The "Epic" of Walton College
The story of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas doesn’t begin or end with the historic $50 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation. That watershed moment in 1998, however, has proven to be a fitting tribute to our past, a solid foundation for our present, and a significant springboard toward our future. Former faculty, staff, students, and donors helped build a college worthy of the largest upfront cash gift ever given to a public business school at that time. At the same time, the gift provided the much-needed resources for unprecedented growth and recognition as a nationally competitive college. And with our footings solidly in place, the Walton College is perfectly positioned to become a top-tier public business school. This is the story of how we got where we are and how we plan to get where we’re going.
The Walton College traces its roots to 1926 when Harvard graduate Charles Fichtner helped form the University of Arkansas School of Business Administration and became its first dean. Four faculty members and 21 students met that year on the third floor of Old Main, where curricula were available in accounting, banking and finance, general business, industrial management, and marketing. The college grew over the decades, adding more and more students, faculty, and offerings. It added its first Master’s degree in 1930, and it became the College of Business Administration in 1931 when the undergraduate program was accredited by the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business Administration (now the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, or AACSB).
Today, the Walton College offers nine undergraduate majors, multiple Master’s and Ph.D. programs, and occupies four different buildings—Willard J. Walker Hall, the Business Building, the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development, and the J.B. Hunt Transport Services Center for Academic Excellence.
As enrollment grew, so did the alumni base and the support that came from successful graduates.
One of those was Barney Lewis, Class of 1934. The Helena, Ark., native operated a string of successful furniture stores around the state, and his $100,000 donation to the business school helped pave the way for our Leadership Walton program.
Other donors established chairs to support outstanding faculty members such as James Millar (Dillard Chair in Finance, 1985); John Ozment (Oren Harris Chair, 1991); Paul Cronan (Matthews Chair, 1991); John Dominick (Bellamy Chair, 1986); and Scot Burton (Wal-Mart Chair in Marketing, 1993).
In 1996, a $6.7 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation funded the Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development. The donation not only supported the college’s efforts for outreach and economic development, but it provided additional momentum for the Walton investment two years later.
The Walton family saw an opportunity in 1998 for the business college to move to an even higher level of sustained excellence. In fact, in explaining the vision behind the $50 million gift, the foundation noted that it’s “sole purpose” was for the college to “become nationally competitive.”
Over the next 20 years, that vision has become a reality. The gift has enabled us to attract world-class faculty, upgrade our facilities and technologies, create programs that attract outstanding students, and support these students by helping them identify internships and jobs with top companies in Arkansas, the U.S., and around the world.
It has allowed us to fund research, create new endowed positions that attracted top researchers, develop outreach centers such as the Garrison Financial Institute, develop a worldclass Trade Center, expand the student-management investment fund from $1 million to $11 million, and create our Global Engagement Office.
The gift also helped establish the Walton College Honors Program, provided scholarships and Walton Fellowships to deserving students, established a state-of-the-art behavioral business research laboratory, and created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
A ripple effect of the gift was that it inspired other donations—including a $300 million donation in 2002 from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation to the University of Arkansas. This gift came in part because the Walton College’s stewardship of the $50 million donation gave the foundation confidence that the university as a whole could replicate our model.
The Walton College also benefited because the campus-wide gift included matching funds for endowed positions and the establishment of the Honors College. Those matching funds encouraged other donors to contribute to the college and become vital parts of our story.
Enrollment for the Walton College has continued to grow, especially in the years since the Walton donation. The college had 6,468 students in 2018, up from 3,396 in 2006. That’s a 90.5 percent increase over those 12 years.
Where We Stand
To fully appreciate the state of the Walton College in 2019, it’s worth looking more deeply at a few specific accomplishments.
- The Walton College is ranked first in information systems research. The Department of Information Systems has four of the most-cited scholars in information systems.
- The Walton College is also ranked in the top ten in auditing and accounting information systems research and in supply chain management research.
- The Department of Marketing has built strong research in retail, as well as research on food and nutrition policy related to retail packaging and labeling. 4
- Experimental and behavioral economics, a strategic focus of the Department of Economics, has been aided by the college’s Behavioral Business Research Laboratory (BBRL), a world-class facility where researchers study a variety of business and economic topics, including strategic behavior, worker-employer relations, information processing, group problem-solving, and decision-making under uncertainty.
- The Department of Economics also has ongoing research projects in such countries as Indonesia, Uganda, India, Mozambique, and China.
- The Department of Information Systems differentiates its professional and full-time Master in Information Systems and undergraduate programs from other information systems programs through hands-on application of concepts that use many of the enterprise systems used in leading organizations and real-world data sets from several industry partners. The Walton College, for instance, is a part of the SAP University Alliance, which gives us access to SAP R/3 software and licensing and allows students to use SAP ERP software both in and out of the classroom. We also use this in our interdisciplinary minor in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and we host workshops that give students the opportunity to obtain an industry recognized SAP certification.
