Muleriders seen around the world: Faculty and students making a difference across the globe in 2017

Southern Arkansas University faculty and students made spectacular discoveries and interesting observations as they traveled the globe this past year, studying the climate, learning about agribusiness, and satisfying their culinary desires. Mulerider Country was well-represented in a variety of places ranging from Paris, France, to the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Africa and India were the destinations for other groups. Students also lent a helping hand to others on a medical mission to Nicaragua and to children in need in Mexico.

O’Hara in Antarctica

Casey O’Hara, who graduated from SAU in 2016 with a BS in chemistry, was among two dozen scientists who participated in a 65-day scientific expedition to the Ross Sea. The group set sail from Lyttleton, New Zealand, for Antarctica on April 10. O’Hara, of Little Rock, Ark., said the expedition aimed to discover why, at a time when most polar areas are shrinking, the Ross Sea is covered with more ice than at any time in the past 30 years.

For more than two months, her home was the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 308-foot-long U.S. icebreaker capable of cracking through three feet of level ice. O’Hara, a graduate student studying oceanography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, was part of the PIPERS (Polynyas, Ice Production and Seasonal Evolution in the Ross Sea) expedition, comprised of multiple research groups with scientists from eight countries. The group encountered harsh wintertime conditions at the bottom of the world: round-the-clock darkness, lacerating winds and heavy sea ice.

“It’s an experience I never thought I’d have, but I appreciate what I learned,” she said.

O’Hara talked about her educational experience at SAU. “As strange as it might sound, SAU actually found me,” she said. “The first time I ever heard about SAU was when I received a letter saying I had qualified for a scholarship. I Googled the school, went down to visit a day or two later, and applied that day!”

She said that what drew her to the University “was that it had a variety of academic opportunities, offered a great scholarship, and was close to home. Although not what I originally thought I would go into, I graduated with my bachelor’s in chemistry with an emphasis in analytical/instrumental analysis.”

“The highlight of SAU was definitely working with the Natural Resource Research Center. I learned new chemistry techniques, got to work with more instrumentation than I ever thought possible, made friends, and learned about myself,” she said.

“Looking at graduate schools, I wanted to continue exploring the analytical techniques I had acquired at the NRRC,” O’Hara said. “When I found ODU’s Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Science’s program, I learned that a graduate position meant a two-month expedition to Antarctica to conduct research. I decided to jump on this unique opportunity and shift to oceanography.”

O’Hara described the expedition as “beautiful. There was ice everywhere and brilliant green auroras, and wildlife I’d never seen before – penguins, seals, and albatrosses! Because we were in the southern hemisphere during austral winter, we ended up losing sunlight altogether about halfway through the trip. It was dark and cold – we had average temperatures around -30 degrees Celsius, or -22 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Voyage to Paris

Nine Southern Arkansas University students – Gabrielle Davis, Lily Hesen, Clayton Hawthorne, Timothy Hawthorne, Lindsey Wood, Hannah Springer, Caleigh Moyer, Anna Dillard, and Jacob Steed, along with community members Sandra Wood and Julie Kardas – enjoyed a trip in May to Paris, chaperoned by Dr. Ed Kardas, Honors College director.

The group left Little Rock early on May 9 and returned May 15. They managed to see much of Paris including the Roman Bathhouse at the Cluny Museum, the University of Paris (aka the Sorbonne), Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Shoah Holocaust Museum.

On the second day, the group took a sightseeing bus to visit Thomas Jefferson’s statue, the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre Museum. “They learned to ride the Metro and how to get around on buses,” Kardas said.

“We got on the Seine on the third day and got to see Paris from the river that divides it in two,” Kardas said. The group split up from time to time to enjoy individual pursuits, with some visiting the Musee d’Orsay, home of impressionist paintings, and others satisfying their culinary desires at bistros. Two rented bicycles and later took the train to EuroDisney. “They were all good Muleriders,” Kardas said.

“We took a bus to Versailles on the fourth day,” he said. “No picture or video can prepare visitors in advance. It’s far larger and far more opulent than the 21st century imagination. Louis XIV, who built it, must have had an immense ego. Of course, Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette paid the price for such a lifestyle with their heads. We also strolled through the gardens. Our guide told us that French gardens, like those at Versailles, seek to dominate nature. English gardens try to recreate nature.”

The group also toured a perfume factory, “which turned out to be an unexpected highlight of the day,” Kardas said. “That tour began with a stroll through their museum in the basement. Upstairs, we got to guess at a variety of odor samples. After, of course, we got to buy some of their products. The day ended with most of us attending an English-language one man show: ‘How to Become Parisian in 10 Easy Lessons.’ It was hilarious.”

Davis called Paris “awesome,” citing Versailles – and standing in the famous Hall of Mirrors – as her favorite excursion.

