Historic 50th Class Urged to “Dream Big” at Palm Beach Atlantic University

Last August, Palm Beach Atlantic University started the semester in a seemingly typical way. Hundreds of new students arrived with their parents, moved into their dorms and wore the traditional sailor hats personalized to help “break the ice.” Professors resettled in their offices after the summer break and the buildings on the east side of campus looked fresh with a new coat of paint, a signature blush-beige that complements the terracotta barrel tile roofs.

Focused on upcoming classes and getting the hang of college life, most students didn’t realize that they were making history as the 50th entering class to arrive on campus. In 1968, Palm Beach Atlantic looked very different than it does today – now sprawling 29 urban acres along the Intracoastal Waterway in the heart of West Palm Beach. These new students only saw, among other facilities, the spacious Warren Library, a 400-seat DeSantis Family Chapel, an acoustically perfect music recital hall and, just 1.5 mile away, the 76-acre Rinker Athletic Campus. They were among 1,100 on campus residents and an overall student population of 3,700 – including graduate students, working student learners at the Orlando campus and hundreds of online students.

During those early weeks of the fall semester, a special coffeehouse was planned to celebrate PBA’s anniversary. Planners had arranged a display of historic photos to illustrate PBA’s timeline of growth. At the end of the display, students reached a selfie station where they snapped photos of themselves in front of a drawing of Dr. Jess Moody, founding University president. The drawing included a cartoon bubble quoting him saying, “DREAM BIG, KID.”


An Alternative to The Unrest

The founders of PBA had a big dream to start a Christian university in South Florida as an alternative to the unrest that plagued many U.S. college campuses during the 1960s. Local community leaders such as cardiologist Dr. Donald E. Warren with businessmen Marshall E. Rinker, Sr. and Riley Sims, and other members of First Baptist Church were inspired by Dr. Moody, their pastor, to join with him to establish a college that would honor God and provide youth a college education that supported moral and ethical teachings.

PBA’s current president, William M. B. Fleming, Jr., chose to make “DREAM” the theme of the 2018-2019 academic year. Fleming says that he was inspired by Matthew 19:26 to select the theme. Fleming points to a glowing future for PBA with strong enrollment, stable finances and expanding impact on the world through thousands of graduates. Last year, the University had an economic impact on the community of $403.5 million. The 53 undergraduate programs are offered by nine academic schools: Arts and Sciences, Communication and Media, Education and Behavioral Studies, Gregory School of Pharmacy, MacArthur School of Leadership, Ministry, Music & Fine Arts, Nursing, and the Rinker School of Business.


Expanded Programs

What started as Palm Beach Atlantic College 50 years ago transitioned to a university nearly 20 years ago with the addition of graduate degrees. The University now offers master’s degree programs in accountancy, business administration, counseling, divinity, global development, nursing and leadership as well as professional degrees in nursing practice and pharmacy.

New undergraduate and graduate programs are not the only changes that Fleming has seen having served for half the University’s history first as vice president for development then becoming president in 2011. He has overseen the creation of five centers of excellence:  the Center for Integrative Science Learning, David and Leighan Rinker Center for Experiential Learning, Gregory Center for Medical Missions, The LeMieux Center for Public Policy and the Titus Center for Franchising, the only university-based center of its kind in the nation. A sixth, the Center for Biblical Leadership, is taking shape this year.


Rooted in Service

PBA’s culture remains rooted in community service as its signature program, called Workship as a combination of ‘work’ and ‘worship,’ began in 1968. Students continue to devote 45 hours of service to churches, schools and charities, amassing more than 3.3 million volunteer hours over the school’s history. Worship remains a central facet of the PBA experience with weekly on campus chapels, Bible studies and the student-led experience known as The Anchor. Discovering Internships as Vocational Exploration (DIVE) focuses on career development.

Athletics is a growing area of the University as PBA competes in the NCAA Division II and the Sunshine State Conference, known for producing high achieving student athletes. The Sailfish compete in 18 intercollegiate sports and are successful on and off the field. More than 1,000 students compete in intramural sports.

