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Throughout its 90-year history, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith has reshaped and refocused its role as the educational institution for the greater Fort Smith region, beginning as a junior college and culminating in its current designation as a four-year, master’s degree-granting university.

But regardless of its shifting role, its focus on responding to the needs of Fort Smith and its industries has always remained constant.

Last year was an exciting year for UAFS in responding to industry needs, and more developments are underway for 2018. Last year, the university released its new five-year strategic plan, setting forth a bold vision to become a national model for workforce training.

The university is achieving that vision in part through the introduction of courses in unmanned aerial systems, more commonly known as drones.

The technology is poised for explosive growth in the next decade, with more than 600 jobs and nearly $500 million in economic impact expected in Arkansas in the next 10 years.

Another way UAFS is preparing the workforce of the future is through robotics and data analytics courses offered on-site at area high schools. The program, which is made possible through Regional Workforce Grants from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, now also offers these courses for Fort Smith high schoolers at ABB and ArcBest to provide a real-world setting for students to apply their learnings.

This fall, the university will begin offering an innovative, 15-month accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program offered in collaboration with Sparks and Mercy to address a critical nursing shortage, both locally and nationally.

Plenty more exciting developments are on the way in 2018 as UAFS builds on its reputation as the leading workforce development university in Arkansas.