By Chris Graddy, Director of Marketing & Communications at Williams Baptist University
Alex Cole was sitting at his home in Manila, Arkansas, scrolling through social media when he happened across a live press conference by Williams Baptist University (WBU) announcing a bold new work initiative called Williams Works that would allow students to work their way through school and graduate debt free. Before the press conference had ended, Cole had signed up for the program.
As it turned out, he was the very first person to sign up for Williams Works and did so, unbeknownst to him, just minutes after the application had gone live on the WBU website. Cole attributes this to God’s timing in life.
“Had I not been on social media at that time on that day, I may not have ever signed up,” Cole said. “When I heard Dr. Stan Norman speaking at the press conference, I knew this program was the perfect fit for me and my family.”
Sarah Wilson visited WBU on a preview day as a senior at Yellville-Summit High School and fell in love. It was a place that she and her family had been praying about, where she could get an education with a Christ-centered worldview, but there was just one problem, the cost.
Even with academic scholarships, the cost of attending Williams was going to put a financial strain on herself and her family. Wilson did not want to find herself sinking in student loan debt and she did not want her family to put themselves in financial trouble for her to attend her dream school. She began to accept the fact that Williams Baptist University might be out of her reach.
“I knew the moment my mom and I drove onto campus I wanted to come here,” Wilson said. “You could feel the sense of family and I wanted to be part of this place. I remember telling my mom before we had backed out of the parking space that this is where I wanted to go, but as we talked on the way home we both realized that it might not be possible financially.”
Wilson told her admissions counselor that she loved the school, but didn’t think her family could afford it. However, God moved to make things happen in the life of Wilson. Her admissions counselor told her about Williams Works and she immediately applied and was accepted.
“It was truly a moment of prayers being answered,” Wilson said. “My dream was coming true and God was working to ensure I ended up where I needed to be.”
Students accepted into Williams Works agree to work 16 hours per week all through the fall and spring semesters, and in exchange have their tuition and student service fees covered. Additionally, students who work 40 hours per week in the summer can cover their room and board expenses, giving them the opportunity to complete their university education debt-free.
As these details emerged about the program, it became clear to Cole that he had made the right decision to sign up. One of the first jobs announced was on Eagle Farms, a new produce farm started by the school with Williams Works in mind. Students operate the farm and do the work necessary to keep it running smoothly on a daily basis.
“Once I heard about the farm opportunity, I knew this was exactly where I needed to be,” Cole said. “I had grown up helping my grandfather run a small produce farm and I enjoyed the work. The more I learned about Eagle Farms, the more I knew that’s the job I wanted.”
That background helped Cole excel on the farm and he quickly found himself in a leadership position, managing other Williams Works students on the farm, a role he found difficult to adjust to, but also something he knows will make him better once he graduates.
“I’m managing people I consider friends and that can be difficult,” Cole said. “But I also know this is something that I might encounter in my job after I graduate, so learning how to deal with this now is something that can make me more valuable to an employer or might even help get me a job over someone else.”
Wilson was assigned to The Hotel Rhea as her work assignment, and helped clean and maintain rooms at the boutique style hotel. She also assisted in the business side of Eagle Farms by processing invoices and keeping track of inventory.
Her ability to balance school, the work at the hotel and the farm caught the eye of Williams Works coordinator Dr. Brett Cooper and he saw an opportunity to give Wilson the chance to manage The Hotel Rhea as she transitioned into her sophomore year of college.
With the current student manager at the hotel graduating, Cooper inserted Wilson into the role of student manager and instantly Wilson took charge of much of the day-to-day operations of managing a hotel.
As part of her duties, she is responsible for maintaining the hotel’s booking calendar, communicating with guests and working to fix any issues that may arise. She has also been maintaining The Rhea’s social media accounts and has increased its reach over a three month span.
Wilson has enjoyed the hospitality side of the job so much, that she has considered making it something she wants to do when she graduates.
“When I came to Williams I really did not know what I wanted to do,” she said. “I had thought about education or the medical field, but hospitality is not something that was even on my radar. After working at The Rhea, though, I’ve really enjoyed it and I think it is something I could see myself doing and if I do decide to pursue it, I’ll have all this experience that will put me ahead of the game.”
For Cole, he knew what he was meant to do before he stepped foot on campus….teach. Despite his background in farming and his current position at Eagle Farms, Cole always knew the classroom was where he was called to be and he is quick to point out what he is doing on the farm will pay dividends for him in the classroom.
“I have a lot of people ask me how working on the farm will help in a classroom and the two go together more than you might think,” he said. “I’m managing a large group of people with different personalities who I am asking to do things they don’t always want to do. My motivating skills are put to the test daily, but I just look at it as practice for when I get into the classroom and have to motivate students.”
The Williams Works program has continued to expand, adding additional job opportunities and programs for students to take advantage of. Recently, WBU announced a partnership with Lawrence Healthcare that will allow students to work in a hospital setting for two years at the hospital and nursing center, gaining experience in nursing, support services, administration and activities & social services. The process includes certification as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Resident Assistant (RA).
In addition the program has also partnered with the Arkansas Baptist Foundation and WatersEdge to help provide accounting services to churches.
“It has been fun to see this program grow,” Wilson said. “I just think how much it has done for me already and how it could do for me moving forward. I’m also excited to see it work in the lives of others. God is working in this program. All you have to do is come see it for yourself.”
For more information about Williams Works, visit WilliamsBU.edu/williamsworks.