. Without the skills to critically think about things and review options and opportunities that you have, you will be a follower all of your life. The other side of that is that’s alright. We need to follow each other, but by thinking critically about concepts you can make a better decision about which group you want to follow along with or which group you want to lead.”

A 1968 graduate of Arkansas Tech with a degree in mathematics, Dickson began his career in education. He left the principal’s position at Harrison High School to pursue an opportunity in private business with Mass Merchandisers, Inc.

Now retired, Dickson looks back on his education as the foundation for all that he has been able to achieve. The Collaborative Solutions course at ATU is his way of paying forward the style of learning that benefited him to the next generation.

“The best learning tool that I was ever exposed to was in the fourth grade,” said Dickson. “Have any of you ever heard of Weekly Reader? We had it probably the whole time I was in elementary school, but I remember it in the fourth grade because we talked about questions like the space shuttle program. It was defined and outlined, and it materialized almost exactly the way we talked about it in our classroom. How are we going to define death in the future? That was another issue in Weekly Reader.

“One of the biggies I remember was the 32-hour work week,” continued Dickson. “It was absolutely going to happen. It never materialized. When does life begin? That was another one of these issues, and I remember these because the teacher actually allowed us to discuss them, to argue and to fight…not literally, but figuratively speaking. I think we’re good at solving specific issues, and we have great difficulty when the issues become complex and personal. From my point of view and I think from the point of view of all the people involved with this class, we would like to see you feel free to openly discuss issues that are complex and difficult…to think deeply about them, and to be able to defend and communicate your point of view to others. Whether you realize it or not, it’s preparing you to walk out of college and out into a bigger world.”

Dickson emphasized to the class that diversity of thought is part of that bigger world.

“The day that you walk out of this college, you are going to be in the real world and you cannot even begin to believe the number of ideas that are out there,” said Dickson. “There are concepts that may be radically different from how you see the world. Being able to discuss issues and to work with other people, regardless of whether they are like you or different from you, is key. That’s where the name collaborative came from in the course name.”

Dr. Caroline Hackerott, assistant professor of emergency management, is teaching the initial offering of Collaborative Solutions. The topic for the semester, climate change, was selected through a focus group of ATU students who expressed an interest in the interdisciplinary class.

In order to ensure representation from a variety of academic disciplines, upper level students from every discipline across campus were encouraged to enroll in the course.

Another group of ATU students will enroll in the course and take on another issue during the spring 2018 semester.

“You have to be flexible and take advantage of the opportunities you get, whatever they are,” said Dickson. “All of you are capable of all kinds of things…things you don’t even understand yet. But you have to be willing to seize the moment, and it’s not always easy. There are prices you pay. What all of us are trying to do is find out about ourselves and answer questions about ourselves. That is a part of life. If you respond to the things that come in front of you, you’ll learn to think critically whether you want to or not.”

Learn more about Collaborative Solutions.

Belongia Chosen for Bandmasters Fraternity

Dr. Daniel A. Belongia, associate professor of music and director of bands at Arkansas Tech University, has been selected for induction into the Phi Beta Mu Honorary Bandmasters Fraternity.

Belongia will be inducted into Phi Beta Mu as a member of the Omicron chapter, which is the statewide chapter for Arkansas. His nomination for membership was sponsored by Phi Beta Mu Omicron Hall of Fame member Hal Cooper, who served as director of bands at ATU from 1979-2011.

Belongia became the fifth director of bands in ATU history on June 1, 2015.

A product of Kenosha, Wis., Belongia earned a Bachelor of Music degree in music education and a Master of Music degree in instrumental conducting from the University of Miami (Fla.). He graduated from Michigan State University with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in instrumental conducting.

Before coming to Arkansas Tech, Belongia served as a member of the Illinois State University music faculty from 2005-15.

He summed up his philosophy on teaching and directing band during a 2015 interview.

