As the members of the Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus class of 2021 lined up outside Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field in advance of their commencement ceremony on Thursday night, their stories had a common thread that has been in short supply as of late: hope.
Lauren Ryan of Booneville was excited that the physical therapist assistant program has provided her with an opportunity to begin her career at the age of 20. She has plans to move to northwest Arkansas and eventually complete a bridge program to become a full-fledged physical therapist.
"It's a really great program," said Ryan. "It's a lot of fun and really hard, but so worth it. I've met so many great people and clinical instructors. We went online for the summer, and learning physical therapy online is not for the faint of heart. Being able to work through it together with my classmates worked out really well."
One of those classmates was Ryan Sinclair of Hot Springs, who also graduated from the ATU-Ozark physical therapist assistant program.
"I played baseball at Magnolia, tore my ACL and when I went through physical therapy I knew this was something I would love to do," said Sinclair. "The teachers and students were awesome and kept everyone together when we were on lockdown during COVID-19. If we weren't doing well in class, the teachers really helped and pushed us."
Thursday night marked the first ATU-Ozark commencement ceremony since May 2019. The spring 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social distancing made it difficult to study cosmetology in person during the darkest days of the pandemic, so Miranda Trejo of Russellville did the best she could under the circumstances. It paid off Thursday night when she graduated.
"I love to do hair," said Trejo. "I have a little girl and I love to do her hair. I've always done hair for my mom and family. My teacher, Ms. Julie (Auterson), was the best. I enjoyed making friends in class and experiencing this with all the other girls. When the pandemic hit, I took my mannequins home and practiced with them. It was difficult because I wasn't sure if I was doing it right or wrong, but FaceTime was the best thing."
Trejo hopes to open her own business as a result of her new status as a licensed cosmetologist.
Graduation was nothing new for Tae Marshall of Russellville. She received a technical certificate in health professions on Thursday night, which she can now place alongside the Associate of Applied Science degree she already held.
"I like the community and the teachers at Ozark," said Marshall. "They are very nice. Online learning was one of the biggest challenges. The thing that really helped me was the study groups."
Marshall plans on continuing her education in hopes of becoming a pharmacist and re-investing in the Arkansas River Valley by opening her own pharmacy.
"I plan on being here for a long time," said Marshall.
ATU-Ozark Campus conferred approximately 680 credentials during its spring 2021 commencement ceremony.
Visit www.atu.edu/ozark to learn more about academic opportunities available through ATU-Ozark Campus.