Ozark Alum Alex Cravens Find Success in Dream Career
Alex Cravens found himself unemployed in June 2010 when the Whirlpool Corporation in Fort Smith, Arkansas, began outsourcing its operation. The Whirlpool plant was the cornerstone of Fort Smith economy, once employing thousands of people, and the loss rippled through the town like a shockwave. Prior to beginning his career at Whirlpool Corporation, Cravens had worked in restaurant businesses but believed he had finally landed a stable career with the manufacturing giant.
Upon hearing the news that he would be looking for a new career, Alex learned about a Trade Adjustment Assistance program through the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. The program provides various reemployment services to displaced workers who have lost their jobs due to shifts in production outside the United States.
With an opportunity to go to college, Alex knew he wanted to learn more about Information Technology. “I grew up around computers and IT,” said Cravens. “My father was in the field, and I developed a passion for technology at a young age. I wanted to attend a technical college to obtain a degree.” He began looking at local universities, and when he learned about Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus, he said, “It was a perfect fit regionally, so I enrolled.”
Cravens never doubted his decision to attend ATU-Ozark. He was an outstanding student with a 3.9 GPA.
“I had a wonderful experience attending college in Ozark,” said Cravens. “The campus has a much more personal feel to it, and I felt right at home being able to develop relationships with students and instructors.
“The instructors were great at every level,” continued Cravens. “I think the best part is that it was not just focused on the technical and book-learned aspects of the career but also had a significant focus on networking and making connections in the community. Being able to do volunteer work and help local businesses out with their IT needs gave me the real-world experience that helped me understand better how to speak and present myself professionally. All in all, it helped me become more well rounded to combine my technical skills with real-world situations that require professional attire and speaking.”
While attending ATU-Ozark, Cravens served on the Student Government Association. He later represented the campus at SkillsUSA, a state competition held annually in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he became a gold medalist in the computer maintenance technology competition. For Cravens, who had never won a medal before, the honor made him eligible to compete in the National SkillsUSA competition in Kansas City, where he placed seventh in the nation.
Cravens also served as a mentor and a teaching assistant in the Information Technology program. “Faculty and staff alike still remember him today,” said Kale Rudolph, IT chair. “He is a life-long friend and a legend in the IT program, as he continues to be a role model for all the students who have enrolled since his tenure. Alex was self-sacrificing when it came to helping other students in the program; he not only wanted to personally succeed—he wanted his peers to become equally successful.”
Rudolph continued, “When I first met Alex, I wondered if he had the grit to make it through the program, but he quickly proved me wrong. He had determination and the motivation to succeed. He was like a sponge taking in the lectures and working in the lab to learn every aspect of the IT program. Additionally, he would come to the lab on his days off to further his education.”
“A secondary highlight would be the VMware project that I was able to take on and complete during my final semester,” said Cravens. “This was when virtualization was just becoming a big thing. And being able to learn about ESXi, deploy it to a server and stand-up virtual machines for the whole classroom gave me much-needed experience that I was able to use almost immediately following my graduation and landing my first job.”
Once the work was completed and the dues had been paid, it was time for Cravens to graduate. He was equally determined to create an impressive resume and began working on landing a good job.
“I went to see the director of community outreach to see if I could get assistance in reviewing my resume and working through mock interviews,” said Cravens. “She not only assisted me with the resume, she gave me three different mock interviews to ensure I had the knowledge, skills and ability to interview at my very best.”
Cravens soon landed a job at Bank OZK in Ozark, where he became a member of the IT support team. He has progressed through the bank, utilizing his education, and has served in several positions. Cravens was promoted to systems analyst and then later to systems administrator. In 2015 he became assistant vice president-core banking, responsible for implementation, configuration and administration of all Fiserv premier core banking applications running on Microsoft Windows servers. Nearly a year later, he became vice president-core banking, and in 2018 he was promoted to senior vice president/deputy director of information technology-banking systems. Today he is the executive vice president/director of banking systems technology in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Reflecting on his first interview, Cravens said, “I nervously walked into Bank OZK… but [I was] confident that Arkansas Tech-Ozark had led me down the path to success, and I was determined to do everything in my power to put my education to work for a company that had proven success.”
Cravens is a shining example of success. Earning his associate degree from ATU-Ozark completely transformed his life, allowing him the education and skills he needed to become an executive of one of the best banks in the country. Bank OZK has been recognized 13 times as the No. 1 performing bank in the United States in their asset size by leading industry publications. Additionally, Money magazine named Bank OZK “Best bank in the South” for 2019-2020, and Forbes magazine named Bank OZK to “America’s Best Banks” and “World’s Best Banks” in 2019 and again in 2020.
For 2021, Cravens plans to continue building new skills and experience. He ultimately intends to become a chief technology officer. Personally, he’s focused on taking care of his family, helping his friends and sharing his success with others. He’s always liked cars, and his next personal reward target is a new Tesla electric vehicle.
“‘Enhanced’ is a great word for how [ATU-Ozark] affected my career path and life,” concluded Cravens. “Moreover, I think it is safe to say that the Ozark campus was the first step in starting my career path and new life. I was not thinking this big before or putting myself out there for careers. Attending Arkansas Tech-Ozark, and getting a degree in my dream career changed my perspective completely and has allowed me to exceed any expectations that I ever initially had about what it was possible to accomplish. I have ATU-Ozark to thank for that.”
-By Laura Rudolph
for the Tech Action, Spring 2021