“The big three are to be fundamentally sound, to be assignment correct and to be mentally tough,” said Belongia. “If we want to be a really good marching band, that’s all we have to do. That’s life too, isn’t it? Be nice, be polite, be kind…those are the fundamentals of human interaction. Assignment correct…where am I supposed to be and what am I supposed to be doing? You can apply that to today, to your 10-year plan and to your life. Mentally tough…obviously, in life, we’re all going to face our ups and downs. There are disappointments and challenges. We win together. You can’t win while making everyone else lose. You see the kind of people that band creates. A very small percentage of them become professional musicians or professional educators, but a huge percentage of them become great citizens and great contributors to the world.”

Founded in 1938, Phi Beta Mu was established by Col. Earl D. Irons. He served as bandmaster and chairman of fine arts at the institution now known as the University of Texas-Arlington.

Deadline Near to Apply for Orientation Leader

Qualified Arkansas Tech University students who wish to make friends, become a better leader, learn more about their university and have fun are invited to apply to become an orientation leader during Go Bold new student orientation on the Russellville campus for the fall 2017 semester.

Applications are available in Doc Bryan Student Services Center room 233 weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Completed applications must be returned to Doc Bryan room 233 by 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24.

Responsibilities of an orientation leader include:

  • Serving as a critical link to entering students of Arkansas Tech
  • Facilitating group processes for new students
  • Making students, parents and families feel welcome and connected to Arkansas Tech
  • Speaking in front of large and small groups
  • Motivating students
  • Attending all scheduled orientation functions

Applicants must be full-time, degree-seeking students in good academic and disciplinary standing with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.75. They must also possess familiarity with university policies and procedures, an ability to multi-task, strong communication skills, a positive attitude, customer relations skills, an ability to work with a variety of audiences, dependability, flexibility and responsibility.

Benefits of serving as an orientation leader include free meals during orientation programs, the ability to move in to residence halls early for the fall 2017 semester and a $450 stipend.

Applicants must be able to commit to attend training Aug. 16-18, opening weekend Aug. 19-20 and new student orientation Aug. 21-22.

Those applying for orientation leader positions may also note their interest in working during summer 2017 as a student ambassador. Individuals filling that role meet one-on-one with incoming freshmen to help acclimate them to campus after the freshmen complete their initial academic advising appointment.

For more information about becoming an orientation leader, contact Jenny Butler, assistant director of campus life, at (479) 968-0235 or send e-mail to

Choirs to Offer Performance Thursday

Arkansas Tech University will present its Concert Chorale and Chamber Choir for a performance under the direction of Gary E. Morris on Thursday, Feb. 23.

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Witherspoon Auditorium, which is located at 407 West Q Street in Russellville.

Admission will be free and open to the public.

The ATU choirs will be joined by guest performers from the Fort Smith Southside High School Chamber Choir, which is directed by Gaye McClure.

Brian Conatser will serve as collaborative pianist during Thursday’s concert.

The choirs will perform the works of William Bird, Pablo Casals, Maurice Durufle and Pavel Chesnakov, as well as contemporary compositions by Jonathan Adams, Kim Andre Arneson and Daniel Elder.

An African American spiritual entitled “Ain’a that Good News,” the southern gospel hymn “Marching to Zion” and a combined performance of “The Awakening” featuring the Southside High School Chamber Choir and the ATU Concert Chorale will round out the concert.

To learn more about public performances hosted by the ATU Department of Music, call (479) 968-0368 or visit

SPJ Welcomes Speaker from Union Pacific

Brandon Morris, public affairs director for Union Pacific Railroad in Little Rock, visited Arkansas Tech University in Russellville to serve as guest speaker for a February meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) student organization.

Morris has served in his current position since 2014. He was a public information officer with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management from January 2013-June 2014 and he spent more than four years as a communications specialist for information technology services company SAIC.

A graduate of Arkansas State University, Morris was named to the Arkansas Business “20 In Their 20s” class of 2016.

Learn more about SPJ at ATU.