Spirit of SouthArk: Business instructor inspires students through PBL
Hendricks: ‘I want to make a difference’
Donna Hendricks’ decadeslong dedication to teaching students business savvy and computer skills is why South Arkansas Community College’s chapter of Phi Beta Lambda brings home state and national awards.
Her journey toward awards and acclaim, however, wasn’t an easy one. The instructor dropped out of school in the 10th grade to become a stay-at-home wife and mother. After later taking the GED test, she decided to take classes at Southern Arkansas University-El Dorado Branch, a predecessor to SouthArk.
She started with just two classes, English Composition I and Introduction to Psychology, before taking a year-long break. Once her children were schoolaged, Harvey Post offered her a job as a secretary in 1979 and she took classes during her lunch break, Hendricks said.
The student was asked to take on the job full time in January 1980, and earned an associate’s of applied science degree from SAU-El Dorado in 1986, and continued to work as a secretary before moving up to a publicity and student recruitment specialist position two years later.
“I visited the schools and I loved the students,” she said. “The thing I like here is that you can make a difference in so many people’s lives because I came to school not knowing a lot of things about college. I could really relate, especially to our nontraditional students so when they came into the office I could see myself doing that. I probably gave them more information than they had come in there for.”
She said Ben Whitfield, who was the school’s president at the time, a “very ethical man,” encouraged her to further her education at Southern Arkansas University in 1989.
“He’d tell me, ‘It’s time to get serious about your education … We’re going to send you to school to get a degree in information management.’ So I went to school in Magnolia and any time I wasn’t in class up there, I was here working,” she said.
At SAU, she began her involvement in Phi Beta Lambda (PBL), she said. PBL, which boasts of being “the largest collegiate business student organization in the world,” is an offshoot of Future Business Leaders of America that grooms students through development training, workshops and competitions testing their business, communication and career readiness skills.
After graduating two years later, she finished her tenure as a recruitment specialist and started teaching at SouthArk in 1992. A year later, she started her graduate education at Louisiana Tech University, where she earned a master’s in business administration degree in quantitative analysis in 1996, according to her LinkedIn account.
Hendricks has taught at SouthArk since the institution’s inception and into her 25th year, she said that she loves teaching almost as much as advising. The instructor received the 2017 Spirit of SouthArk award during spring commencement for her involvement with the college.
“The school has been very good to me and my children. My children both grew here and graduated from here before they transferred … I love my job. I want to make a difference,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of great students here. Sonia Barker introduced me to her family the other night and she said, ‘Oh, mother. I want you to meet Mrs. Hendricks. She’s the one that told me I had to apply for that scholarship whenever I was getting ready to transfer. Her mother said, ‘Sonia may have not appreciated that back then, but her dad and I really did'.”
The PBL chapter’s success is evident in the college’s Computer Technology Building where a plethora of awards sit in glass cases and the instructor’s quaint second-floor office. Hendricks has been awarded a PBL Outstanding Instructor award three times, she said.
The organization gives students the opportunity to travel to state competitions in Little Rock and national competitions in cities like Atlanta, Dallas and recently, Anaheim, California. She said she’s probably had the most positive impact on students as a PBL adviser than in any other role.
“If you can ever get them to compete the first time, they’re hooked. On the way home from nationals, they’re always talking about ‘OK, this is what I want to compete in next year. I want to do this, this and this,” she said. One young man, two of the teachers said, ‘He’s a foot taller now. He always kind of slumped over in class and he never made eye contact. Now he’s standing up, holding his head up and answering questions in class.’ It’s because he placed in the top five at state and thinks ‘Wow. I can do this.'”
Hendricks said that she works to implement community service in the organization. Several years ago, PBL purchased and helped install playground equipment and bookshelves at Turning Point, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. Last year’s community service project was the college’s career closet, a place stationed in Edie’s Village where students can receive free business attire for career fairs and job interviews, she said.
“Two of the students made a presentation at state and then at nationals on the career closet (about) how we did it, how we marketed it and how we worked with the community professional PBL members and the school itself and provided business attire. They won first place in the national and we’re competing with universities and colleges all over the United States and Puerto Rico. A lot of four-year schools were in that competition,” Hendricks said.
PBL’s upcoming project is a lecture series in October to spread awareness during Cyber Security Month. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has been tapped for a lunchtime speech and the organization plans to have a panel discussion for high school students that details jobs in cyber security as well as the impact social media has on employment.
Award: Business/Computer Information Systems instructor Donna Hendricks, right, accepts the 2017 Spirit of SouthArk Award from South Arkansas Community College president Barbara Jones during Spring Commencement ceremonies in May.
Lecture: Donna Hendricks speaks at a gathering of the South Arkansas Administrative Professionals.
Learning: Donna Hendricks, left, assists a student in class in 2009.