CCED Student Opportunities

The Center for Community and Economic Development is committed to providing opportunities for UCA students to enhance their college experience and prepare them for the workforce. The Community and Economic Development Fellowship is one of these opportunities.

Each semester, CCED reviews and interviews applicants to become CED Fellows. The mission of the CED Fellowship is to expose students to a variety of community or economic development careers and provide networking, coaching and mentoring to enhance student career preparedness. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was restructured from an in-person format to a virtual one to ensure safety.

During the program, fellows attend virtual site visits that showcase community and economic development organizations in Arkansas. The fellows also participate in activities such as mock interviews, resume and cover letter reviews and mentorship from CCED staff. Additionally, fellows also have the opportunity to attend Community Development Institute and become members of the Arkansas Community Development Society. Fellowship activities are customized to fit students’ interests and needs.

We are currently accepting applications for the Spring 2021 CED Fellowship. To apply or learn more, click here.

Creating healthy communities

The following post originally appeared as an article in the August 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

We often associate health with physical or mental wellbeing on a personal level. Commonly, individual health is seen as something solely determined by lifestyle choices and is addressed in a clinic by a doctor, one-on-one. In reality, the components of health expand far beyond an individual’s body and/or choices. The community and environment we live in significantly impacts our individual health, and the Delta Population Health Institute (DPHI) is working to illuminate the extent of this impact in the Delta region. DPHI’s Executive Director Dr. Brookshield Laurent and Deputy Director Dr. Jennifer Conner are working to re-define what health means to Arkansans.

The Delta Population Health Institute is the community outreach arm of the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) at Arkansas State University. Launched in November of 2019, DPHI’s mission is to promote opportunities for better health by addressing health disparities in population groups and works to cultivate “opportunities for health in our families, neighborhoods, schools and jobs, achieving greater health equity among all people throughout Arkansas and the Delta.” Their mission is carried out through research, education, community engagement and policy engagement. 

Through these avenues, DPHI helps Arkansas communities create a culture of health. Dr. Laurent shared that a culture of health involves assessing your community and ensuring that everyone has equal opportunity and access to resources to thrive. 

Countless studies have shown that the greatest impact of health outcomes in our community concern factors outside of the clinic and outside of the hospital setting – specifically the conditions where we live, learn, work, grow and play,” she said. 

According to Dr. Laurent, one thing we can do today to create a culture of health in our communities is to reassess our definition of the term health with community members. 

The determinants of health expand beyond the individual. Every asset in a community is a determinant of health, from education to infrastructure. Redefining health also includes redefining how we heal. DPHI emphasizes the importance of thinking beyond the clinic. 

“You don’t need a medical degree to address health in your community,” said Dr. Laurent. The role of healer is not limited to doctors or nurses in a hospital. Anyone in a community who helps a person meet their basic needs is a healer. An educator is a healer. Even the roles of medical professionals expand beyond their office to the community to serve as leaders and resources, a concept DPHI teaches NYITCOM students.

While the COVID-19 pandemic creates difficult circumstances, it illuminates the interconnectedness of health and brings a new definition of health to the forefront. Dr. Conner cited access to the internet as an example of an issue exacerbated by the pandemic. A community with poor internet access is a community lacking in educational and economic opportunities and access to valuable resources. Dr. Conner added that we should listen to our community members and allow them to tell their stories. Then we can begin to fully understand the health impact on our communities.

The Delta Population Health Institute offers health resources, community resources and regularly updated information on the COVID-19 pandemic on their website. DPHI also published their inaugural report, which is accessible on their website. To access these resources and to learn more about DPHI, visit or email 

By Emily Cooper Yates

COVID-Safe Poverty Simulations

The COVID-19 Pandemic impacted nearly all aspects of our lives, gatherings and events especially. Suddenly, out of an abundance of caution, we couldn’t attend or host events anymore, personal or professional. Thankfully, as the year has progressed, we have found ways to meet safely.

For the CCED Team, one of our favorite events to host is the Poverty Simulation. Of course, many of our Poverty Simulations were put on hold this year. These events can facilitate groups well over 30 people. We move throughout large rooms, set to resemble a real town. We interact with each other, as families and neighbors. So one of our biggest challenges was determining a way to host these impactful events with safety at the forefront of our planning. 

Through collaboration with professionals and careful research, we were able to outline some COVID-19 safety guidelines. The safety guidelines we outlined were adopted by the Missouri Community Action Network. Click here to read more!

Mule Kick Brings Unique Twist to Magnolia, AR

The following post originally appeared as an article in the July 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

After watching her mom-and-pop gas station in Taylor, Arkansas burn in the fall of 2017, business-owner Christy Oeui and partner Burt Adams realized the cost to rebuild was prohibitive. The couple set their sights on opening a unique establishment in Magnolia – one that would link the City of Magnolia and Columbia County with Southern Arkansas University (SAU). The business opened in June 2019 under the name Mule Kick and quickly became a major player in the community and economy of the region.

