Brett Powell is Ouachita Baptist University’s numbers man.
Powell learned of his love for all things math in high school. He told his parents he was interested in a career in accounting, only to have them suggest otherwise.
“I was a kid who listened to my parents,” Powell said. “So when I told them I wanted to go into accounting, my dad told me it would be boring.”
So Powell made the decision to enter the University of Louisiana at Monroe because it was “known for their excellent pharmacy program.”
His first semester Powell realized he would be studying chemistry for the next several years, something, he said, that “wasn’t me.”
That is when he changed his major to accounting and graduated with that degree. He then moved to Little Rock and began work as a certified public accountant.
Powell discovered OBU while performing yearly audits of the school. Because of this Powell spent several months a year at the school to review financial records.
During that time he “got to know the school and its staff.” Then in 1998 he decided to move to Arkadelphia to become OBU’s director of financial services.
In 2000 Powell took a hiatus from OBU and returned to Little Rock to work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
While in Little Rock, Powell said he “felt the call to return to OBU.”
“I very much enjoyed my job at UALR and was not looking to leave,” Powell said. “When I was approached about returning to work at OBU, the needs that were described to me just seemed to fit perfectly with the talents I had developed over the years. It seemed as if I had been prepared specifically for this job.”
He returned to OBU in 2006 as vice president of administrative services. “As the chief financial officer, I’m in charge of business operations and campus facilities,” Powell explained.
As part of his responsibilities for campus facilities, he is also in charge of utility costs. When he found out the school’s utility costs would rise, he jumped into action in order to find a way make the campus more energy efficient.
“All of my efforts to save the university money on utilities really happened by accident,” Powell said. “We were in a meeting and the physical plant manager said we would begin to see a large increase in our utilities. So I began to do some research on how we could cut costs and become a more energy efficient university.”
The initiative started with Powell forming a committee that generated ideas on how the university could cut back.
“We started with simple things – turning off computers and lights, turning down the air, using less water – and it has really grown from there,” Powell said. “Eventually, our effort turned into an environment stewardship policy that our board of trustees enacted last fall.”
Another part of the project was creating a campus recycling program. Powell said the university has had a program on and off over the years, but nothing permanent.
“Again we started this as a small thing,” Powell said. “We had one place students could bring all their recyclables and we just encouraged them to bring them in. Now we have added bins in all the residence halls and the physical education building. We are hoping to add bins in all the classroom buildings, too.”
OBU President Rex Horne said Powell “has been an excellent leader in the campus going green.”
“We think this is the right thing to do as a good citizen with the resources we have in our city,” Horne said. “It also shows good stewardship as a Christian, so we can make good use of the money we spend and the money that is given. So for us it’s a win-win for the university.”
Powell said the new facilities the university is building will also be energy-efficient.
“A bulk of what we are building is residence halls,” Powell said. “But we told our contractors that anything that is energy efficient is a must. This includes fluorescent lighting throughout the facilities, natural lighting in all public areas and living areas in each suite, motion sensors in public areas to turn off lighting in vacant areas and several efficient heating and cooling methods.”
Powell works with the committee on an ongoing basis as plans are made for the future of the campus.
“One project we hope to implement is a biodiesel program through our biology department,” Powell said. “In our two dining facilities we use a lot of oil. We want to take the wasted and used oil and convert it into biodiesel to use in our tractors.”
Other projects include developing a vehicle efficiency plan where the university will decide what types of vehicles to buy in the future. Powell also wants to expand sidewalks and trails on campus in order to encourage walking rather than driving and make dedicated parking near entrances for hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicles.
“Brett is continually bringing new ideas to students, faculty and staff,” Horne said. “And we are seeing significant improvements in our use of resources and in recycling.”
Powell said he credits his success from several people at each step in his career.
“I’ve just tried to learn from those I’ve worked for and with over the years,” Powell said. “I think I’ve been fortunate to work for supervisors at each step of my career who helped me learn and to grow and who have been good examples to follow. I tried to pay attention, learn what worked for them and to learn from their mistakes and my own.”
by Elizabeth Pannell, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette