A Monday lunch meeting with Arkansas Tech University students left Russellville Mayor Fred Teague brimming with excitement about the possible benefits of re-energizing the ATU Mayoral Advisory Board.
“This is a great, young and diverse group of people that has a vision and cares enough to want to improve their community,” said Teague. “It’s our job to help raise them up and let them know their voice can and will be heard. The biggest thing is taking the time to listen. The value of their voice, their insight and what they will bring to the table is going to be important. It’s one more connection between Arkansas Tech and the City of Russellville.”
The ATU Mayoral Advisory Board was established in 2017. It is designed to provide Russellville’s mayor with insight on the Arkansas Tech student experience and ATU students with a greater understanding of what the community has to offer them.
The group met consistently through fall 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted its schedule and its momentum. Monday’s gathering at Chambers Cafeteria represented a re-start for the initiative.
Mac Wheeler, a history major from Springdale, was among the ATU students who participated in the meeting.
“I learned that the community is much more willing to get involved with Arkansas Tech than I would have anticipated,” said Wheeler. “Hearing Mayor Teague talk about his plans made me excited for the future and how we can combine our ATU community with the Russellville community. Connections are incredibly important regardless of where you are in life. It’s very important to cultivate those connections and keep up with them throughout the years. With this program, it will help students foster those connections with the community.”
Teague said that mock city council meetings that would allow ATU Mayoral Advisory Board members to gain a greater understanding of the financial aspects of decision making are among the activities members might pursue as part of their learning process.
“They are from a different generation than I am and they bring a different perspective to the table,” said Teague. “We talk about raising up new leaders, but it’s not their job to rise up as a leader, it’s our job to raise them up. Programs such as this allow us to share our wisdom and our experience, and if we’re willing to listen we can learn at the same time.
“Our success as a city depends upon Arkansas Tech being successful,” continued Teague. “The students are the ones who dictate that success. They are the ones that choose Russellville and choose Arkansas Tech, which offers an education that is second to none. Our job as a community is to try to bring things into the community that will add to the already amazing education Arkansas Tech is going to offer. I call them carrots. When we put out carrots that attract people to come to Arkansas Tech, we grow the student body and they can collectively be an impactful player in our community. I’m a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all ships, and it just so happens that Arkansas Tech is a major ship.”
Teague, who took office in January 2023, and ATU President Dr. Robin E. Bowen have committed to monthly meetings to share information and strengthen the partnership between the two entities.
“I can’t tell people enough about how important Dr. Bowen’s vision is right now,” said Teague. “She and her staff are thinking outside the traditional box. The fact that she is thinking about the feasibility of developing the property east of North Arkansas Avenue is huge. Dr. Bowen understands what the future looks like and is preparing for it. The new student union and recreation center is going to be amazing. There are a lot of things to get excited about. The right people are at the right table at the right time to help facilitate growth.”
Elli White, an Arkansas Tech journalism major from Malvern, said that learning how ATU and Russellville fit together and making connections are among the benefits she anticipates from being involved in the Arkansas Tech Mayoral Advisory Board.
“I didn’t know these kinds of groups existed anywhere,” said White. “Being invited to this was really exciting. Learning there is a desire to have a connection between Tech and the community is important to me because that is essential to Tech’s success.”
ATU graphic design major Archie Stovall of Conway sees the potential for more events that appeal to Arkansas Tech students and more engagement between the university and the community as a result of the ATU Mayoral Advisory Board.
“Tech, for some people, is a suitcase college,” said Stovall. “They come here, hang out on campus and then go home for the weekends. But they have a whole town they can visit, enjoy, indulge in and become a part of. Even if their stay in Russellville is temporary, ultimately, they have a community here. I think it’s awesome there’s a willingness to make that connection.”
As a Russellville resident, ATU business administration major Carson Smith arrived on campus with an enhanced knowledge of Arkansas Tech, but even he was surprised to learn how closely the university and the community work together.
“There is a deep connection between Arkansas Tech and the City of Russellville, and there’s a great intent to continue that connection,” said Smith. “It’s really exciting to see what the plans are for the future. I will gain a lot of knowledge and experience from interacting with the diverse people in this environment. It will show me how things work in the real world and help me make connections for later in life that will be beneficial.”
Tendai Chiutare is an ATU psychology and rehabilitation science major from Harare, Zimbabwe. She left the ATU Mayoral Advisory Board meeting heartened due to what she perceived as a genuine interest in Arkansas Tech from city leadership.
“I learned that Mayor Teague is willing to hear from college students, how we feel about Russellville and changes that could be made that would positively affect our college experience,” said Chiutare. “I also learned they want us to stay in Russellville after graduation, which was interesting to hear about because I didn’t know much about that. Having this outlet to voice how we feel is really important to students. I will be graduating soon, so it’s not as much about me as it’s about the people who will come after me. For me, being able to speak up for them and impact their future in any way I can, that means a lot more than anything I could personally gain from this experience.”