Marple Takes Winding Path to Education

Robin Marple’s path to Arkansas Tech University was non-traditional in every way possible.

When Marple graduated high school, she went to work at Pizza Hut, working her way up to manager after seven years. She dabbled in photography and then changed careers again to work in accounting for the next 20 years until she became “sick of numbers.”

Unsure of her next move, Marple began substitute teaching at the urging of her aunts, one of whom was a librarian, and the other of whom was a teacher. “I love kids,” said Marple. “And I loved being in the classroom with the kids.”

After online research and rave reviews from her oldest daughter, who was an ATU student in the Department of Communication and Journalism, Marple enrolled at ATU for secondary English education.

“I love English and I feel like it’s dying off,” said Marple. “Our kids nowadays; they do not know how to write properly, speak properly and appropriately, or how to use grammar. Our digital world has come to the ‘LOL’ and shooting a smiley face.”

Entering college as a non-traditional student can present its own set of challenges, but Marple took it in stride. For Marple, the classrooms were welcoming and the class discussions were some of her favorite experiences. “I love the way people think and the different perspectives,” said Marple.

Right away, Marple found a mentor in Nancy Cox, instructor of English.  “I can’t praise her enough,” said Marple “Anytime I needed anything or just an ear or a sounding board, I went to her.”

Dr. Diane Gleason, associate professor of history, was another faculty member who stood out to Marple. According to Marple, she did not enjoy history in high school, but Gleason made her love it. Marple also enjoyed the two classes she had with Dr. Lynn Walsh, associate professor of curriculum and instruction.

During her time at ATU, Marple received consistent support from her husband. Her father also played an active role in her education, calling her often to check on her grades and assignments. Marple credits the support of her family and the life-long friendships with people in the program for helping her succeed.

Now that she has completed her bachelor’s degree, Marple hopes to get established in a teaching position soon. She says she can see herself coming back to ATU to pursue a master’s degree in the future.

“There were times when it was overwhelming, but I got through it,” said Marple. “It was a wonderful journey.”

Homes For Our Troops Chooses ATU Alumnus

Armed Forces Day 2017 carried extra meaning for Arkansas Tech University alumnus and retired U.S. Army Sergeant Christopher Tarte.

He spent the morning of Saturday, May 20, in the W.O. Young Building Ballroom at ATU, surrounded by family and friends as the non-profit organization Homes For Our Troops hosted a community kickoff celebrating the construction of a four-bedroom, mortgage-free, adapted home in Russellville for Tarte and his three children.

“I love the fact that (Homes For Our Troops) allowed me to ask my children what color they wanted to paint their rooms,” said Tarte. “My kids each have their own rooms. Yesterday I got to go to the site, and I hadn’t been there in a month or two. It’s one thing to look at the property and say ‘this is going to be cool.’ It’s a whole different ballgame to actually see them start on things. This is starting to become real to me now.”

Tarte worked in the ATU Bookstore and the ATU Museum during his time as an undergraduate student. He was also active in the Church of Christ Student Center before earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communication in 2006.

He went on to serve his country in Afghanistan as a combat engineer. On Oct. 29, 2011, Tarte’s vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. His injuries included leg fractures in more than 10 places, a pulmonary embolism, vertebrae fractures and traumatic brain injury. His right leg was amputated below the knee, leading to months of rehabilitation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

By February 2015, a prosthetic and physical therapy had Tarte running again. Today, he plays sitting volleyball, reads, paints, plays guitar and spends time with his kids.

Additional speakers during the ceremony at the Young Ballroom included Amy Pennington, dean of students and interim vice president for student services at ATU; Dan Chmura, vice president of purchasing for HARDI; Anna Huff, co-owner of Budget Blinds; Wes Tarte, father of the honoree; Marshall Kennedy, a veteran from Farmington and past recipient of an adapted home from Homes For Our Troops; and Rep. Trevor Drown.

Drown, an ATU alumnus who serves in the Arkansas House of Representatives, shared first-hand knowledge of the sacrifices made by veterans.

