Bob Walker, chairman of the Board of Trustees, and his wife, Beth, returned earlier this month from an abbreviated study abroad experience.
On Feb. 27, the Walkers left the U.S. and traveled to Italy to join the Harding University in Florence (HUF) group as they explored Rome. After spending a few days with the faculty and students at HUF, the Walkers continued east to connect with the Harding University in Greece (HUG) program.
Walker, a Harding alumnus, was not able to study abroad as a student. His three children also graduated from Harding, and each studied abroad in Florence while attending.Though he had always been interested in Harding’s international programs, Walker felt it was especially important now, as board chairman, that he have a first-hand understanding of Harding’s international programs, which he considers to be one of the university’s major strengths.
“I think international opportunity is so critical for a good liberal arts education,” Walker said. “Harding has that, and I want to be sure that we’re doing it right.”
While Walker enjoyed experiencing the “art overload” of Italy and the biblical history offered by Greece, he said the most impactful part of both trips was spending time and fellowshiping with the students he met.
“Anytime that, as a board member, you get to interact with students, it rejuvenates you and helps you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Walker said. “Students are alive and give so much energy. That was the thing, I just enjoyed getting to hear where they’re from and how much they enjoy Harding.”
Sophomore Jackson Duncan met the Walkers while they were visiting the HUF program and spent time with the pair on the group’s excursion to Rome. Duncan said that throughout their conversations, he was impressed by Walker’s intentionality and humility.
“I enjoyed getting to experience Rome with him and his wife, and if I was never told he was high up in the Harding ranks, I would’ve thought he was just an extremely friendly guy,” Duncan said. “He never acted above us, but fit right in and was a delight for me and everyone on our trip.”
Walker graduated from Harding in 1979 and has been a member of the board since 2007. He was elected to his current position by his fellow board members in October 2018. Previously, he served two terms as the vice chairman of the board, from 2014 to 2018. Walker said he never expected to be a member of the board but has truly enjoyed his time so far.
“When I was asked to be on the board in 2007, I was completely, totally surprised but tremendously honored,” Walker said. “I’m a big Harding advocate, and Harding was important to me at that time in my life. It made a difference in my life, so I felt a great indebtedness to Harding.”
Chancellor David Burks was president of the university when Walker was first nominated to be on the board. Since then, he has witnessed Walker’s contributions to the board and said he is confident in Walker’s leadership.
“He’s a very collaborative leader,” Burks said. “He’s one who will listen carefully to everyone.”
Burks and Walker agreed in the value of board members visiting Harding’s international campuses. Burks added that when board members have experienced study abroad programs and spent time with the participating students, it makes decisions regarding the programs more personal and informed.
“I think every board member should go and visit our programs abroad,” Burks said. “They need to know as much as possible about all that we do at Harding … If they can actually go and visit with the directors and the students and see where the facilities are located, then as we talk about the future of international education, they’re simply in a much better position to understand the issues involved.”
Right now, Walker does not have any definite plans of visiting Harding’s other study abroad campuses, but hopes to in the future. Walker, who works as a surgeon in Decatur, Alabama, said he is particularly interested in learning about the medical opportunities Harding offers in Zambia, but he is also interested in various elements of Harding’s other study abroad programs.