Moyer said, “I could not have asked for a better experience visiting Paris with SAU. We had the opportunity to submerge ourselves in the culture as well as visit many different historical sites.”

Dillard reported a similarly enjoyable experience. “I’ve always dreamed of going to Paris and I along with my fiancé, Jacob Steed, were able to go, all thanks to SAU and especially Brooke Williams in Foundation.”

Agri-business in Cameroon

Expanding students’ knowledge of a “shrinking world” motivated Dr. Pierre Boumtje, professor of agricultural economics, to take four Southern Arkansas University students on a trip to the African nation of Cameroon in July 2017.

The students said they gained not just an understanding of how agri-business is conducted in another country but a greater appreciation of what is available in America. Nicole Noga, a senior animal science major from Hot Springs, Arkansas; Jacinda Passmore, a senior agricultural education major from Conway, Arkansas; Kory Callaway, a junior agricultural business major from Magnolia, and Laura Nash, a junior agricultural business major from Arkadelphia, Arkansas, accompanied Dr. Boumtje and his wife, Dr. Martine Boumtje, associate professor of French, to Cameroon, Pierre’s native home.

The group departed from the United States on July 2, and was in Cameroon ten days, staying in the capital city of Yaoundé and visiting rural areas as well as a rubber tree plantation and an agricultural research station.

Boumtje said he teaches his students that “the world is shrinking in terms of openness. We communicate now through new technology, through the Internet, and that has made the world open to everybody. I teach my students that the world is their market. I want them to see what is going on in the world and understand the global nature of agribusiness.”

He said another aspect to the trip was exposing students to the government’s agricultural policies and research “in a different land. We visited the headquarters of the main government agricultural research institute and saw some research activities.”

Callaway said he had at first doubted he could get time off work, but “luckily, my boss gave me the time.” He said the trip “changed my perspective” and that he was not prepared for what he saw when he got off the plane in Cameroon. In many ways, factories and businesses lack the advancements and protections enjoyed by American workers. However, he said he was glad he made the trip.

Noga said it only took her “10 seconds” to decide to go. “I was really curious about the country, and I am very global in that I have traveled to quite a few places and want to see as much as I can. Traveling abroad makes you well-rounded, and allows you to see things much more as they really are, so that you can pick out what’s true from everything you hear in the news.”

Passmore said she and Nash arrived in Yaoundé one day earlier than the rest of the group and were met by relatives of Martine Boumtje. “They spoke French, so communication was a little difficult, as neither one of us spoke French,” Passmore said with a laugh. “There was a lot of pantomiming. So because of that, we had a bit of a different experience than the others. We did get to experience authentic, home-cooked meals.”

Martine Boumtje agreed the world is shrinking and said one of her goals is to produce “citizens of the world. The more students see of the world, the more they understand who they are. Taking these students to Cameroon, I was very happy. Everything they did was very informative.”

The trip was made possible in part through a travel scholarship from the SAU Foundation totaling more than $13,000, and through fund-raising efforts made by the participants.

Recruiting in India

Recruiting and spreading the word about Southern Arkansas University abroad were the goals of two University officials who traveled to cities in India last summer.

Dr. David Lanoue, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Jason Martisek, associate director of international services and admissions, journeyed to India in July to participate in a recruiting fair sponsored by the Indus Foundation. It was the second time Martisek traveled to India for a recruitment fair, having gone to one in 2013. “It’s a way for potential students and universities to connect with schools,” he said.

Lanoue said he met with recruiting agents and tried to get a feel for Indians’ attitudes toward not only SAU but the atmosphere in the United States. “One goal of mine was to let people there know that SAU is open for business, and our community is very welcoming of international students.”

Lanoue stayed mostly in the city of Hyderabad while Martisek flew to other Indian cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore. “The vast majority of our Indian students, particularly our STEM students, come to us from Hyderabad,” Lanoue said. “I wanted to get a sense of what students are thinking, and to speak to some of the recruiting agents to get a feel for what they’re hearing.”

He said enrollment of international students is down at universities nationwide. For Indians, he said, that is due primarily to “U.S. politics and major domestic currency issues at home. I wanted to reassure them that Southern Arkansas University continues to welcome students.”

Lanoue said that while SAU has developed “a very strong program with large numbers of Indian students,” the University has no recruiting agent in India. “The students who come here talk to their friends and tell them about our programs, and we enjoy extremely good word of mouth,” Lanoue said. “We have had students who have really been key recruiters for us.”

Martisek said 12 schools were represented at the expo. “Most were from the U.S., but there was also one from Australia and one from Mumbai. We set up booths for students and parents to visit. Most of the students were interested in STEM programs, and the majority of the Indians that we visited with were interested in obtaining their masters.”

He said computer science and STEM courses are most popular among Indian students who attend SAU. “Computer science is the largest draw for them,” he said.
The biggest appeal to Indian students is that they can gradate from SAU with much less than debt than from larger schools.

Lanoue said he found that most people were “optimistic” despite stories in the news recently.

“There was an initial question about whether immigrants are still welcome, and I think people are starting to feel better about it,” he said. “I emphasized that we have had Indian students establish communities throughout our region and they report very positive experiences. That is important to emphasize when a lot of the international news suggests the U.S. is retreating into itself.”

“One concern is safety in the U.S.,” Martisek said. “Rumors go through the international community like lightning, and bad news spreads. We have to act quickly and say, ‘Don’t believe everything you read online.’”

SAU this fall hosts 645 international students and a majority of those are from India, Martisek said. The University is home to students from more than 30 countries, he said. “Many of our international students participate in campus events and organizations. They play sports, are involved in Greek culture, and become President’s Ambassadors. They are extremely active, and I think they bring a good dose of culture to SAU.”

Martisek said about 25 students attending the fair expressed a firm interest in coming to SAU. “I would have liked more, but if we can get those students to come, they will tell their friends, and the word will mushroom out. Word of mouth will pull in more students. That is how SAU keeps its international population.”

Lanoue said that in addition to talking to recruiting agents, he spent time learning about higher education in India. “They are overwhelmingly interested in math and science. They come to the U.S. for STEM,” he said. “It’s a competitive market and not just among American schools. Some students go to Australia for STEM, some go to Europe. The numbers are really going up in Canada.” However, SAU has an advantage in that “in addition to our excellent faculty, we have a low sticker price. International students can buy a high-quality education at a lower cost. That is the best of both worlds. Students in India told me that quality and price make a big difference in their decision, and having an American degree in math or computer science is a big deal in India.”

Nursing beyond borders in Nicaragua

Two student nurses from SAU traveled to Nicaragua in January with Dr. Becky Parnell, associate professor of nursing. The medical mission was part of Nursing Beyond Borders and was the second such mission to Nicaragua. Parnell said the mission in 2015 was a success in “expanding the students’ views of health, prosperity and giving of their talents and knowledge to serve others.”

She said the 2017 trip was in line with the mission statements of both the University and the Nursing Department in “opening the students to the potential for serving others, and to the impact this service can have on individuals, groups, and, ultimately, a country.”

This year, Mattie Klippert and Sharon Allen were the students who participated. Parnell said the team was able to participate in outdoor clinics caring for more than 600 patients, working in triage, pharmacy, witnessing, and with physicians providing direct care. “This experience greatly expanded the students’ knowledge of cultural differences, medication, and health care overall in a poor country. It was a life-changing experience for the students,” Parnell wrote.

The team spent about seven days in Leon, Nicaragua.

The SAU Foundation provided a $2,000 travel scholarship to the mission.

In a letter to the Foundation, Allen, a senior from Texarkana, Arkansas, wrote that she was “blessed with the opportunity to participate in the Nicaragua mission.” The work was “one of the main reasons I decided to go into nursing, because I had a desire to help people and to lead people to Christ.”

Klippert, a senior from Junction City, Arkansas, wrote that her experience in Nicaragua was “absolutely amazing. My nursing knowledge was expanded tremendously while I was there and I am reminded daily of certain aspects of the trip. I am so thankful that I attend a university that allows and helps me to go on a medical mission trip. This was a heart-changing trip and … I am a blessed and proud Mulerider!”

McNeel in Mexico

Taylor McNeel, a senior agricultural business major from Vilonia, Arkansas, also represented Mulerider Country by traveling to Mexico on a Fatted Calf internship to work in a children’s home teaching summer classes to the residents, ages 6-17. She said the classes and practices were “geared to prepare students for Expo Esperanza (Hope Expo), which is similar to a county fair where the children exhibit livestock, chickens and horses, and compete with crafts, projects, plants, speaking demonstrations, music and dance.”

McNeel, who is also former Arkansas and national president of Future Farmers of America, said she was specifically teaching industrial arts and woodworking and providing lessons and practices “similar to a 4-H or FFA program.”

“I strive to be a positive light and my goal was to show the students they can set goals and accomplish them,” McNeel wrote of her internship. “I hope that in at least one of my classes, the students discovered more about themselves, (found) something they enjoyed, and overcame a fear they may have had of animals, public speaking, or working with tools. I also tried to encourage them to keep pursuing what they love. Though they were in a children’s home, the majority of their lives won’t be spent there.”

She said she applied for the internship “because it combined my past experience in 4-H and FFA, showing and raising livestock, public speaking, and agriculture with my Spanish minor and agriculture business major and my love of teaching others they have purpose and potential.”

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