ATU Graduates Reflect on an Achievement of a Lifetime

Spring 2024 Commencement Feature
Photographed (from left-to-right): Arkansas Tech University spring 2024 graduates Brisa Hernandez-Cervantes, Taurino Keeny, Matthew Rivera, Ashley Jones and Devon DesCarpentrie.

Brisa Hernandez-Cervantes did not hesitate when asked what motivated her to complete her degree and reach her graduation day at Arkansas Tech University.

“It was my parents,” said Hernandez-Cervantes. “They immigrated here very young and became citizens. I knew if they could make something of themselves here, so could I. My dad is also a student here at Arkansas Tech, and that motivated me to keep pushing, keep studying and be the best I could be.”

Hernandez-Cervantes was among approximately 1,050 students who earned degrees and certificates from ATU at the conclusion of the spring 2024 semester. Those graduates were celebrated over a span of four ceremonies on Friday, May 10, and Saturday, May 11, at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.

A native of Russellville, Hernandez-Cervantes graduated from ATU with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and a certification in Spanish medical interpretation.

Her involvement beyond the classroom included membership in the Latin Student Organization, which she served as secretary and vice president.

“I was part of a community here at Tech,” said Hernandez-Cervantes. “Being in the Latin Student Organization led me to be a freshman orientation leader. I loved it. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I am going to pharmacy school, and I feel like the Latin Student Organization helped me move forward toward that.”

Taurino Keeny of Sherwood is moving forward to a career in the U.S. Army. He was among six ATU graduates commissioned as second lieutenants during a commencement Saturday ceremony.

As a quartermaster officer in the U.S. Army, Keeny will be involved in the logistics of moving equipment and ensuring that soldiers have what they need to perform their roles.

“It’s all about the people,” said Keeny. “The line of work I’ll be going into, leading soldiers, I’d like to be able to lead them to the best of my abilities.”

It was the choral music program that originally brought Keeny to Arkansas Tech. As he went through his academic progression, Keeny changed his major from vocal music education to mathematics and then to sociology. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Keeny appreciates that ATU’s size afforded him the opportunity to build relationships with his faculty members.

“You can actually get to know your professors and pick their brain,” said Keeny.

Faculty relationships were also a big part of Matthew Rivera’s ATU experience after he transferred to Arkansas Tech from Presbyterian College (S.C).

“It was kind of a culture shock being from Florida, going to South Carolina and then coming here,” said Rivera, who is originally from Jacksonville, Fla. “There is a lot more Southern hospitality here. My faculty members made me feel more like a friend than a student. They are great mentors and it was a great relationship, overall.”

Rivera credits his family supporting him from back home in Florida and the relationships he developed through his local church in Russellville in keeping him going during challenging times.

He also found strength through the leadership opportunities provided to him through the ATU football program.

“Being a leader in the receiver room helped me a lot,” said Rivera. “I was able to take freshmen under my wing and help them grow as best they could.”

Rivera will invest his final season of football eligibility at Anderson University (S.C.) while beginning work on his master’s degree in fall 2024.

Ashley Jones of Onia chose ATU because of the flexibility provided by distance learning.

“I wanted to get my degree online, and Arkansas Tech was the only college I called that gave me the opportunity to do my full English degree online,” said Jones. “The teachers can only do so much. If you’re not determined to read the material, you can’t pass.”

A mother of three, Jones hopes to utilize her degree from ATU in a teaching career at the K-12 middle or secondary level.

“I wanted to succeed and show my kids that you can,” said Jones. “There were more than a few of those moments when I was just done. We pulled through. I just wanted to succeed, get done and be a teacher. College is not harder than parenting. If you have done that, you can get a degree.”

Devon DesCarpentrie of Bryant selected Arkansas Tech based upon scholarships, affordability and the fact that the campus was right-sized for his preferences.

He succeeded at ATU because he found a home in the Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree program.

“I like looking at the insides of how things work…the inner workings of machines and things like that,” said DesCarpentrie. “That really interests me. This program helped me break down a problem into its core components. That way, I can look at each individual part and be able to solve that rather than becoming overwhelmed by the whole picture.”

DesCarpentrie also completed the University Honors program at ATU.

“It definitely gave me a more holistic view of the world,” said DesCarpentrie when asked about University Honors at ATU. “It gave me new experiences I wouldn’t have had in mechanical engineering. I really enjoyed those classes a lot.”

That’s not to say it was always easy for the members of the ATU Class of 2024. Many of them arrived on campus during a pandemic. They overcame that, the re-adjustment period that followed and found the motivation necessary to cross the finish line.

“I didn’t want to disappoint myself,” said DesCarpentrie. “I tried to find that self-motivation and work toward something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.”