FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith announced that its Lion Leadership program will accept 12  full-time employees each year and work with them to build relationships across campus, develop more inclusive perspectives of university operations and become more effective champions for the university and the region. 

According to a press release, the inaugural class consists of six faculty members and six staff members who will participate in eight full-day workshops during the 2022-2023 academic year. Sessions will focus on the university’s place in the state and the University of Arkansas system; student recruitment, support, and retention; academic affairs; community engagement and support; and holistic university advancement. 

The Lion Leadership program is a way for the university to invest in its employees through leadership development, holistic understanding, and relationship-building across the disciplines. This rewarding program would not be what it is without the vision and hard work of the Lion Leadership Planning Committee. This committee worked tirelessly to create, develop, and launch this program, and they received 36 excellent applications to join the program in its initial year. The Faculty Senate Professional Development Committee and the Staff Senate Professional Development Committee undertook the difficult task of choosing the finalists for the class, and we are incredibly excited to work with the exceptional Lions they selected.

Jennifer Belt, chief of staff and chair of the Lion Leadership committe

“UAFS is like a hidden gem, where students get a lot more bang for their buck. Students are taught, not only by a team of faculty who bring experience and knowledge in their relative fields, but also are surrounded by the most supportive staff I have ever seen at the university level,” said Dr. Nicha Otero.

She explained that she applied for the Lion Leadership program with hopes of learning about the inner workings of student support systems and with the help of university administration. 

“I think that we can all do a lot more for our students and future students, and I would like to learn how to become a better champion for them and for our University,” Otero said.

Faculty members representing the Lion Leadership Class of 2022 are Dr. Justina Buck, senior instructor of Organizational Leadership; Dr. Mary Lutze, director of the UAFS Writing Center; Dr. Nicha Otero, associate professor of Psychology; Tammy Rogers, instructor of Nursing; Dr. Kristin Tardif, associate professor and lead faculty of Organizational Leadership; and Dr. Alex Zacharella, director of bands and associate professor of low brass. 

Staff members are Megan Gabbard, interim co-director of Admissions; Matt Hutchins director of donor relations; Danielle Jolie, director of academic support in the College of Business and Industry: Kristen Merritt, advising coordinator in the College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Lisa Norris, director of academic assessment and accountability; and Shanna Turney, assistant director of the R.O.A.R. First-Year Advising Center. 

“UAFS is still a new four-year institution, with just 20 years awarding baccalaureate degrees,” said Jolie. “We are still determining who we are and how we want to be recognized in some areas, and we have many different ways to grow. Being a young university gives us opportunities to try different things, see what works, and quickly adjust.” Jolie explained that the promise of change, collaboration, and growth led her to apply for the program. 

“Our campus is not too big and not too small, so you have opportunities to seek out professional development or serve on committees where you can be an agent of change,” she continued, “I look forward to collaborating with other staff and faculty, learning more about the behind-the-scenes of Academic Affairs, and hearing more about faculty perspectives on our campus.”