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Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders visited Southern Arkansas University as part of her Capital for the Day tour in Magnolia

MAGNOLIA, AR (02/24/2024) On Thursday, Southern Arkansas University welcomed distinguished guests as Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her cabinet graced the campus during her visit to Magnolia, designated as the Arkansas Capital for the Day. The historic occasion marked a pivotal moment for both the University and the community as they received the esteemed leader of the state.

Sanders’ visit to Southern Arkansas University underscored her commitment to engaging with educational institutions and fostering a dialogue with her constituents in the higher education environment. As she stepped onto the SAU campus, she was met with enthusiasm and excitement from students, faculty, staff, and local community leaders.

Dr. David Rankin, SAU president emeritus, welcomed Sanders with the presentation of a framed official Mulerider medallion. Rankin was thrilled to recognize Sanders as an honorary Mulerider. In keeping with the spirit of SAU, Sanders was also greeted by Rusty Hayes, SAU rodeo coach, and numerous members of the SAU rodeo team.

Eager to welcome Sanders was Malli Dooly, the Mulerider mascot, and her famous mule companion, Molly Ann. Sanders embraced this one-of-a-kind journey by saddling up and taking a ride on Molly Ann. Also, with the Governor, Wes Ward, Arkansas secretary of agriculture, took his turn for a ride. Dr. Rankin, who has a storied agriculture background, joined in a moment to ride Molly Ann and share the story of the treasured Mulerider’s rich history and how the mascot came to be in the 1920s.

The SAU rodeo team, known for its long-standing success, showcased its talents in various rodeo events, including barrel racing, team roping, and goat tying. Sanders, her guests, and many community members who gathered for the visit thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and were impressed with these college athletes. Rankin shared, “It was great to have Governor Sanders at Story Arena. Her riding our famous mule, Molly Ann, makes her an official Mulerider.”

As the visit progressed to the central part of campus, several presentations and tours in relation to academics and facilities were conducted. SAU welcomed the opportunity to highlight internships, research projects, and facility improvements that are underway on the campus.

Dr. Hayder Zghair, assistant professor of industrial engineering, and several of his students hosted Dr. Jacob Olivia, secretary of education, Dr. Ken Warden, commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, and other ADHE representatives in the science building. The guests gained insight into the experiential learning opportunities between the SAU engineering department and local innovative manufacturer, Southern Aluminum. SAU students shared their work-study projects, which allow them to engage directly in manufacturing, learn from experts, and gain valuable hands-on insight. Dr. Zghair noted how this aligns perfectly with the SAU engineering programs’ goal of preparing students for the future workforce.

Simultaneously, Dr. Copie Moore, SAU agriculture department chair and associate professor of agriculture science, Dr. Oscar Tejada, assistant professor of poultry science, and three agriculture students hosted Mr. Patrick Fisk, director of the Arkansas livestock and poultry division, to a tour of the poultry educational facilities at SAU. Tejada and the students were able to share the utilization of the facility and the opportunities to prepare students for numerous facets of the poultry production process. They were also able to share recent research findings that have been taking place in the facility.

As SAU has several ongoing projects funded via the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, members from these state awarding and governing bodies were along for a visit to tour completed and current projects. Josh Kee, vice president for advancement, hosted Shea Lewis, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, and Debra Fithen, ANCRC program manager, on tours of the facilities these grants have positively impacted.

Many campus and community members joined the continued festivities at Mule Kick, a local restaurant adjacent to the SAU campus. Local residents of south Arkansas took advantage of this unique opportunity to visit with Sanders and her staff in a fun and casual meet-and-greet atmosphere.

The designation of Magnolia as the Arkansas Capital of the Day provided a unique opportunity for Sanders to engage with members of the campus community and the local community. Her visit to SAU served as a testament to her dedication to serving Arkansans and her belief in the power of education to drive positive change.

As Sanders concluded her visit to SAU, she left a sense of optimism and enthusiasm behind. Her presence served as a reminder of the importance of collaboration and dialogue in shaping a brighter future for all the residents of south Arkansas.


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