Sense of Community Binds Arkansas Tech Graduates

ATU Fall Commencement 2023
Arkansas Tech University graduates stand for the conferral of degrees during a fall 2023 commencement ceremony at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville on Saturday, Dec. 16.

As Mallory Watkins awaited her graduation from Arkansas Tech University on Saturday, Dec. 16, she used one word to explain why she has chosen ATU throughout her post-secondary education.


“I have always loved this campus,” said Watkins in the corridor of Tucker Coliseum before the 10 a.m. fall 2023 ATU commencement ceremony. “Anytime I’m here, I feel like I’m home due to the staff, the faculty and everyone who is here.”

Watkins first graduated from Arkansas Tech in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. She began her career as a family service worker and a substance abuse counselor, but eventually her desire to help others led her to the classroom.

She returned to Arkansas Tech to pursue the Master of Education degree, which she received on Saturday. Watkins teaches fifth grade in the Berryville School District.

“I feel like the (ATU) community really stuck with me, and I want to be able to transfer that to my school,” said Watkins, who was among approximately 850 individuals who earned degrees and credentials from ATU at the conclusion of the fall 2023 semester. “I want to hold those values of working together, teamwork and loving one other. I really have appreciated that family feel here at Arkansas Tech. I want my students to feel loved, have compassion, move forward with their careers and succeed.”

Stephon Hall of North Little Rock chose Arkansas Tech because of its emergency management program. He has served as a firefighter in the Little Rock Fire Department for four-and-a-half years and wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree that would help him advance in his career.

“It’s been quite a journey,” said Hall, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in emergency management from ATU on Saturday. “You work 24 hours at the station, and when you get off you have to do your school work and make sure you have time for family as well. It was a journey, but it made me who I am today, so I appreciate it. My children always said ‘keep on going, keep on going.’ I had friends and family who supported me as well. I already had the background as a firefighter, but by learning some key things (at ATU), I might possibly be a chief one day.”

Hall found time to get involved at Arkansas Tech through fraternity and sorority life and student organizations. As a result, he was one of 17 fall 2023 graduates who earned the ATU Tradition Keeper designation through the ATU Alumni Association.

“It means a lot because I traveled back and forth to make sure I was part of campus life,” said Hall. “It was great recognition to know that my hard work didn’t go unnoticed. I went to college out of high school, but I felt like I could have done more back then. When I came this time, I committed to be on campus and have an impact.”

Amy Byerley’s ATU journey began when she interacted with an Arkansas Tech representative at a career fair. That journey reached a milestone when she received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from ATU on Saturday.

“It was wonderful,” said Byerley when asked about her experience as an ATU online student. “The instructors were great and it was a great program. My favorite part, as a working mother, was how well they worked with me to ensure my success. It was challenging, but I enjoyed it.”

Byerley said she benefited from significant support of her academic pursuits at home.

“My husband, Brian, was my rock through all my schooling, along with my three boys,” said Byerley, who lives in Berryville. “It’s been a long-time goal. I graduated high school in 1993, so this is 30 years in the making. It’s been a personal goal, and I’m hopeful it will help me further my career as a nurse.”

George Garcia of Clarksville became a first-generation college graduate on Saturday when he received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree.

“It’s very special,” said Garcia when asked about becoming the first generation of his family to earn a college degree. “I like how Arkansas Tech is very diverse. You have people here from all over the world…you have local, country people…everybody. My parents did not go to college. They came from another country, so it means a lot to them and my whole family. I will have a daughter coming up in May. I hope she goes to college, too.”

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