Follow Admissions’ Stacey Vaughn as she provides prospective students and their families with a taste of Harding life.
Around campus in 60 minutes
By Jennifer Hannigan, photography by Jeff Montgomery
Fresh off the road and fueled by a quick breakfast pit stop, four high school juniors, their parents and siblings crowd into the Admissions front office, viewbooks in hand. While most teenagers are spending this warm July morning sleeping in or lounging poolside, this group is trekking around the South visiting schools. Harding is stop number two on their college summer tour, yet the nerves are still new. Could this be where their college years will be spent?
Assistant Director of Admissions Stacey Vaughn oversees prospective high school juniors from many of the 50 states and abroad. Having lived in Searcy most of her life attending Harding Academy and the University, she is able to offer firsthand insights into what students will experience, hopefully quelling any jitters they might have.
“Let’s head down this way,” Vaughn calls to the group. “What we’re going to do is make a big loop. The area outside is called the front lawn, that’s where we’re basically going to end up. I’ll try to keep you indoors as much as possible.”
The shuffling of cameras around dads’ necks, moms’ purses and crinkling information packets sound as the group moves down the Heritage’s hallway surrounded by photographic montages showcasing decades of growth and student life, leading into the lobby.
“This is the Heritage Center,” Vaughn notes as she accompanies them down the corridor. “Not really a building students are going to use a whole lot. For them it’s basically their pass from the student center, right through there, to the cafeteria,” which is exactly what the cluster does.
“You’re going to have to use your imagination because it won’t be this empty during the school year,” Vaughn says as her introduction echoes in the unusually empty Charles White Cafeteria. The little crowd, which has been winding behind, forms a loose semicircle around her.
Vaughn takes a moment to point out the various meal stations — the comfort line where you can get an Aramark version of a home-cooked meal, the international section, and the pasta, stir fry, deli, allergen-free and pizza areas.
“One thing that is different here than at most schools is that everything remains open on the weekends, like the cafeteria, because y’all don’t go home every weekend. You’re still here so everything is fully functional on campus. You can go to the cafeteria; you can go to the student center — whatever you want to do. “
Taking one last look around the dining hall, the troop moves toward the door from which they entered the dining hall and venture outside into the summer’s heat. “If we can stay in the shade, we’re going to be all right. I will try not to expose you to direct sunlight very often,” she jokes.
Once the tiny crowd has gathered in front of the American Studies Building, they join together in a resounding chorus of “Squirrel!” as one of campus’ best-fed wildlife scurries across the sidewalk. “You see our squirrels running all over. We have the fattest squirrels in North America. It’s because the students feed them. They don’t care that you’re here. You’re not in their way. They just keep on going.”
Still giddy from the first of many squirrel sightings, the group’s attention is drawn to the grassy expanse in the middle of campus. “This area is the front lawn. Of all the pictures of Harding you’ll see, this is the most popular backdrop. This is the part that our alumni really don’t want us ever to change. It’s basically always looked like this with a few minor differences. We do want our alumni to come back and be able to recognize where they went to school.”
Vaughn explains that, while summer vacation has left the lawn empty for now, during the school year it is the bustling center for outdoor activity. “When students are here, you’re >> going to see them playing ultimate Frisbee and lacrosse.”
Unexpected novelties also pop up on campus from time to time. “A couple of weeks before school was out I walked out here, and they had big moon bounces and inflatable games — you know, things you loved when you were eight but secretly love when you’re 18. They brought those in during finals week for a sort of stress relief.”
As they continue down the sun-speckled sidewalk, Vaughn calls their attention to their right where the girls’ dorms are located, highlighting Cathcart and Sears, which house freshmen. She also points out Kendall and Pattie Cobb, which is the oldest building on campus.
