Seniors graduating in December can already feel the pull of the “real world,” and with it the promise of a job to help pay off student loans. Some past graduates, however, feel the pull of college life once again. Those alumni returning to campus have not had a space of their own on campus, but with the opening of the new Alumni Welcome center, alumni can return to campus and participate in campus life once again.
The new Alumni Welcome Center is inside a house on the south side of campus by the Admissions building. The house was built by John Brown Jr. and was the President’s house through the first few years of Charles Pollard’s presidency. It was then converted and became the Honors building before the Honors program moved into the Soderquist Business Center last year.
Brad Edwards, Alumni Director at John Brown University, was approached by President Pollard about turning the house into a space for alumni and retired faculty.
“This is the first time that I’m aware of in JBU’s history that we’ve had a gathering space for alumni when they come back to campus,” Edwards said.
Before the house was converted, the Alumni Relations offices were located in the Mabee Center above the cafeteria. Edwards said the office’s location made it difficult to know if an alumnus was back on campus unless they called ahead.
“We couldn’t greet them, we couldn’t give them any hospitality, we couldn’t give them a tour or show them around,” Edwards said. “I felt like we missed a lot of opportunities to engage and connect with alumni.” Edwards said one of the main values of the Alumni Office is hospitality, and the welcome center offers a space for alumni to reconnect campus life.
Paul Zheng, JBU graduate of 1987 and international student, was one of the first alumni to try out the new welcome center. He recalled one of his first experiences of JBU’s campus community.
“I remember when I came to John Brown the first semester, in the cafeteria, it was kind of a welcome banquet. All the faculty, [the President] and teachers were serving the students,” Zehn said. “I will never forget it. I’ve shared it so many times in my church will all the people [there]. I say, ‘that’s the Christian [way].’”
“I think it’s really smart JBU is doing this because it will bring a lot of alumni back to Siloam Springs,” Katie Arnold, class of 2018, said. Arnold said JBU does a good job of keeping up with their alumni, helping them find contacts to get jobs and sending out postcards saying they are praying for them. “It makes me really proud of my alma mater because they’re reaching out,” Arnold said. “It’s a home away from home.”
The Alumni Welcome Center shares the house with the Archives and an office of the Windgate Foundation. The house is decorated with comfortable furniture, pictures and yearbooks from Archives, a patio compete with fire pit, and a cappuccino machine. There is also a small art gallery with fine art donated by the Windgate foundation, which includes pieces by retired art professor Charles Peer.
“Right now it feels like a blank slate trying to figure out all we can do,” Edwards said. Edwards also said they hope to use the space to host retired faculty coffees once a quarter to update them on what is happening in their discipline. “We have a lot of ideas for how to utilize the space,” Edwards said.
The Grand opening of the Welcome Center will be during Homecoming in Oct. when over 1,000 alumni return to campus.