On the well-manicured University of Arkansas at Fort Smith campus it was early evening, with the dusk again managing the shift change between day and night.
This time of soft light and breezes borne of temperature change may be the best time to observe campus activity. Students and faculty and maintenance crews during the day are actively engaged – all bustling about to play their part in the university engine.
But an evening with its last remnants of a western sun over the active campus allows the pieces to disassociate but remain, creating an alternate view of the color and brush strokes on the campus canvas.
Joggers individually and in small groups sweat to and fro. Across the way, whistles blow to mark progress in an intramural flag football match. Cheers and laughs and yells of encouragement counter the shrill authority of the whistle.
Young couples walk hand-in-hand – maybe for a long time. Or the first time. Or the last time. All three phases of passion are probable.
Several small groups, some stationary and some otherwise, laugh and talk and learn from each other in what an entrepreneurial advisor once noted are “accidental conversations” that play an important educational role outside the classroom.
Dorm windows present to the campus and any passersby an erratic patchwork of lights as the sunset matures.
The campus bell tower blocks the fading sun ball and splits the sunset with sprays of the prism, suggesting for an emotive few seconds that the tower is the center of the university and universe.
A brightly-lit 24-hour access room in the newly renovated UAFS Boreham Library provides convenience for students and serves as a reminder that learning never stops.
Scattered about campus are student government association election cards. They are small and pleasant reminders that political participation and representation continues to be promoted and valued.
It’s not long before the shift change is complete and on this night a quarter moon hovers. It’s a celestial reminder that the enrolled are early in the process of capturing light from distant sources. Indeed, the observer hopes the students are on a path to eventually be new and full and bright and admired and reflective.
A UAFS employee explained that the activity is a byproduct of an estimated 1,000 students now living on campus. The addition of perspective makes impressive the statistic. The perspective is that the university has less than a decade under its belt as a four-year university, and fewer than five years in providing modern and attractive student housing. About one in seven UAFS students live on campus, and it’s likely the ratio in future years will change in favor of campus life.
A campus with 1,000 students creates a small town likely larger than the home towns of a not insignificant number of UAFS students. It’s a city of energy. It’s a city of souls possessing the excitement of peeling back layers of the unknown. It’s a city of youthful minds and their evolving social awareness and conscience.
There was a brief temptation during the observation to opine at length that city officials and community and business leaders do more to foster future organic economic growth by connecting with the entrepreneurial minds active on this campus – and with similar minds in Northwest Arkansas. Who would bet against the notion that a valuable new process, idea or invention is housed within a mind of a UAFS student now studying between loads of laundry?
Let’s save that commentary for later.
That evening I simply sat. There was a smile sponsored by the hope that stillness would allow a small measure of the campus youth and energy and potential to recharge the batteries that feed my vision for what a community can be. There was a smile in the possibility that in this passing day I was surrounded by one thousand or more chances for new and improved tomorrows.
A growing number of experts question the need for a traditional university format. The cold practicalities wrought by technology and cultural shifts may agree with the experts, but I wonder what is lost when or if we reduce the mingling for several seasons of thousands of young hearts and minds from various lands and experiences. There also must be value in the incidental transactions between the excitement of the youthful college student and experiences of an older non-traditional student.
The whistles and a longer, sustained cheer from the intramural field interrupted the simple analysis of a campus in motion.
What remained was a sincere hope that this growing pocket of activity pulsing with new energy infects positively the almost 200-year-old surrounding city.