Onward and upward was the sentiment expressed by University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander Tuesday at the Pine Bluff Rotary Club’s meeting. Members gathered at the Pine Bluff Country Club to hear Alexander discuss the future of the university as it relates to the five-year strategic plan.

“We’re trying to boil it down to something that is memorable and that everyone can capture on to and get ahold of and get their arms around,” Alexander said. “The strategic plan is 81 pages long. But, surely we don’t expect anyone to remember 81 pages … we do want you to remember what the priorities are.”

In an effort to make the strategic plan “memorable,” the university created an acronym: G.O.L.D.E.N. Alexander said that “G” represents growing enrollment, “O” represents optimizing efficiency, “L” represents lifting facilities, “D” represents diversifying revenue streams, “E” represents enhancing the reputation of the university and “N” represents nationalizing visibility.

“The applications are up by more than 1,200 over this date last year…,” Alexander said of enrollment. “So, get ready Pine Bluff for lots of students, lots of parents and lots of folks moving in to the city. It’s an exciting time to be in Pine Bluff, because there is change in the air (and) there’s things happening.”

The university enrolled a total of 2,460 students for spring 2017, of which 2,364 are undergraduate students and 91 are graduate students.

UAPB enrolled 2,821 students in fall 2016: 2,721 undergraduates and 100 graduates; 2,343 students in spring 2016: 2,241 undergraduates and 102 graduates; 2,658 students in fall 2015: 2,545 undergraduates and 113 graduates; 2,216 students in spring 2015: 2,104 undergraduates and 112 graduates; and 2,513 students in fall 2014: 2,401 undergraduates and 112 graduates.

As part of the implementation of G.O.L.D.E.N, the university has already undergone some renovations to buildings, created new housing and academic facilities, as well as digital access for students and parents to optimize efficiency.

“This is an amazing time, and UAPB is proud to be a part of the transition that’s going on,” Alexander said.

Student success and student retention rates were also a topic of conversation at the meeting. According to Alexander, the university’s retention rate has increased by 25 percent over the last four years.

“We’ve gone from 55 percent retention with first-year students up to 70 percent,” he said. “That’s a fantastic increase in retaining students and that’s going to bode well with our graduation rates, which are also increasing. These are all very, very, very, very important and exciting things that are going on, and that’s going to bode well for UAPB in terms of the new funding formula that was passed by the legislature.”

Alexander presented a video showcasing UAPB’s history and culture, which featured students, professors and prominent figures associated with the university. Professors discussed the possibilities for students choosing to further their education at the institution of higher learning, while students provided testimonials to their experience as members of the golden pride. The video resonated with the newly-hired head football coach Cedric Thomas, who also spoke to Rotary members.

“I am that video,” he said. “So, that video brought chills to my spine as I watched it because that’s me on the video from different majors to not having an identity once I got to the institution.”

Thomas discussed his journey to UAPB and the full-circle moment of graduating from the university in 2001 to later being named the head football coach in late 2017.

“I accepted a scholarship to this great institution twice,” he said. “But because of the academic progress that I didn’t make, I wasn’t allowed to come (and) I had to go to junior college. But those same coaches (and) that same community who once gave me an opportunity in 1996 were there for me in 1998, and I came (and) I did my three years, and I graduated in 2001. It was the best decision of my life (and) it practically saved my life.”

Coming from Alcorn State University as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach since 2012, Thomas plans to implement some of the same tactics he used in Lorman, Mississippi.

“I’ve been blessed to be a part of a great coaching staff in winning, and not only winning as it relates to W’s and L’s, but whoever has the highest numerical score at the end of every quarter,” he said. “Also, graduation rates (and) being able to have a 100 percent success rate with defensive backs and the defensive coaching and also players that I had in my duration at Alcorn State University … I will have that same format as it relates to UAPB.”

In addition to making an impact on his student-athletes, Thomas hopes to make a difference in the community as well.

“…The Chancellor has really been a blessing,” he said. “I see what’s he’s doing, and I’m trying to be him. When I go to the local churches or when I go out to the community, I’m hearing about how my leader is out there… so, it’s only right that I roll my sleeves up and I get right out there with him. It’s an excellent opportunity for me to close that gap with the community (and) I want to be out there with them doing the exact same thing — spreading the brand.”