A Deepening Commitment
When Cooper Clinic CEO Doug Babb taught a course at UA Fort Smith, he saw his younger self in his students—and had to help.
At the first meeting of the senior-level leadership course he taught at UA Fort Smith last spring, Doug Babb asked for all the students who were in the first generation of their families to attend college to raise their hands. Most of them did. So did Babb, who in his “day job” serves as CEO of Cooper Clinic.
Then he asked those who were working full-time to pay for school with little or no financial support from their families to raise their hands. Again, lots of hands. And again, Babb’s own.
Ultimately, Babb, who had never before taught a college class, and his students, who had likely never before met a top-level executive, discovered they shared remarkably similar experiences.
“We just got off on really good footing,” says Babb, who was himself a first-generation student and who worked his way through a local university and later through law school.
As the semester continued, Babb learned that many of his students weren’t just balancing work and family with school—they were struggling to make ends meet. “I’ve got students in this class,” he says, “who are busting their rear ends to get their degrees, which is going to make a fundamental difference in their lives and the lives of their families, and yet they can’t afford the books, and some of them—even juniors and seniors with solid grades—are worried that after investing all this time and expense they still won’t be able to graduate.
“To me,” says Babb, “it was just a compelling need.” In response, he and his wife, Kathy, decided to make a generous endowment gift that will help business students with financial need pay tuition, buy books, and participate in academic activities—conferences, for example—they might not otherwise be able to afford.
“We don’t want to see anybody drop out because they couldn’t afford a textbook and got a bad grade,” Babb says, “or quit within a semester or two of making it because they didn’t have somebody to push them over the finish line.”
It was Kathy who, in large part, inspired Doug’s growing involvement with education. A tireless supporter of public schools, she is a past Chair of the board of the Fort Smith Public Schools Foundation and has been PTA President at Euper Lane Elementary, Chaffin Junior High, and Southside High School. With Kathy’s involvement in elementary and secondary schools, though, Babb says he “felt his commitment needed to be in higher education.”
In addition to funding the Kathy and Doug Babb Endowed Fund with his wife, Babb—who also serves on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the College of Business and on the University’s Board of Visitors—will teach his leadership course again in the fall and for as long afterward, he says, “as they’ll have me.”
While it might look like something of a coup for the University to count a well-known and successful local executive among its faculty, Babb sees it differently. The teaching assignment was the unexpected result of a lunch discussion with College of Business Dean Dr. Steve Williams, and Babb thinks he’s the one who got the better end of the deal: “They’re giving me an opportunity I always wanted, and I’m finding it to be more fun than I ever dreamed.”
Behind Babb’s deepening commitment to UA Fort Smith—as advisor, donor, and teacher—is a firsthand knowledge of the transformative power of regional universities. “I’m a product of a UA Fort Smith in my hometown,” he says. “A university like this is the difference-maker in many, many people’s lives.”