ATU Class of 2022 Reflects on Paths to Success

Shawn Hinkle Spring 2022 Commencement
Shawn Hinkle was among the spring 2022 graduates from Arkansas Tech University.

Shawn Hinkle originally came to Arkansas Tech University to play in the band and become a math teacher.

A few years and four ATU degrees later, you can call him Dr. Hinkle.

His Doctor of Education degree in school leadership was among approximately 1,900 credentials earned by Arkansas Tech graduates at the conclusion of the spring 2022 semester. The graduates were recognized at commencement ceremonies May 5-7 at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.

Hinkle already held a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics education, a Master of Education degree in educational leadership and an Educational Specialist credential from Arkansas Tech. He credited perseverance, desire and the memory of a family member for pushing him to complete his doctoral degree.

“My dad passed away five years ago, and I knew the doctorate was something we had talked about, so I wanted to finish it,” said Hinkle.

Hinkle said he pursued ATU’s Doctor of Education degree because he believed it would put him on a level playing field when applying for career advancement opportunities.

He was right. Hinkle was recently hired as the new principal at Kimmons Middle School in the Fort Smith School District.

“We did our entire doctoral program through COVID, so we learned to modify, adjust and move on,” said Hinkle. “Being able to adapt to change throughout the program will help me as I continue my career.”

Spring 2022 ATU graduate Cadyn Cook plans on applying her talents and education in the field of digital marketing after earning her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree from Arkansas Tech.

Cook, who is from Russellville, attended another university for two years before transferring to Arkansas Tech.

“Being so close to family, having a good support system and knowing the area have been my favorite aspects of attending Tech,” said Cook.

For her next step, Cook will work in marketing for non-profit organization Mission Partnerships in Dallas, Texas.

Aaron Norton of Hot Springs received his Master of Science degree in fisheries and wildlife science during ATU’s spring commencement.

“In fisheries and wildlife, a lot of field work is important,” said Norton. “The fisheries and wildlife program (at ATU) is really strong in that. Getting to go out and actually experience that as well as teaching undergrads has been really helpful in my education. There have been a lot of volunteer opportunities as well.”

Norton will continue his studies by pursuing a doctoral degree in environmental science with an emphasis in environmental water quality.

“It’s a huge honor,” said Norton when asked about graduating from Arkansas Tech. “I didn’t even know if I was going to do a master’s degree at all. I’m really proud of being able to earn it here. I’m a little melancholy reflecting on all the good memories here. It’s been really nice to know all my professors. I think that’s a big strength of this university.”

Brooke Gullett of Wonderview already held a Bachelor of Science degree in health and physical education from Arkansas Tech. During spring commencement 2022, she added a Master of Education degree in special education to her collection.

“My professors have been like family to me since I started here,” said Gullett. “They check in on me and make sure I am doing okay. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Gullett will continue her teaching career with plans on beginning a Doctor of Philosophy degree program within the next year.

Blandy Pedrez’s Arkansas Tech experience was shaped by her involvement in student organizations such as ATU Pre-Med Club, Tri Beta and Women in STEM. Along the way, she earned a full-time job in the ATU Office of Financial Aid.

“I was able to learn how to manage my time with working full time and figuring out how to finish all my classes and my homework,” said Pedrez, who completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. “I’m thankful the Lord has brought me this far.”

Nigel Lewis of Hamburg earned national acclaim on his path to graduation from Arkansas Tech. In 2019, he was selected as a Jackie Robinson Scholar. The program allowed him to network with students from institutions such as Columbia University, Duke University, Harvard University and Stanford University.

Those experiences helped Lewis grapple with the challenges of the times in which he attended college.

“We have the African American Student Association back up and running,” said Lewis, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology with a minor in psychology. “I’m excited to see where my friends take that. Everything feels like it is starting back over after COVID. When that happened, I lacked the motivation and I felt like I was out of it mentally. I was down. Overcoming that and realizing why I’m here and why I’m doing what I’m doing…once I did that, it was easy to get where I am now.”

Lewis plans to begin his career in geriatric social work.

“I’m excited,” said Lewis. “I’m happy that my family is here to experience this moment with me. It means a lot to me that they’re here, and it means a lot to them that I’m here. I’m proud of myself.”