RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (October 16, 2018)--It was little more than two decades ago that James Lee Witt and Kay Goss, two Arkansans in leadership positions for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), collaborated with then Arkansas Tech University faculty member Dr. Mary Ann Rollans to develop a new bachelor’s degree at ATU.

On Tuesday, Oct. 16, that trio of visionaries returned to Arkansas Tech to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first ATU Bachelor of Science in emergency administration and management graduates and speak at the 2018 James Lee Witt Emergency Management and Homeland Security Conference.

“When we first talked to Mary Ann about developing this program, we wanted to professionalize emergency management,” said Witt, who served as FEMA director under President Bill Clinton from 1993-2001. “ATU took this on, and Mary Ann took this on. I’m amazed at how much it has grown.”

Since becoming the third institution of higher learning in the U.S. to offer a degree program in emergency management, Arkansas Tech has conferred 828 bachelor’s degrees and 231 master’s degrees in the field for a total of 1,059 emergency management degrees. In 2005, ATU became the first institution of higher learning to have its degree programs accredited by The Council for Accreditation of Emergency Management Education.

“As time has passed and our curriculum has grown more diverse, the idea of innovation has remained a constant at Arkansas Tech,” said Dr. Robin E. Bowen, ATU president. “It was never more true than two decades ago when a group of leaders — Dr. Mary Ann Rollans, James Lee Witt and Kay Goss, among them — stepped forward with a bold idea. They believed that Arkansas Tech University was positioned to be at the forefront of emergency management education. They believed that Arkansas Tech could develop and implement academic programs that would create a standard for emergency management professionals in Arkansas and beyond. It turns out they were 100 percent correct.

“Now, as we celebrate 20 years of emergency management graduates from Arkansas Tech, our university has conferred more than 1,050 degrees upon professionals who have gone forth and reshaped the field of emergency management,” continued Bowen. “Lessons in preparedness and mitigation that were learned in the classroom at Arkansas Tech are saving property, and more importantly, saving lives.”

Tuesday’s conference at Chambers Cafeteria West Dining Room was attended by a mix of current ATU emergency management students, members of the ATU emergency management faculty and working professionals from the field of emergency management, many of whom are Arkansas Tech graduates.

Witt offered the students and professionals in attendance with one central theme to consider.

“It’s not about politics, it’s about people,” said Witt. “I would not have had these experiences without Bill Clinton. It’s about relationships. Everything we do in this field is built upon relationships and the connections that you make. It’s about helping people and communities and how they respond to and recover from disasters.”

Visit to learn more about ATU degree programs in the field.