In 2005, Dr. Alan Rasco, former president of South Arkansas Community College, proposed organizing what has come to be called the SouthArk Lecture Series as an educational program designed to bring to the campus and community remarkable resource people. The idea is based on the theory that actually hearing and meeting an artist, novelist, scientist, historian, actor, or politician whose work one has admired or studied in class raises the learning experience to a higher plane and makes education more powerful and more memorable. The lecture series also clearly supports the college’s mission to “promote excellence in service, teaching, and learning and to provide lifelong educational opportunities.”
The following year, a committee was formed and the first three lecturers were booked for the 2006-07 academic year. The first speaker was Dr. James “Red” Duke, the pioneer trauma surgeon from Houston, who gave a humorous overview of the last 50 years in medicine. This event was co-sponsored with the Medical Center of South Arkansas. The second speaker was Dr. Jonathan Adelman, a professor of international affairs at the University of Denver and Condolezza Rice’s dissertation advisor, who discussed the causes and effects of Middle Eastern terrorism. The third and last speech in the first annual lecture series came from Pamela Smith, a reporter and weekend news anchor for Channel 7 News in Little Rock. Her topic was “Remarkable Stories from a Reporter’s Notebook.”
The 2007-08 lecture series began on September 13 when Ted Kooser, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author from Nebraska and the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004-06, spoke on the topic “Out of the Ordinary: A Poetry Reading with Comments.” On November 1, the second event featured the first African-American astronaut, Dr. Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr., whose topic was “Flying Aboard the International Space Station” and was accompanied by a multi-media presentation. The El Dorado Public Schools co-sponsored Dr. Bluford’s lecture. The third and last speaker was Maria Luisa M. Haley, the Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, who spoke on the topic of “Globalization and the Future of Arkansas” on April 24.
The 2008-09 lecture series began on September 18 when Tyrone Flowers, an attorney and youth activist from Kansas City, Missouri, gave a motivational speech on “Turning Your Obstacles into Opportunities.” On October 16, Janine Turner, a well known actor and author of Holding Her Head High, spoke about her “Life in the Limelight,” and on February 12, Dr. David Miln Smith, an adventure athlete and author, spoke on “Quality of Life, Quantity of Years.”
The 2009-10 season began on September 17 when Charlaine Harris, a New York Times best-selling author whose Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels form the basis for the HBO True Blood series, presented, “A Southern Novelist Discusses Her Creative Process.” On November 5, Fredricka Whitfield, a CNN correspondent and news anchor, spoke on the topic “From the Newsroom.” The season concluded on February 11 when Bill Strickland, the founder of an extraordinary jobs training center and community arts program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, spoke on the topic “The Art of Leadership and the Business of Social Change.”
The 2010-11 season began on October 28 when Ron Clark, an award-winning educator and author from Georgia, spoke to a group of public school teachers that afternoon on how to engage students in active learning and to a group of college and community people on “The Ron Clark Story” that evening. This lecture was co-sponsored by the El Dorado Public Schools. The series continued on February 3 with a lecture from Ann Cooper, a professional chef from Colorado who campaigns for healthy lunches for the nation’s children. Her speech topic was “Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children.” The fifth annual series concluded on March 3 when humorist Jeanne Robertson from North Carolina spoke to a record-breaking crowd of 715 on the topic “Humor: More than a Laughing Matter,” the first of the lectures to be held in the El Dorado Conference Center.
The 2011-12 season began on September 29 with Warren Brown, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney-turned baker and founder of the CakeLove chain of bakeries, talked about entrepreneurship and following one’s passion in life. This lecture attracted 292 people. On February 15, Tom Sullivan—a well-known actor, singer, author, athlete, composer, and producer—talked about growing up blind in a lecture named after his most recent book, “Adventures in Darkness.” An audience of 130 enjoyed his singing, piano playing, and entertaining narrative of how he has overcome a variety of obstacles. On April 12, Collins Tuohy spoke on “Behind The Blind Side: Overcoming Obstacles in the Face of Adversity,” the story of how her family adopted an indigent black teenager from the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, and provided a nurturing environment in which he could become the subject of the book and movie The Blind Side and a professional football player for the Ravens. An audience of 306 attended this event, many of whom came early to participate in Ladies Night Out, a women’s health exhibition sponsored by the Medical Center of South Arkansas, the college’s co-sponsor for the Tuohy lecture.
The 2012-13 season began on July 25 when Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, the first female African-American combat pilot, spoke on the topic “Zero to Breakthrough: How a Breakthrough Mentality Creates Breakthrough Results.” An audience of about 190 attended this lecture. On February 7, Fabien Cousteau, grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, spoke on “The Great Ocean Adventure” to an audience of about 250. The season wrapped up on April 11 when Elizabeth Smart gave a harrowing account of her kidnapping and subsequent nine-month abduction for an audience of about 320.
The 2013-14 season began on November 21 with Jerry "The Beaver" Mathers, who spoke on the topic "The Golden Age of Television and Media Trends Today." Approximately 260 people attended. The season ended on April 17 when Shannon Miller, the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history, spoke to an audience of about 240 on the topic of "Regaining Balance."
The 2014-15 season began on November 6 when Inge Auerbacher talked about her experiences from 1942 to 1945 at the Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia, where almost 150,000 children died of malnutrition and disease. She was one of about 150 who survived. This lecture attracted 400 attendees. The series concluded on March 12 when Ernest Green, the first of the “Little Rock Nine” to graduate from Central High School in the wake of the desegregation controversy in the 1950’s. His topic was “Lessons from Little Rock,” and the event attracted 436 attendees.
The Speaker Selection Process
During the year, members of the SouthArk Lecture Series Committee—made up of faculty, staff, and administrators—accept suggestions for speakers from faculty, staff, students, community members, and agents. Early in the calendar year, they meet to review the list and to recommend five to seven names, usually rank ordered, to the president for the coming academic year. Among other considerations, the committee uses the following criteria to help them select the speakers: educational value, level of expertise, variety of topic, ethnic diversity, potential audience appeal, effect on the college’s reputation, and affordability. Each speaker must also be a good role model for SouthArk students. Once the committee has made its recommendations, the president selects two or three names from the list or substitutes his or her own preferences. When the president has presented this short list of names to the committee chair, the chair begins contacting agents and booking the speakers. If the fees and other expenses of these speakers exceed the budget, the committee chair may work with the president to enlist co-sponsors for specific speakers, organize fund-raising events in order to stay within the budget, and/or substitute more affordable speakers. When the final speakers are selected and the contracts are negotiated and signed, the speaking dates are announced and the new lecture series promoted in the college’s service area.