As Palm Beach Atlantic has grown beyond what its founders may have envisioned while maintaining the principles at its foundation, it has focused on providing an affordable and value-rich college experience. More than $3 million in endowed and annual scholarships are awarded every year. One-third of the Class of 2015 graduated without any debt.

Palm Beach Atlantic is recognized by The Princeton Review among the top universities in the Southeast and U.S. News best colleges in the South. Forty-five percent of bachelor’s graduates from years 2005 to 2015 have enrolled in graduate school. Sixty-six percent of bachelor’s graduates complete an internship, which is often a pathway to the all-important first job.

Perhaps founding board chairman summed up the success of Palm Beach Atlantic and its increasingly bright future when he once said, “When we started God gave us His assurance that he would build this college. As board members, we knew we couldn’t. What you see here is God’s doing.”

Visit pba.edu to learn more.



Norman Hooten Fights On the Front Lines

Once again Norman “Norm” Hooten fights on the front lines of a deadly battle. This time he battles the opioid epidemic as a clinical pharmacy specialist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hooten earned his doctorate in pharmacy from the Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He had come to PBA after a distinguished career in the Army’s Special Forces. He graduated in 2016, and served two years of post-graduate residency at the Veterans Affairs medical centers in Orlando and West Palm Beach.

On March 12 Hooten came back to Palm Beach Atlantic as keynote for the University’s annual research conference. His spoke on Pharmacists – Warriors in the Battle Against Opioids.

Hooten now works in the inpatient mental health unit of the VA center in Orlando, where he sees many victims of substance abuse. “We can make a difference in their lives,” he said. “Not just from managing their medications, but in being that person who gives them the support and encouragement they need along the way, that maybe helps guide them and give them hope for the future so they can prosper.”

In Hooten these vets see not only a pharmacy specialist, but a caring fellow veteran.


James Green Exemplifies Leadership

Working with at-risk kids and troubled teens, James Green had done team building informally for years, but with graduate courses at Palm Beach Atlantic University he found powerful leadership theory to blend with his job. And he loved connecting the concepts of community service with the Christian faith.

He earned his Master of Science in Leadership degree in 2010, and worked his way up the leadership ladder in various Palm Beach County programs. He is now director of Palm Beach County’s Community Services Department. With some 200 employees, Green leads the county’s programs serving senior citizens, veterans, low-income residents and the farmworker population.

“It’s a pretty big task, but it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s really an exciting time, because you have so much potential, so many opportunities to impact Palm Beach County residents in positive ways.”

Green had earned his undergraduate degree at Auburn University. At PBA he took graduate classes in the evening so that he could continue working full-time. “I’m forever on a journey to be a more effective leader,” he said.

His leadership has been recognized through numerous awards, including Employee of the Year, Director of the Year, Manager of the Year and director of Agency of the Year.


Sara Buwalda Promotes Positive Outcomes for Children

With the help of Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Dream Semester, education major Sarah Buwalda landed her dream job: helping kids and their families at the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. She’s a compassionate, certified child life specialist, helping the hospital serve children having some of the most serious medical needs, including cancer, blood disorders and heart transplants.

“Being in the hospital is such a scary thing for kids and families,” Buwalda said. She received specialized training to minister to children, helping promote the best outcome and minimize psychological trauma.

Elementary education majors spend one semester student teaching, and then Palm Beach Atlantic requires a second round of that practical experience. It’s called the Dream Semester, tailored to meet the needs of the individual student. Buwalda spent her Dream Semester doing a child life internship at Arizona’s Tucson Medical Center.

She graduated in May of 2018 and began her new job in June, working in the cardiac intensive care unit and the cardiac step-down unit at the children’s hospital in Hollywood, Florida. With smiles and games and a knack for connecting, she loves reaching out to these young patients. “It’s so rewarding for me, knowing that I’m making a difference,” she said.






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