A $1 million gift to the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith from the Pendergraft family -- long-time philanthropists and loyal supporters of UAFS -- is designed to have an impact on the nursing shortage in the Fort Smith region.
Half of the gift will fund two professorships of nursing, with the other $500,000 designated for equipment and a reconfiguration of a simulation lab used by nursing students. The two new professorships will be named for Jim L. Hanna and Douglas O. Smith, according to Neal Pendergraft.
“These two men were such close personal friends and colleagues of my father, Ross Pendergraft,” said Neal Pendergraft, “and we wanted to honor them for their years of friendship and for the vision and leadership they demonstrated in their lives.”
Jim Hanna, originally from Wichita Falls, Texas, made his home in Fort Smith, where he formed Hanna Oil and Gas Co. in 1969. During his lifetime, he was actively engaged in making the community better, especially for the next generation. Hanna died in July 2010.
Doug Smith, a long-time attorney and community advocate, joined Warner, Smith, and Harris Law Firm in 1959 and had an active law practice until the firm dissolved a few years ago. He was a loyal friend to the late Ross Pendergraft and Hanna, and even now, uses Hanna’s office for his professional activities.
Neal Pendergraft said Jim Hanna and Doug Smith are no strangers to UAFS, since both have served on the UAFS Foundation Board and have been long-term supporters of the University.
“It is only fitting that our gift honor Jim Hanna and Doug Smith,” he said, “since both of them served as mentors for young men and women during their personal and professional lives. Having the Hanna and Smith names on the professorships is important because it speaks to the qualities and values of these two fine men, qualities that are important to instill in others.”
Pendergraft said there are a wealth of talented, caring individuals who would love to enter the health care profession.
“We need to give those folks the opportunity to fulfill their dreams by providing them the highest level of education available anywhere and do it right here at the University,” he said.
The Pendergraft name is prevalent on the UAFS campus. Donnie D. Pendergraft’s previous generosity to the University resulted in the Pendergraft Health Sciences Center bearing her name. She also began scholarship endowments in her daughter Lauri’s name and endowed professorships in honor of son Neal and in memory of her late husband Ross.
Dr. Paul B. Beran, UAFS chancellor, said this latest Pendergraft gift to UAFS shows a continued commitment by the Pendergraft family to UAFS and the Fort Smith region.
“Not only do the Pendergrafts believe in UAFS and what we accomplish on this campus,” said Beran, “but they see the need for more nurses and are willing to step forward and help address that need. The nursing shortage is local, state-wide, national and world-wide. What the Pendergrafts have done with this gift is give UAFS a way to help work toward alleviating the nursing shortage. We are deeply grateful to them for their gift and for their honoring Doug Smith and Jim Hanna.”
Arkansas currently ranks below the national average of registered nurses per 100,000 population. State projections indicate a 34 percent increased need for nurses in Arkansas by 2020.
Dr. Marta Loyd, vice chancellor for university advancement, said she and Dr. Carolyn Mosley, dean of the College of Health Sciences, were visiting with Neal Pendergraft about the simulation lab when he posed the question, “What can we do to address the nursing shortage?”
“Neal’s question resulted in our refining our focus and realizing that, in addition to the simulation lab, the real solution to the nursing shortage was more professors,” said Loyd. “These professorships do not fund the salaries for the professors, but what they do fund is a perpetual source of funding for activities outside the scope of the University’s regular budget, such as technology, research, teaching or service activities. With more faculty, we can admit more students into the nursing program, students who will graduate and help meet the nursing shortage the region faces.”
Dr. Mosley said UAFS nursing graduates have a 100 percent employment rate.
“They also have a reputation for being the best trained and most well-educated nurses in our area,” she said.
Donnie Pendergraft expresses the feelings of the entire family when she speaks of her own connection with the University.
“I love UAFS,” she said. “It’s been a part of my family for many years, and the school has helped so many students to better their lives and the lives of their families. It was important to Ross, and it’s important to us. I’m glad we could help UAFS meet the need for more nurses.”
Dean Mosley said UAFS faces a critical need for additional nursing faculty.
“We have encountered numerous challenges in recruiting these high-demand professionals,” Mosley said. “Accrediting agencies require us to operate with a specified, low student-faculty ratio.”
More than 700 students are in the pipeline to be a part of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, which increases the need for additional laboratory space, according to Mosley.
“When the Pendergraft Health Sciences Center was built, the Associate Degree Nursing and Practical Nursing programs were scheduled to be housed on the second floor, with accompanying labs on the same floor,” she said. “The BSN program added 11 clinical courses, making existing lab space on the second floor no longer sufficient.”
The building’s third floor lab currently houses three second-hand beds purchased to ease the demand on the fully equipped labs on the second floor. The Pendergraft gift will allow the third floor lab to be updated and equipped to meet the space and equipment needs to train BSN students.
The $500,000 designated toward reconfiguring a simulation lab will cover architectural and construction costs as well as the purchase of three simulators, including two adult and a pediatric one.
A recent $300,000 gift from Benefit Bank, which was announced in February, will allow UAFS to fund one nursing professorship and purchase a second Pediatric High-Fidelity Simulator.
Dr. Ray Wallace, provost and senior vice chancellor, said the combination of the Benefit Bank gift and the new Pendergraft gift is a plus for the nursing program and for the region.
“The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith is a premier regional university,” said Wallace, “a status we will maintain through quality programs and quality laboratory spaces. Gifts like these assure our continued reputation and status.”
The Pendergraft family made several other contributions to UAFS when it was Westark, including Ross Pendergraft’s significant role in helping the University obtain funding for the Donald W. Reynolds Plaza, Tower and Campus Green. The Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center also bears the Pendergraft name in his honor.