“Chris, Marshall and I have something in common…a bond that most people will never even begin to understand,” said Drown. “We have all served in the most dangerous place on Earth, the Helmand Province (in Afghanistan). I can tell you, what these men have experienced and the sacrifice they have given, no one will ever understand unless they’ve been there. I feel honored to have served and fought on the same ground as these men.”

Homes For Our Troops has constructed 231 homes in 41 states for disabled U.S. armed services veterans.

Tom Landwermeyer, president of Homes For Our Troops, said the organization expects to complete an additional 30 customized homes designed to meet the needs of disabled veterans before the end of 2017. During the community kickoff at Young Ballroom, Landwermeyer described the organization’s work as a “moral obligation” to support U.S. veterans.

“I’m very thankful that y’all are here today,” said Tarte. “I’m very thankful for what Homes For Our Troops is doing. I’m very thankful for what Tech has provided for me up to this point. And I’m very thankful for the support that I have from all of you. Because of people like you, in the last year I’ve learned to ride a motorcycle. I’ve started to qualify for two paralympic teams. Because of the support that Homes For Our Troops has given and the ability to have a mortgage-free home, my kids are very excited that they’ll be able to get more toys with the money that I’m saving. Thank you to everybody for making a difference. Now, I get a chance to better show my kids that they can do whatever they want. They can be whatever they want, and they don’t have to worry about the limitations that other people put on them. For that, I just want to thank you all very much.”

ATU’s First Doctoral Graduates Earn Degrees

Eight educational professionals from across Arkansas are the first doctoral graduates in Arkansas Tech University history.

Those earning the Doctor of Education degree in school leadership at the completion of the spring 2017 semester are (photographed, left-to-right):

*Cindy Rice, academic facilitator, Heritage High School (Rogers)
*Keri Rathbun, principal, Kimmons Junior High School (Fort Smith)
*Mary Ann Spears, superintendent, Lincoln Consolidated School District
*Tiffany Bone, visiting assistant professor of educational leadership, Arkansas Tech University
*Cody Chatman, principal, Greenwood Junior High School and Freshman Center
*Ivy Pfeffer, assistant commissioner, Arkansas Department of Education
*Christopher Johnson, assistant principal, Jacksonville High School
*Keith McGee, principal, Mann Magnet Middle School (Little Rock)

The formal steps involved in creating the Doctor of Education degree in school leadership began in July 2010, when the Arkansas Tech Board of Trustees approved a letter of intent notifying the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) that the university was developing a Doctor of Education program.

One month later, the board approved a letter of intent to ADHE concerning the change in role and scope necessary to allow Arkansas Tech to offer doctoral programs.

In November 2010, the Arkansas Tech Board of Trustees approved the program proposal that outlined the Doctor of Education degree as developed by the faculty in the Arkansas Tech Center for Leadership and Learning.

The following years saw a site visit by an out-of-state review team in March 2012 and program reviews by the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board (AHECB), all of which led to a decision by the AHECB on July 25, 2014, to grant Arkansas Tech a change in role and scope and permission to begin offering a Doctor of Education degree in school leadership.

The final piece of the puzzle was put in place in May 2015 when the Higher Learning Commission, a commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, granted accreditation for the Arkansas Tech Doctor of Education degree.

The program is designed for K-12 education professionals who currently serve or wish to serve in school district leadership positions.

For more information about the ATU Doctor of Education degree in school leadership, visit

Rollins Leaves Mark With Accessibility Project

Like many Arkansas Tech University students, Tyler Rollins of Bearden is passionate about the opportunities for competition afforded by the campus intramural sports program.

That’s why you’d often find Rollins, a spring 2017 graduate of Tech, at the campus recreation fields, coaching his friends in flag football and Ultimate Frisbee.

Rollins’ passion became much more accessible late in his undergraduate career because of a project that provides a custom solution for people in wheelchairs.

Luke Duffield of Blackstone Construction, Mobley Concrete Company and Duffield Gravel led a volunteer project by local businesses that created a path paved with conscientious concrete that allows people with disabilities the access they need to enjoy intramural sports at Arkansas Tech.