“This is the Bell Tower,” Vaughn directs as the group turns to the structure adjacent to Pattie Cobb. “This is a Harding landmark. It’s something that you’ll see quite a bit. There are two sayings that go with it that you need to know. Are you ready?” The group nods in agreement. “The first one is that if you stand under the bell tower and you kiss the boy who you are with, that means you’re going to marry him. However, if you walk under the bell tower by yourself, it means you’re never going to get married.”
Everyone in the group erupts with laughter, except for one younger brother turning slightly pink around the ears.
“He did that last night!” remarks his dad.
It seems the young man has sealed his fate.
Continuing their unintentional game of follow the leader, everyone now stands in the slight shadow cast by the Administration Auditorium. One dad checks his watch to ensure the accuracy of the sundial. Another snaps a few more pictures — one of the fountain, one of the building that still says Harding College, another of the group as a whole.
“The Administration Building is another landmark of campus. There is an auditorium in there. Since this auditorium is a little smaller, we’ll have plays in this one.” The auditorium also has played host to concerts by David Cook and Owl City.
Once Vaughn points out the Ganus Student Center — “which is proof that you should never write anything in stone because that is no longer the student center” — and the Ezell Building, they continue on their way, seeking momentary relief from the heat inside the air-conditioned Brackett Library.
Despite the fact that only a handful of people are currently scattered among the library’s computer stations and study tables, Vaughn speaks in a hushed tone, drawing attention to Java City coffee shop on their right. “It’s very quiet in here today. In theory it’s always quiet in here. When they added the coffee bar, it kind of raised the noise level just a little bit.”
Thirteen pairs of eyes survey the first floor of the library, bouncing from circulation desk to computers to the rows of shelves along the back.
“On the first floor you have all of your research pieces,” she points out. “On the second floor, we have more than 500,000 volumes of books, which is fantastic for a private school. If there is something that you need, though, and you can’t find it here or on the Internet, we do have a system set up with all of the universities in Arkansas where we switch materials, so you go to the front desk and request it. Our library is online, so you can go anywhere in the world and access it.”
And what better place to implement the online library than from one of Harding’s international campuses? “We have campuses in Italy, Greece, Australia, London, Chilé, France and Zambia,” Vaughn states. One of the students has expressed an interest in traveling to HULA, the University’s campus in Latin America. “Chilé is cool because you get to experience all of the climates, so you may be in a rainforest one week but then you’re on an iceberg the next. I’m not quite outdoorsy enough for that campus. I think the international programs are one of the best things that Harding offers its students, because we’re not sending you to another university overseas; we’re sending you to Harding. It’s just somewhere other than Searcy.”
Once questions regarding the international campuses are answered — tuition, travel and courses — they exit the library and begin to walk toward the men’s side of campus.
“Have you noticed all of the swings?” asks Vaughn, pointing out several in front of the library. “Do you know the saying for them? ‘Three swings and a ring.’ If you sit in the swing three times with the same guy or girl, it means you’re going to marry them.” The group laughs. “Here’s my advice,” Vaughn says. “Just make sure the person you’re on the swing with is the same one you’re under the Bell Tower with. Otherwise, you can get yourself into big trouble.”
With that word of warning, the troops move on. Finding themselves in front of several men’s dorms, Vaughn points out that Harding does not have co-ed dorms. “I don’t think that is a surprise to you. We have lobbies in all of the dorms, and guys and girls can visit each others’ lobbies from noon to curfew, but you cannot visit each others’ rooms. They do have a dorm open house once for men and women every month though.”
As the students file away these tidbits, the Reynolds Center, home of the music department and College of Communication, is pointed out as well as the new Farrar Center for Health Sciences, which contains the master’s in physician assistant program and the College of Pharmacy. They continue on to the Rhodes Field House.
“This is where the Bisons play basketball and volleyball. Originally it was a World War II hangar. Basically what happened was that the war ended before the government could ship it to France so they had a program for small schools like Harding where they could buy these buildings at cost. We bought one, and we turned it into a gym,” Vaughn explains as they walk through the building, turning the corner to reveal the hardwood basketball court.
