Gov. Mike Beebe and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, UA System, state and local leaders joined in opening a new $10 million STEM Building and Conference Center at an open house ceremony Tuesday filled with students.

Gov. Mike Beebe and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, UA System, state and local leaders joined in opening a new $10 million STEM Building and Conference Center at an open house ceremony Tuesday filled with students.


UAPB Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Economic Development Mary E. Benjamin welcomed hundreds of people to the ceremony. The construction began in November 2012 to erect the 29,000-square-foot building. It features classrooms, a wet lab, a study lounge, a computer laboratory, a conference room, a conference center and a reflective pool.


"We celebrate a bright and glorious day," Benjamin said. "We pause to celebrate this university and our commitment to STEM research. Our program is a long and great story."


The STEM Academy enrolls 229 students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Benjamin said. These students have an average ACT score of 22 and a retention rate of 93.9 percent. Benjamin thanked all the stakeholders for advocating for the project and pointed to the students as the reason for its existence.


UAPB Chancellor Laurence Alexander praised the stakeholders for believing in the students. The building will bring benefits to students, employers and taxpayers, he said.


"This is a great day in the life of UAPB," Alexander said. "We express our sincere gratitude for sharing this special day with us."


Many people worked in planning and securing money for this building, he said.


"Today this building signifies the broadening of horizons and our making advancements in careers that contribute to economic prosperity," Alexander said.


Alexander became UAPB chancellor in summer 2013. On his second day on the job, Alexander said he visited Gov. Mike Beebe and asked for $750,000 toward the building.


"I have visited Gov. Beebe so often that I should probably have a desk in his office," Alexander said.


Beebe smiled while listening to Alexander and later said that Alexander was not afraid to ask for money on behalf of the university. Beebe said he expects UAPB students to gain knowledge, be innovative and make a positive difference.


Arkansas has a higher percentage of students entering college prepared to succeed than it did in 2005, Beebe said.


Beebe is prevented by term limits from seeking another term. Tuesday’s election selected his successor.


"I am going home to let the television watch me and sit in a comfortable chair," Beebe said. "I am going to rest. I want you to keep going because I want to get Social Security checks. … The greatest number of higher paying jobs will be careers in science, technology, engineering and math."


Beebe said that people improve their lives through education. The new facility gives opportunities for Americans to earn an education and be successful, he said.


"People are the sum of their work ethic and skill level," Beebe said. "When I go home, I want to leave Arkansas in a better position than when I was elected. Is our next generation taking the torch? Education gave me a chance to achieve the American dream."


Beebe said that other nations are trying to surpass America in terms of innovation. He urged the students to work hard and look to the future.


Arkansas Department of Higher Education Director Shane Broadway said that the building will enable students to have opportunities for advancement. Turning his attention to Beebe, Broadway said: "You are leaving Arkansas better and students will have a better life because of you."


University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt said the idea for such a building came during an economic recession. But that did not doom the project, Bobbitt said, calling Benjamin a squeaky wheel in advocating for funding.


"A project of this magnitude takes a long time," Bobbitt said. "This building is an enabler for sharing innovations. The biggest winner is the state of Arkansas."


State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-25, recalled the groundbreaking ceremony from November 2012.


"The golden hard hat is a symbol of hard work," Flowers said. "With this academy, we are taking students to new heights."


State Rep. Henry "Hank" Wilkins IV, D-17, said that there are so many people who deserve credit in the creation of this building, yet their names are not listed in any publication. Turning his attention to Beebe, Wilkins said he knew Beebe "would help us if we were serious."


"I would not shut up until we got enough money to build this building," Wilkins said. "The biggest issue was doing this project in one phase."


Wilkins said he suffered nightmares and his wife roused him because he was talking in his sleep about potential setbacks.


UAPB STEM Scholars Academy President Christopher Jones thanked the stakeholders and challenged the students to pursue excellence.


"We are excited to open and research the cure for cancer," Jones said.


Margaret Martin-Hall, UAPB director of Title III Program Administration and Office of Development, thanked the taxpayers. Without the taxpayers, ideas do not became realities, she said.


"To all the people in the community who asked about our open house, it is today," Martin-Hall said.