- The Walton Business Communication Lab, established in 2011, has held more than 8,000 tutoring sessions to improve students’ oral and written communication skills and increase both their in-class performance and their career readiness. Additionally, the lab began working with Walton Executive Education in 2017 to create online programming and inperson workshops to strengthen the business communication skills of professionals across the state.
- The Bessie Moore Center for Economics, which was established in 1978, is equipping teachers to develop the entrepreneurial mindset in K-12 students with special initiatives in underrepresented regions.
- Students in the Department of Marketing are engaged in transformational educational experiences involving class projects in places such as the Arkansas Delta, villages in Belize, and the jungles of Vietnam.
- The Department of Marketing also collaborates closely with industry representatives each semester to provide experiential learning opportunities and build work-ready skills in category management and through sales competitions. Through a multi-year national 5 grant, for instance, marketing students are learning to manage the promotions for a project aimed at reducing alcohol consumption on college campuses.
- The Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) serves as an economic development catalyst for the state by performing research on economic and public policy questions affecting the state’s public and private entities. It provides economic data, analysis, and forecasts in a variety of public settings, including an annual business forecast luncheon and state and regional economic reports.
- The Walton College is a leader in business sustainability research and education through the Sustainability Consortium (TSC), a global organization that helps make consumer products more sustainable. TSC was founded by the UA in partnership with Arizona State University using seed money from a Walmart donation. It now has four offices around the world, including one in Fayetteville.
- Investments in our research centers has led to an unparalleled level of connectivity with industry partners. Our enhanced corporate connections and networks have been integral in initiating the university’s sustainability programs. The new business analytics programs use these same networks and connections to bring important resources and external awareness to the university. The Walton-initiated entrepreneurship program is having a significant impact on the commercialization of scientific and engineering inventions, benefitting both the university and the state.
- The Garrison Financial Institute, which was founded in 2005, now includes three classes that oversee student-managed investment funds totaling more than $11 million. That includes the Rebsamen Trust, which was created in 1971 with a $100,000 gift from the late Raymond Rebsamen of Little Rock to form the third-oldest portfolio class of its kind in the country. The market value of the portfolio now stands at more than $1 million, with an additional three funds that total $5 million. Returns support finance internships, scholarships, and the endowment for the Robert E. Kennedy Chair in Finance.
- The Walton College established the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame to honor, preserve and perpetuate the names and outstanding accomplishments of business leaders who have brought lasting fame to Arkansas. Four new members have been added each year since 1999. The Hall of Fame is easily accessed from the lobby of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development.
Where We're Going
Clearly, the health of the Walton College has never been better. The faculty, staff, and administrative team at the Walton College takes great pride in our role as stewards of the legacy we’ve inherited. And we’re acutely aware that success breeds success, so we’re not just content to ride the coattails of others.
We’re committed to building the strongest platform of any business school for global thought leaders and internationally recognized faculty. We are charging into a bigger, brighter future that we believe will write new chapters in this story and allow us to fully live our mission, vision, and values. The drive to get there has created new opportunities. They are the types of opportunities we want, but they are still opportunities.
Our rising prestige has made us attractive to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, so we need to grow our faculty and create and implement new programs.
We also have innovative online programs, so we need information technology to enable maximum impact. And we have a record-setting graduate program in entrepreneurship, so we need to expand faculty, staff, and student fellowship resources.
We are positioned to be propelled into the top echelon of public business schools. Here are some ways we see this part of our story developing:
- In 2019, we began the process of creating the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation (SEVI). Previously, innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategic management were included in the Department of Management, along with organizational behavior and human resource management. Creating two distinct departments allows professors and students in each discipline to thrive in alignment with our broader vision and goals.
- By expanding on our unique industry relationships and our internationally recognized model for cross-disciplinary entrepreneurship education, we can create one of the world’s most vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems. Our approach to entrepreneurship involves much more than offering a curriculum that teaches business theory and best practices to students who want a career in business. The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation has worked with faculty and students from the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Agriculture, the School of Nursing, and, of course, the Walton College of Business. Our New Venture Development Program began in 2006 with a focus on combining business with the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. We have been so successful in this effort that we’ve added similar programs around social entrepreneurship and arts entrepreneurship. As we extend the university’s growing research base by providing world-class training, tools, mentor networks, and acceleration opportunities for faculty, staff, students, and alumni, we will develop and incubate their ideas into commercially viable opportunities.
