Southern Arkansas University Tech (SAU Tech)

Southern Arkansas University Tech (SAU Tech) is a comprehensive two-year technical college located in Calhoun County, though its official address is in Camden (Ouachita County). The college was created by the Arkansas General Assembly as a technical trainer for the Highland Industrial Park, where the college is based. Today, SAU Tech provides technical training as well as transfer degrees as one of Arkansas’s two-year colleges.

SAU Tech was founded as Southwest Technical Institute by Act 534 of the Arkansas General Assembly on April 5, 1967. The purpose of the institute was to provide a technically trained workforce for the Highland Industrial Park. Senator John L. McClellan approached the Brown Engineering Corporation, which had recently purchased the Shumaker Naval Ammunition Depot—a World War II–era ordnance plant—with the idea to use the 65,000-acre area to develop an industrial park. The Brown Engineering Corporation agreed and created the Highland Industrial Park.

Within a short time, the Brown Engineering Corporation cited a lack of trained technicians as a factor that could potentially keep industries from locating to the park. The corporation agreed to donate six buildings and seventy acres of land for a training center in an effort to address the issue. Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Economic Development Administration and the State of Arkansas provided for the renovation of buildings and the creation of a campus. The school was made possible by the efforts of many different people, including Senator John L. McClellan, who played a key role in obtaining a grant for $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Economic Development. By the fall of 1968, the first class of 144 enrolled and began attending classes at the Southwest Technical Institute. The school offered two-year degrees in aviation maintenance technology, commercial and advertising art, architectural drafting and design technology, mechanical drafting and design technology, civil engineering technology, industrial chemistry, mechanical technology, electronics technology, instrumentation and automation technology, and food preparation and management.

In 1975, the General Assembly passed Act 171, which transferred the operation of the Southwest Technical Institute from the state to the board of trustees of Southern Arkansas University (SAU) in Magnolia (Columbia County). The school was soon accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools as a two-year college and began offering transfer degrees—that is, associate’s degrees that transfer to any four-year college or university in the state. The first director of the school was Charles O. Ross, who was formerly the director of Cotton Boll Vo-Tech School at Burdette (Mississippi County). Since that time, leadership for the university has been provided by George J. Brown, Dr. Roger Worsley, Dr. Steve Franks, Dr. Corbet J. Lamkin, Dr. Jason Morrison, and Dr. Jerry W. Thomas.

In September 2014, SAU Tech was serving 1,563 students through traditional classroom and online courses. The Arkansas Fire Academy and the Arkansas Environmental Academy are part of the SAU Tech family, providing training to firefighters and wastewater workers across the state. In fall 2011, SAU Tech opened a nine-month welding academy in Magnolia, modeled after the Tulsa Welding School. In 2014, the campus added a new student center facility covering 51,570 square feet.

For additional information:
“SAU-Tech Reaches Milestone.” Ouachita County Historical Quarterly 25 (Fall 1993): 9–12.

Southern Arkansas University Tech. (accessed June 15, 2023).

Kim Coker
Southern Arkansas University Tech


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