Maily Andraca Lopez leaned on grit and determination to persist to graduation day at Arkansas Tech University on Saturday, May 11.
“My greatest challenge was to keep persevering,” said Lopez. “College is four years of ups and downs. There are multiple life changes along the way, but as long as we keep persevering and motivating ourselves to see the end goal, we’ll always make it.”
Lopez’s Bachelor of Science degree in emergency management was one of approximately 1,700 credentials conferred by ATU during spring 2019 commencement ceremonies at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.
A product of Russellville, Lopez found that representatives from the rest of the world came to join her at her hometown university.
“I felt that here at Arkansas Tech, I could find my niche,” said Lopez. “Arkansas Tech is full of diversity. It benefited me in the sense that I was able to understand different cultures and see things from a different perspective. By experiencing those types of things, I began living not only through my eyes, but through someone else’s eyes. I can apply that into the real world to better understand how to help myself and others.”
Lopez pointed to Beth Gray, associate professor of emergency management, as a key figure in her academic success.
“Professor Gray has really motivated me to keep going with my career and by telling me that I have special qualities,” said Lopez. “She has helped me see that if I develop these skills, I can become a better person and more empowering for others.”
Lopez will serve as a graduate assistant in the ATU Department of Emergency Management and pursue ATU’s Master of Science degree in emergency management and homeland security. She hopes her ATU education will lead to a career focused on community outreach and leadership.
One of Lopez’s fellow 2019 ATU graduates, Carley Allen of Ozone, possesses all the qualities necessary to become a leader in the field of veterinary medicine.
As a result of her preparation at Arkansas Tech, Allen was accepted to four different veterinary schools before choosing the University of Missouri. She will take the next step toward becoming a veterinarian in Columbia, Mo., beginning this fall.
“I never would have dreamed it, especially with one of them being an Ivy League school,” said Allen when asked about gaining acceptance to four veterinary schools. “It will be a whole new ballgame, and I think the level of rigor is going to be an exciting challenge.”
Selecting ATU for her undergraduate experience was an easy decision for Allen.
“I loved the faculty and the ag department…I felt right at home,” said Allen. “The veterinarian we had on the faculty (Dr. Alvin Williams) was 100 percent the person I wanted to work with, and he was a huge part in getting me into vet school. I really loved the hands-on labs we got to do all the time. That was a huge plus for me, as was the family atmosphere.”
That support helped Allen make it through the passing of her father, Charley Allen, halfway through the pursuit of her ATU degree.
“This was a huge dream of his,” said Allen. “Overcoming that was a huge part of being here today.”
Christopher Caveney also felt the pain of losing a parent during his time as an ATU student.
“He was the biggest inspiration why I am here today,” said Caveney when asked about his father, Dennis Caveney. “I am very happy to be able to make him proud. He’s looking down on me today. Even though he passed away, he’s definitely still supporting me today.”
A native of Blytheville, Caveney originally looked into attending Arkansas Tech in 1997. The timing wasn’t right then, but life brought him back to ATU. He now holds a Bachelor of Science degree in emergency management.
“When I decided to make a career change I looked at Arkansas Tech again, and it was exactly what I was looking for,” said Caveney. “The environment is very family-oriented. I love the faculty members, the students I have met and the region in general.”
The Arkansas River Valley is home to Abby Elam. The Lamar product received a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from ATU on Saturday.
“I chose Arkansas Tech because it’s really close to home,” said Elam. “I can still go back home and see my family, and it’s not so far away that I am completely on my own. I’ve grown really close with a lot of the faculty members and they’ve really helped me along the way. I would get stressed out a lot, and I could just easily e-mail the professor and they would e-mail me back really quickly to calm my nerves. I don’t think I would be here without them. It’s been a long road.”
Elam’s road will lead her to a first grade classroom as a teacher in the Russellville School District beginning in fall 2019.
Johnathan Steimel traveled all the way from Pocahontas to enroll at Arkansas Tech. Despite being three hours away from his home, Steimel found familiarity on the Russellville campus.
“I visited a few colleges during my 12th grade year,” said Steimel. “When I came to Arkansas Tech, I walked through the library and saw the big, open area with the bell tower in the middle. I’m a farmer, so I saw that and said ‘I like this place.’ It’s open, it’s wide and there’s a lot of trees. It’s pretty, and I really enjoyed it here. Dr. (Patricia) Buford has really helped me out. I had Dr. (Wayne) Helmer the first semester and the last semester, so he was there through everything. Everybody here has been good to me.”
An internship that Steimel had during his time at ATU led directly to his first full-time career opportunity. He will apply his mechanical engineering skills to assist in the manufacturing of parts for military aircraft.
Applying classroom skills in real-world settings while still an undergraduate student also benefited spring 2019 ATU graduate Abby Sanders of Clarksville. She earned the Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture business.
“Dr. (Justin) Killingsworth helped recruit me here,” said Sanders. “From day one, (the faculty) supported me and encouraged me. I had a lot of opportunity for internships. That’s something we focus on very heavily in our department. Also, the (ATU Department of Agriculture) is connected to industry. They know people who need employees and they know people who are very connected within our industry.
“My main obstacle was figuring out what my passions are,” continued Sanders. “I knew that I loved agriculture and always have. Finding that communications was an option and having faculty that were able to help me discover my best fit for graduate school really helped me overcome that challenge.”
Sanders will pursue her master’s degree in agriculture communications from The Ohio State University beginning in fall 2019.