- Expanding programming in innovation spaces such as the Brewer Family
Entrepreneurship Hub and the McMillon Innovation Studio allows students and faculty
from across our campus to conduct cutting-edge research, test emerging technologies,
build new business models, and engage with industry, investors, and the entrepreneurial
- The McMillon Innovation Studio supports creativity, entrepreneurship, and collaboration between all disciplines on campus. It is run by students for students and offers innovation space, design challenges, tools, resources, and workshops. Teams focus on prototyping new models of delivery, services, products and policies in the areas of health and well-being, supply chain, and seamless commerce.
- The Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub opened in 2017 as an interdisciplinary collaboration venue, co-working space, and training center for new and early stage entrepreneurs in Northwest Arkansas. It’s located on the square in Fayetteville and is used by UA students, faculty, and alumni entrepreneurs, many of whom are creating and advancing new knowledge-based ventures in Northwest Arkansas.
- We hosted our first Blockchain Hackathon in 2017, pushing the limits of blockchain technology with a series of six cases set by local industries. And we established the Blockchain Center of Excellence in the Department of Information Systems in 2018. Our vision is to make the Walton College a premier academic leader in advocating for and educating on blockchain applications. With seed money from the governor of Arkansas, we hired a director, associate director, and senior managing director, onboarded ten corporate advisory board members, launched a white paper research series, delivered public blockchain events for students and practitioners, and developed undergraduate and graduate blockchain curricula.
- The Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) is poised to expand its support of economic development efforts by partnering with state and regional chambers of commerce and other economic development organizations to bring the center’s expertise to all 75 counties in Arkansas.
- Our vision is to make the Walton College a premier academic leader in business analytics. The Department of Information Systems offers a certificate in business analytics and is creating a Master in Applied Business Analytics. Another ongoing project in this area is to partner with the College of Engineering and the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences in the development of a premier data science undergraduate major.
- The Walton College is committed to identifying and addressing all of the areas that
contribute to the success of our students. The Office for Strategic Information and
Effectiveness (OSIE) and the Undergraduate Programs Office (UGPO) are key in these
efforts. They are working on predictive models to identify students who are at-risk
attrition. These models will provide advisors with information on not only which students
are at risk, but also the major factors that are contributing to that risk. This information
will assist advisors in tailoring both program- and individual-level interventions
in increasing retention in the college. These models also will help inform the campus
community on ways to use modern analytics to address student success. Some of the
efforts already underway include:
- Proactive efforts to manage class size in relation to student demand and override issues has eliminated the need for an estimated 200 students to come to the office.
- Changes to the advising appointment website clarified students’ needs for advisors.
- Creation of a form that students complete while they are waiting for their appointment helps students articulate their requests and makes it easier to get down to business in the advisor appointment.
- The UGPO staff talks to students in the waiting area or in line to identify those who can handle their issues online or via some other means.
- We are working closely with several of our community college partners across the state to align our curriculum and build articulation agreements. These efforts create a seamless transition for students to transfer from an Arkansas community college to Walton for both our face-to-face and online degree programs.
- With an ever-changing job market, we are working closely with employers and advisory boards to understand the career readiness skills, competencies, and experiences our students need to be successful in their internships and professional careers. We have made an investment in the technology and career readiness programming to support students in building their individual portfolios and to articulate their personal stories.
With greater resources, we also can expand our footprint throughout the state, reaching more students and business leaders, and, thereby, offering and generating more opportunities and transforming more lives.
As the flagship business school of the state, it’s critical that we holistically engage the entire university system and the Arkansas business community. One of the ways we are doing this is with the Walton Executive Education Center in Central Arkansas. The center – known as Walton College at 2nd & Main – provides state-of-the-art facilities for targeted programs. This hub uses the newest learning and communication technologies to link industry clusters throughout Arkansas and the world, connecting legacy companies and systems to students and startup talent.
It provides opportunities to partner with other in-state educational institutions such as the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), Arkansas State University (ASU), and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).
Our joint Walton College and UAMS Executive MBA program, for instance, has an emphasis in healthcare.
The center allows us to provide underrepresented student groups throughout the state with access to the resources and services of the flagship university. It enables us to build a bridge between the vibrant entrepreneurial communities in northwest and central Arkansas. And it provides companies throughout that region access to world-class, customized executive education programs, helping them to strategically invest in their workforce.
Getting There Together
The mission and vision of the Walton College are clear, and we’re excited about and confident in our plan for achieving them. But we understand that we didn’t arrive where we are on our own and we won’t continue to move forward without alumni and other partners.
With their support, we can build on our strengths. And through our teaching, research, and service, we will expand our reach and reputation as a thought leader and a catalyst for transforming lives in Arkansas, the United States and the world.