“This provides ease of access and opportunity,” said Rollins. “If I can get to it, I can do it. This bridges that gap. I can coach and watch. This provides independence. It’s awesome that it was a collaborative effort by so many hands.”

Jim Bowden of Bowden Specialties and Morgan Barrett of Barrett and Associates also lent their professional expertise to the project.

Among the distinctive features of the path is its “S” style pattern, which was created at Rollins’ advice based upon ease of access.

Duffield said the project could not have been successful without Rollins’ input.

“Tyler and Morgan drew everything out,” said Duffield. “We asked Tyler about the proper width. We told him to throw out the minimums…tell us what works best. He thought about things we hadn’t considered because he lives it every day.”

With his Bachelor of Science degree in recreation and park administration in hand, Rollins has accepted a position as assistant superintendent for The Center, a multipurpose community center owned and operated by the City of Bryant.

Photographed: Tyler Rollins receives congratulations from Arkansas Tech University faculty member Dr. Theresa Herrick during spring 2017 commencement ceremonies. 

Veteran, Service Dog Graduate Together

Two women own the heart of Eddie Gunter.

One is his wife, Maria, who watched proudly from the seats at John E. Tucker Coliseum in Russellville on Saturday morning as Gunter received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Arkansas Tech University.

The other is Star, a 7-and-a-half-year-old service dog who was with Gunter every step of the way to that degree, including the walk across the coliseum floor in her own cap and gown during Saturday’s commencement ceremony.

“(Star) is my savior when I’m down and my companion when I’m up,” said Gunter. “My wife is my best friend, and Star is right there in the same capacity. I think I care about each of them about equally. To have both of them here today, and for Star to get to walk with me, it’s icing on the cake.”

Gunter graduated from Russellville High School in 1987 and began classes at Arkansas Tech that fall.

“College probably wasn’t the first thing on my mind at that time,” said Gunter. “I was still young…18 years old. About two semesters in, the dean invited me to take a vacation. That vacation is what ultimately got me into the military.”

Gunter served as a medic in the U.S. Army. The years after his retirement from the service were trying times.

“I was struggling a lot with drinking, alcoholism and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” said Gunter. “I went to the in-patient treatment at the V.A. there at North Little Rock. It didn’t go really well the first go-round. That’s an eight-week process. It didn’t go very well, and I didn’t take it very well. I was short two weeks of making the whole program. The second time I went into the program, I was more open-minded because I knew I needed to get something to change.”

That change was made possible in part by Dr. Robert G. Zepecki, a veterinarian from Hot Springs who connects veterans with assistance dogs.

Zepecki, or “Dr. Bob” as Gunter calls him, had arranged for a service dog named Charlie to live with the patients on Gunter’s floor at the treatment center. Charlie and Gunter bonded.

“Dr. Bob was a blessing in getting this program worked out,” said Gunter. “They trusted me a little bit with Charlie, and I took Charlie to Petco. When we took Charlie to Petco is when I met Star. She was there with a rehab rescue group. As soon as I walked up to Star, and Star walked up to me…if you ever believed in love at first sight or that something was meant to be, that’s what I felt that day.”

Within a short period of time, Gunter had completed his therapy and Star was seated beside him for the car ride home to Hot Springs. They’ve been together ever since.

It was about that same time that Gunter resumed his education at Arkansas Tech. He took approximately half of his classes online and half in person, commuting from Hot Springs to Russellville for Tuesday and Thursday classes.

Now, almost 30 years after he began his studies there, Gunter is a graduate of ATU with a degree in rehabilitation science and psychology.

“Knowing the people and the doctors that had helped me along to get from the point of…let’s say drinking a fifth of whiskey every day and not wanting to get out of bed or leave my house…to wanting to leave my house and wanting to consider going to school…that adds some fuel to the fire,” said Gunter. “When I finally decided that rehabilitation science and psychology were for me, it just kind of fueled that fire a little more because I was learning about me. I want to work with other veterans because I know how many people helped me to get here. If people knew me five or eight years ago…down and out and battered and beaten as I was…if I can do it, anybody can do it. That’d be something I’d want every veteran in the country to hear.”