The name has changed but the school’s mission has not. That mission – to provide academic, occupational and technical education programs, services and resources for the residents of southeast Arkansas – began 40 years ago when the campus located on East Ash Street in McGehee was known as Great Rivers Vocational-Technical School.
Created by the Arkansas General Assembly, Great Rivers became the UAM College of Technology-McGehee after a merger with the University of Arkansas at Monticello on July 1, 2003. This July 1, the McGehee campus will begin a year-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of its founding.
The school is planning a special event on Saturday, October 24 at the Delta Resort Center near Rohwer with a goal of raising $40,000 in unrestricted funds to be used for scholarships and program needs.
The man working on the details of that event, who has been part of the McGehee campus for every one of its 40 years, is Bob Ware, the current vice chancellor in charge of campus operations. Ware has seen the campus expand from its original role, which was to provide opportunities to attain a high school diploma, earn continuing education units or acquire either certificates of proficiency or technical certificates.
Since the merger with UAM, the school now offers the two-year associate of applied science degree in general technology with an emphasis in any technical area as well as non-technical courses that may be used toward an associate or bachelor’s degree.
“That’s probably the biggest change I’ve seen in the time I’ve been here,” says Ware. “When we merged with UAM, that allowed us to do some things we weren’t able to do before. We started offering associate degrees after the merger in 2003. That’s had a big impact on what we do.”
Ware was there at the beginning, when state officials, including then-Governor David Pryor, broke ground for construction of the school’s first building. Great Rivers Vocational-Technical School opened for classes in September 1975 with Ware acting as assistant director of extension. His job included supervising all federal programs and working with area school districts to establish vocational education programs for adults.
He later added student services and instruction to his duties before becoming the school’s third director in July 2000. His job title changed from director to vice chancellor when Great Rivers merged with UAM.
Under Ware’s leadership, the McGehee campus has added the Arkansas Heavy Equipment Operator Training Academy to its offerings. The AHEOTA is housed at the Southeast Arkansas Community Based Education Center in Warren.
“The thing I still enjoy the most and is the most rewarding is seeing someone come to our campus with no skill, learning a skill and gaining employment,” says Ware. “That’s what this school is about.”