ATU Summer Grads Look to Journey Ahead

As the newly minted summer 2017 graduates of Arkansas Tech University go forth to pursue their adventures, they will follow a variety of paths.

Zach Thompson of Hamburg earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree during a commencement ceremony at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville on Saturday morning. It was one of approximately 1,000 academic credentials conferred by ATU at the close of the summer 2017 terms.

Thompson’s path was constructed through an internship he completed with Stark Manufacturing in Paris on Friday. Saturday brought graduation, and less than 48 hours later he’ll be back with Stark Manufacturing as a full-time employee.

“I was able to pick up a lot of skills involving process design and process engineering that I definitely believe will help me later on in life,” said Thompson when asked about his internship. “An internship is definitely something each student should look for and something to look for early on. It gives you a major leg up career wise and understanding the material. There’s so much material that I learned, but didn’t fully understand until I could see it hands-on with this internship.”

It was the culture of ATU that drew Thompson to Russellville after beginning his higher education journey at another institution.

“The fact that I knew I could go to my professors for help, whether it be academic or personal…the fact that amongst the student body, we’re a team and you’re not fighting against your fellow student…that was a very big draw,” said Thompson.

Now he feels prepared for the journey ahead.

“An engineering degree does not teach you how to be an engineer,” said Thompson. “It teaches you how to learn to be an engineer. The curriculum here gave me the academic and theoretical backing, but it was my internship and a lot of my student involvement in projects like the Shell Eco-marathon car that gave me the technical basis to excel.”

Michele Leding of Tishomingo, Okla., said it was her sister who encouraged her to pursue a college degree. On Saturday, Leding earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in health information management through ATU-Ozark Campus at the age of 51.

“She said it’s a growing field and the best field to get into right now,” said Leding, who has earned a career opportunity with United Healthcare as a result of her studies. “I had two of the best instructors, Ms. (Brenda) Huntsinger and Ms. (Bonnie) Sher. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have made it.”

Leding wants to follow in their footsteps by earning a bachelor’s degree and eventually teaching health information management. She said that meeting and helping people has been the highlight of her Tech experience so far.

“Hanging out with younger people and feeling like I was part of the group, that’s what I like,” said Leding. “Taking that first step is scary, but don’t think twice. Do it. It was the best thing I’ve ever done. I thought long and hard about it, and it took me years because I was scared, but I did it. If you’re my age, you can do it. It’s amazing.”

Family connections were a familiar theme while visiting with graduates in the corridor of Tucker Coliseum before the commencement ceremony on Saturday morning.

ATU is a family tradition for Austin Brown of Heber Springs, who graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree in health and physical education. His older brother, Anthony, and younger brother, Aaron, have both attended Tech.

Brown was in the U.S. Army ROTC program during his time as an undergraduate student, and he has accepted an active duty assignment as a medical service officer. He will report for duty in Alaska on Aug. 26.

As he begins that serious mission, he’ll do so with fond and light-hearted memories of his time serving as lead handler for Jerry the Bulldog, campus ambassador at ATU, as part of his participation in ROTC.

“It’s just awesome,” said Brown of his involvement in the campus ambassador program. “To walk around with Jerry and everything…everybody loves Jerry and everybody wants to be around him. It’s a new atmosphere when Jerry is around. It’s been cool to be a part of it.”

Josie Chism’s path to ATU started when she accompanied her older sister, Jessica, on a campus tour of Tech in 2009. On Saturday, the Rose Bud native earned her Bachelor of Science degree in hospitality administration from Arkansas Tech.

“I went with her to orientation and move-in day, and I just kept falling in love with the campus,” said Chism. “As I went through high school, I decided I wanted to go into a hospitality program. So, I researched schools and came to find out that Arkansas Tech has one of the best hospitality programs.”

Chism chose to focus on lodging and club management as part of her hospitality administration degree because she knew that discipline would expose her to unique people from different cultures. It wasn’t always easy, but the mentorship of faculty member Susan West helped Chism channel her grit and remain on pace to earn her degree.

“Whenever I wanted to take less classes or anything like that, (West) told me no,” said Chism. “She said that everyone she had seen who decided to take fewer classes had dropped out, and she wasn’t going to let me do that. She kept pushing me and pushing me, and she is one of the main reasons why I am here. I’m so proud. There were times when I didn’t think I could do it, but I’m still here and I’m one of the first people in my family to graduate from college. It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to my family, especially graduating from Arkansas Tech. It just means even more.”

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