“This is one of the most fun places you will ever come for a basketball game,” Vaughn says. “You hear the echo just with my talking? Imagine what it sounds like when you get thousands of people in here.” She paints a picture for her group, describing the high-energy atmosphere during basketball games. “You can tell how cool it is because the bleachers pull out right onto the court so you’re right on top of the game the entire time.”
As they exit the field house, she points out Ganus Athletic Center across the street, which provides an indoor track, swimming pool, racquetball and basketball courts, and a wellness center — all free for students to use. As they continue, they cross the empty parking lot in front of Mabee Business Building and climb the stairs in front of Benson Auditorium. These stairs will become a key part of their Harding experience, scrambling up them every day to attend chapel.
Footsteps click over the cool tile lobby as they enter the auditorium. Everyone clusters around the seats in the back — a welcome rest for weary feet. Currently in the middle of a renovation, the seats are being recovered and additional seats are being installed in the balcony. “By doing the renovation, everyone will fit in here together again,” Vaughn says. “We’ve had to have two chapel services because we weren’t able to fit everybody in during the fall. We just don’t like splitting chapel.”
While the early mornings that come along with daily chapel might not be so appealing, “it will be one of the first things you miss because they’re just aren’t many times in your life when you’re going to get to start every day by praising God with your friends.” Vaughn maps out an average chapel service, complete with announcements, singing and a devotional. She also notes that, in addition to chapel, the Benson hosts the Homecoming musical, Spring Sing, concerts and movies. “They’ll do movies in here on the weekends for two bucks,” she says.
When no questions are brought up regarding chapel, the tour continues, crossing the C.L. Kay Plaza in front of the Benson to enter the Jim Bill McInteer Bible and World Missions Center. In the rotunda, the younger siblings scatter off to stake their claim of various mosaic tile countries on the floor. One dad ventures off, up the stairs, to get a bird’s eye view of the floor. Their eyes are drawn collectively upward to the flags swaying above their heads. “The flags represent all of the countries that were represented when we built the building,” Vaughn offers. “Now we have students from across the nation and more than 50 countries. It’s a very eclectic group of students.”
The first class these students will take in the McInteer is New Testament Survey, followed by Old Testament Survey. “The reason we’ve swapped the order is because we have students who come here and have not had a lot of exposure to the Bible, and, if for some reason they decide not to stay, we want to make sure they hear the New Testament before they go.”
One of the notable features of the Bible building and it’s neighbors — the Pryor-England Center for Science and Engineering and the student center — is that they are all linked to one another. “We will be inside from this point forward,” remarks Vaughn; her visitors welcome the air conditioning as they turn down the hall connected to the student center.
On the left, Harding logos of every shape, size and color line the windows into the bookstore. “Anything we can stick the word Harding on is in there,” says Vaughn. “T-shirts, pencils, folders, Bison temporary tattoos, breath mints … just to name a few. All of the textbooks you’ll need are located on the second floor.”
The hallway opens into the heart of the student center. A few steps down lead them to Chick-fil-A, a deli and grill, and soda fountains. “We are the number one seller of chicken biscuits for anyone who Chick-fil-A sells to,” laughs Vaughn. “We don’t know what that says about us other than the fact we like our chicken biscuits.”
She takes them up a few stairs and by the convenience store — “they have everything from Tide to Ben and Jerry’s” — and the campus post office — “where you’ll pick up the care packages from your parents.” The students’ faces brighten when they see the familiar purple and yellow logo of Taco Bell positioned in the midst of the student center’s cyber café.
Refreshments are purchased, care of the University, at the convenience store. With water and Coke bottles in hand, the tour completes the circle around campus and is back in the Heritage lobby.
Returning to the place where they began, the group nestles into armchairs arranged in a circle to process all of the information they’ve just accumulated — each chatting with the one beside them. And while questions regarding housing, studies abroad and scholarship money may still linger in the air, one even larger question may have already been answered: Will Harding be my alma mater?