By Michael S. Lee | Pine Bluff Commercial
Gov. Mike Beebe paid a visit to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff campus Monday morning to formally present UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander with a check for $750,000 that will go toward the completion of the STEM Academy and Conference Center.
“There is a one-time fund for building projects that the state Legislature creates,” Beebe said in remarks given during a formal program held in the L. A. Davis Sr. Student Union Lounge. “They give me a pot of money to give out according to the needs that I see across the state.”
Beebe said providing the funds to UAPB is an endorsement of the importance of preparing minority students for careers in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“The STEM subjects tend to create the greatest number of jobs with the highest salaries in this day and age,” Beebe said. “Your job prospects are enhanced with a STEM degree. I encourage as many students as possible to be a part of this and to not be afraid of math and science.”
Beebe said the UAPB STEM Academy is incredibly important because blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in STEM careers.
Mary Benjamin, UAPB’s vice chancellor for academic affairs, expressed her appreciation for the presence of Beebe and of other dignitaries including Shane Broadway, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education; Donald Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System; and state Sen. Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV.
“Today is a bright and exciting day,” Benjamin said. “Our goal with the construction of the STEM Academy and Conference Center is to ensure a well-prepared and diverse STEM workforce. Today I also want to acknowledge the teamwork between our STEM students; and the teamwork between state and federal agencies in the construction of this new building.”
Keith Ross, assistant director of the UAPB Physical Plant, provided a construction update.
“We are at 35 percent of total completion and are scheduled for substantial completion of the academy by April 2014,” Ross said. “At this point we are ahead of schedule. The conference center is scheduled for substantial completion by late summer of 2014. We have 47 percent participation by minority and local contractors and as of right now we are within budget.”
Wilkins spoke in his capacity as STEM building campaign chairperson.
“It was a great joy for me to be asked to be a part of this endeavor,” Wilkins said. “The governor did not have to come here and give us this check but he did.”