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CONWAY -- The year was 1968. The Vietnam War was at its peak even as the Cold War lingered. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were slain. Richard Nixon was elected president.

No one needs to remind the University of Central Arkansas' Don Jones of those facts. After all, he's been teaching history there since 1968 and plans to begin his 51st year this fall. Jones is the longest-serving employee ever at UCA, said university spokesman Christina Munoz Madsen.

"And just like the university, he has only scratched the surface of his potential," UCA President Houston Davis said during a luncheon Tuesday honoring Jones and other employees.

Jones, who grew up in northeastern Louisiana, also taught a year before joining UCA, at a Mississippi community college. Now, he and his wife, Judy, live in Conway.

Much has changed since Jones, now an associate professor, taught his first classes at UCA. Enrollment then was "a little something over 4,000," he recalled. This fall, it was 11,350.

"You just knew students by their faces and sometimes their names" in the early days, Jones said. "That's not possible anymore. ... There's nothing you can do about that. It's just called growth."

Jones' teaching style has changed with the times, too.

"You just have to learn to adapt," he said when asked what advice he'd give to a new teacher.

"You may find yourself as I did, having to reinvent yourself a few times because you have to take advantage of today," Jones said. "I had to learn Power Point. I had to learn Blackboard. I had to just remake myself when it came to technology.

"When I came here, you just lectured. ... Basically, I would say that you could still do that today, but I don't think you would get very far. ... Things have changed. I don't see that as an effective teaching method anymore. If I were still teaching as I did when I came here, I wouldn't have lasted."

He also uses YouTube in the classroom.

"You can bring [history] to the student right then and there," he said. "You don't have to have a projector. You don't have to have a videotape. You don't have to have a disk. In the long-run, I think it really enhances a classroom when you use that."

The student body is far more diverse these days, too.

"We have students from every county in Arkansas, that's for sure," Jones said. "Then, we have a number of students from Texas" and other states. "And we have a lot of students" from other countries and regions -- China, Latin America and Africa among them.

Those students can provide "a very different perspective" in a world history class. When he knows a student is from another country, he includes information about that country in the class and seeks that student's input.

Chinese students especially offer an interesting perspective for the class.

"I'd say, 'What do you think China is today? What kind of government, society is it today?' ... They'll say, 'I think China is a democracy.' That goes very counter to what goes in most textbooks."

While dealing with historical events such as World War II earlier in a semester, Jones' classes eventually move toward current issues, "things like the environment, global warming, health issues, immigration."

Today's students share a diversity of opinions on these topics. "Today you'll have some Hispanic students who'll bring a different perspective," as well, he said.

During the luncheon, Peter Mehl, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, spoke of some of the economic and cultural changes since Jones started at UCA, occasionally drawing laughter from the audience.

Jones' starting salary was about $7,000, Mehl said. The university president then, Silas Snow, made $17,500. Undergraduate tuition was $125 per semester, and board was about $80 a month, Mehl said.

In 1968, UCA expected men to wear their shirttails tucked in at all times, and women were allowed to wear shorts and slacks only on Saturdays, Mehl said, reading from the old rules. If women left their residence halls on a Friday afternoon, they were instructed to "go directly to your car and leave for home without a stop at another campus building or in Conway -- you may wear shorts and slacks!"

Jones reminds himself that he has lived through a lot of history that his students haven't -- the Vietnam War, for instance. And some students were just too young to remember some events such as the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

His students of the late 1960s, especially the young men, "might have been a little more cognizant of what was going on because of Vietnam," Jones said. "Sometimes I think the kids don't know anything. Then, they'll surprise me. Sometimes they don't want to let it out. ... But when you press them, you find out they know a lot more than they're letting out."

State Desk on 04/21/2018

Print Headline: At UCA, teacher's 50 years a record

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