Emergency Management Program Marks 25 Years

Skot Covert 4-20-2023
Skot Covert provided the keynote address at the event celebrating 25 years of emergency management education at Arkansas Tech University.

Arkansas Tech University faculty, students and alumni paused to consider the past, present and future of ATU’s degree programs in emergency management during a 25th anniversary celebration at Chambers Cafeteria West Dining Room on Thursday, April 20.

Dr. Sandy Smith, head of the ATU Department of Emergency Management, Professional Studies and Student Affairs Administration, reflected upon the roles Dr. Robert C. Brown, who was ATU president, Dr. Mary Ann Rollans, who was dean of the ATU College of Professional Studies and Community Outreach, James Lee Witt, who was director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Kay Goss, who was assistant director of FEMA, played in creating the ATU emergency management bachelor’s degree program a quarter century ago.

Other pioneers of the ATU emergency management program who were recognized during the event included former faculty members Ed Leachman and the late Dr. Rick Ihde.

Skot Covert, ATU emergency management alumnus and KTHV Channel 11 meteorologist, provided the keynote address for the 25th anniversary gathering. His remarks were framed by the tornado outbreak that affected Arkansas 20 days earlier.

“Those are the days when the lessons I learned over in Dean Hall really come to the forefront,” said Covert when reflecting upon the events of March 31. “For that day, the lesson that really sticks out is projecting calm in the midst of crisis. While watching that tornado move across west Little Rock, into North Little Rock, Sherwood and Jacksonville, I heard this slow-speaking, low-toned voice. It was that of Dr. Rick Ihde, who first introduced to me the concept of the importance of projecting calm in a serious matter. I knew in that moment there was nothing that was going to stop that super cell. There were countless eyes on me, listening to my tone of voice…and I knew that there were going to be people who were rightfully scared. I was scared. I channeled that Dr. Ihde inner voice and tried to project calm.

“I’m so thankful for what I learned here at Arkansas Tech,” continued Covert. “It really makes you appreciate the foresight that people like Mary Ann Rollans, Kay Goss and James Lee Witt had. It wasn’t just a vision. They had the grit and determination to make that vision a reality. At the time, they saw the need for this program. That was before 9/11. It was before Hurricane Katrina. It was before the Moore, Oklahoma, Joplin, Mayflower and Vilonia tornadoes. It was certainly before the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of their vision, communities all around the world today are safer and stronger because of the foundation that was laid right here in Russellville, Arkansas.”

The present of emergency management education at ATU was symbolized by the presentation of student awards for the 2022-23 academic year.

Malik Rodichi received the emergency management undergraduate student of the year award, while Irma Campos earned the emergency management and homeland security graduate student of the year award.

As for the future, faculty members Dr. Jamie Stacy, Dr. Bethany Swindell and Dr. Rejina Manandhar shared with the audience plans to increase the extent to which cybersecurity is integrated into ATU’s emergency management curriculum as well as initiatives to make the ATU Bachelor of Science degree in emergency management and the ATU Master of Science degree in emergency management and homeland security more accessible through condensed courses, shorter term credentials and prior learning assessments.

The event concluded with a recognition of Smith, who will retire June 30 after 12 years of service at ATU.

“It’s been a delight,” said Smith. “When you are part of a team like this, it’s a delight. And it’s a delight to have students who really care and care about other people.”

ATU has conferred more than 1,000 degrees in emergency management since developing its program in the late 1990s. In 2005, ATU became the first institution of higher learning to have its degree programs accredited by The Council for Accreditation of Emergency Management Education.

ATU emergency management alumni who were unable to attend the 25th anniversary event in person are encouraged to sign an online guest book at https://forms.gle/hzGzFJorkVijxqwv8.

Learn more about the study of emergency management at ATU by visiting www.atu.edu/emergencymanagement.

ATU Emergency Management 25th Anniversary Event