The college, which has been part of the U of A since its founding, is marking the silver anniversary of the year it added “health professions” to the name. Today, the college’s six departments prepare students for a wide range of professions in education and health.
Twenty-five years ago, the University of Arkansas College of Education changed its name to the College of Education and Health Professions to reflect the diversity of its academic and professional programs more accurately.
The college, which has been part of the U of A since its founding, is marking the silver anniversary of its current name in various ways, including a “25 Ways We Care” social media campaign and a commemorative event in December. The social media campaign is a play on words related to the college’s new initiative, WE CARE, which is an acronym for Wellness and Education Commitment to Arkansas Excellence. The initiative serves as a blueprint for innovative research, outreach, and educational programs both on campus and across the state.
“It’s exciting to celebrate this important milestone in our college’s history. We so appreciate the faculty, staff, and students who have brought us to this point and helped us care for the communities in Arkansas and beyond,” said interim Dean Kate Mamiseishvili, who launched the WE CARE initiative earlier this year with her leadership team.
This year also marks the 25th year since the Master of Arts in Teaching graduated its first students, and the nursing department became the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing through an endowment.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Charles Stegman was the college’s dean when the decision was made to add “health professions” to its name. He and faculty members like Ro Di Brezzo in exercise science were the driving force behind the name change.
Di Brezzo, who retired from the U of A after 37 years in 2020, said changing the college’s name was a slow process. She said having a new dean who was a statistician helped because he responded to data. And the data showed that a large proportion of the college’s students were taking health courses.
“Dr. Stegman helped us. He saw it, understood it, he looked at the data, and moved it forward,” she said. “And then it seemed effortless. In retrospect, good ideas seem effortless, but it was a lot of work, a lot of people, and a lot of years.”
Stegman was hired as the dean in October 1995, and the new name went into effect on July 1, 1997.
Di Brezzo said it was as significant as people had hoped.
“Attitudes changed. The campus saw us differently,” she said. “It helped with collaborations. And it was reflective of what was going on in the college. It made a big, big difference for all of us. Everybody wants an identity. And when new faculty came across campus, it was easy for us to introduce ourselves and collaborate with them.”
Stegman agreed that the data clearly showed that the health professions, taken as a whole, represented about half the college. “It was a way to recognize faculty and make sure they knew they were part of the college,” he said.
Before joining the U of A, Stegman had been in leadership at other universities where education and health professions were a priority. While working in the education program at the University of Pittsburgh, he collaborated with faculty in the nursing school and conducted research in the public health program. Also, his wife was a nurse. So, it was easy for him to see how health professions could fit well with education.
Ches Jones, a public health professor, recalled that the name change made it easier for faculty like him to promote programs, hire faculty and seek grant funding. It also helped attract graduate students. “Health-related programs were now being recognized as an important part of the college,” he said.
Inza Fort, a professor emeritus of exercise science, agreed.
“The name change helped students identify with exercise science and the career opportunities available to them,” she said. “The tremendous growth in the exercise science program has reflected that interest. We had more students, more honors program students, and more graduate students. Our faculty increased, which stimulated more research and external funding.”
Barbara Shadden, who retired as a University Professor of communication disorders in 2011, was among the faculty who favored adding “health professions” to the college’s name. She said it opened up new, impactful collaborations that continue today.
“I think of all of the amazing contributions made with nursing on the team, the new Occupational Therapy offerings, and more generally, the relative ease with which new partnerships can be explored thanks to the ‘health’ being in the college name,” she said.
Shadden said the increased interdisciplinary initiatives are crucial. “My sense is that colleagues communicate more effectively and readily explore novel research and clinical paths. As a college, we can attract a broader spectrum of faculty and administrators. Some of these changes really became clear post-retirement for me. But I think they have been important changes and have influenced how the college is viewed academically within the state. There is a sense that more possibilities exist. And that is excellent.”
THE COLLEGE’S ORIGINS
Teacher education has been integral to the U of A since its founding in 1871. It began in what was called the Normal Department, a phrase included in the legislation creating the university. The term “normal” was commonly used in the 19th century to refer to the imparting of norms of exemplary teaching and so to pedagogical training or an institution devoted to teacher preparation. In 1917, the U of A Board of Trustees approved a request by faculty to create a college of education from what was then termed a school of education.
Degrees in health-related fields were added to the college over the years. In the 1940s, the college was reorganized into three divisions: Vocational Teacher Education; Health, Physical Education and Recreation; and General Education. In 1981, the program in communication disorders was added to the college. Nursing was added as a department in 1987.
Today the college’s six departments prepare students for a range of professions in education and health. In addition to its longstanding role of preparing educators and educational leaders, the college also trains nurses, speech-language pathologists, public health specialists, recreation and sport professionals, counselors, occupational therapists, athletic trainers, and human performance researchers.