According to its website, Mule Kick is, “proud to offer unique pizza of the highest quality! From dairy free cheese to gluten free crusts, we feature options so that everyone can enjoy our fare. In addition to the pizzas, we have coffee, ice cream and snacks all made inside the Natural State.” I sat down with Christy Ouei to learn more about Mule Kick and its impact on the surrounding community:

Question: “What is the driving goal of your business?”

Ouei: “Business models suggest that there be ONE featured area and ONE driving goal. While that may be best for many businesses, I could not adopt that for Mule Kick. Customers pay for an experience, and we aim for them to have that every time. Our beer doesn’t take a backseat to our coffee, and our pizza doesn’t sit in second behind the beer. We are all of those things equally. We are simply more than you expect us to be.

We are the first restaurant in our area to make a wholehearted effort to be green. Promoting products made in Arkansas not only cut down on fuel requirements to bring in products from other states, but it highlights features of our state that Magnolians might not have known about otherwise.”

Question: “In what ways does Mule Kick get involved with the City of Magnolia and SAU?”

Ouei: “I want to let the community see us (all of us, managers and employees) working alongside them in Relay for Life, city cleanup days, and homecoming events. We will not just be the pizza place on the north end of town.

We don’t just have music on Saturday nights. We host trivia nights, comedy nights, painting on the patio, painting with a pro, classes to make reusable grocery bags out of old t-shirts, Improv, and talent shows. We sponsor many sporting events with SAU and Magnolia. I am on the board of the Magnolia Blossom Festival, Kiwanis Club, as well as the Workforce Development Board.”

Question: “Describe how Mule Kick connects with SAU students and prepares them to enter the workforce of the region.”

Ouei: “In hiring primarily SAU students, we wanted to be the springboard for them into a job within their career. We felt like they needed structure in an environment where making mistakes was considered learning and not failing. When we decided on a [business] name, we hosted a logo contest among the junior and senior graphic arts majors. It gave us a great connection to the art department and gave three students published work for their portfolios.

I feel like college preparation (no matter how thorough) can only take you so far. Eventually you have to get out into the real world and experience it for yourself. Mule Kick shines in this aspect. I hired an accounting assistant that is now working for Murphy Oil as an accountant; my technical officer is now working full time for a bank as their technical officer. One of our team members, who is a bartender and my brand manager, has started his own clothing apparel line.”

Question: “How have you adjusted your operations to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and what advice would you give to other business-owners during this time?”

Ouei: “The person I rely on most heavily now is my social media manager. She is the voice of Mule Kick to the world. We had a meeting right after we shut our doors and talked about how it was imperative that we remain visible to our customer-base. We serve pizza and beer, but we also sell atmosphere – an atmosphere that we now have to give away for free so that we will still have customers on the other side of COVID-19.

[To other business-owners:] do not take this time for granted! We have all been given a reprieve (unwelcome as it may be) from the constant motion of being in business. Haven’t had time to train that new staff? Now you do. Haven’t balanced your checkbook in the last year? You have plenty of time. Got a crew that isn’t connected as well? Have a potluck meal!”


Mule Kick represents what small, local businesses can achieve when entrepreneurs, like Christy Ouei, integrate their distinct passions and ideas with the communities they serve. To learn more about the products and services offered by Mule Kick, visit their website:


By William Gloster

Thanksgiving 2020 – Thankful for the CDI Podcast!

Like most workplaces, the beginning of 2020 presented a new set of challenges to the CCED Team as we were directed to begin working from home. Our work is heavily hands-on and collaborative, so pivoting to an all virtual world was intimidating at first. What projects can we take on entirely from home? One such project was The CDI Podcast. 

In an effort to market the Community Development Institute and continue to promote education in the field of community development, we began recording interviews on Zoom with community development professionals all over the midsouth. We heard from all kinds of professionals, such as Talicia Richardson with 64.6 Downtown Ft. Smith, former CCED student workers, and even author Quint Studer. We found that individuals often begin their careers in community development through nontraditional means, we heard about new ideas to engage our communities, and inspiring stories of towns transformed.

In the season one finale, the CCED Team gather on Zoom once again to reflect on the year 2020 and the CDI Podcast. We discuss our favorite episodes of the podcast and who we would like to interview in the future (Oprah, Dolly Parton, Ina Garten – we’re looking at you). We also take some time to reflect on the highlights of an otherwise incredibly challenging year. In 2020, the CCED team evolved – taking on new members and sending others off on new adventures. Just this year, we have new graduates, new parents, and newlyweds… and a New Year to anticipate! And for that – we are Thankful! 

Thanksgiving is this week! What are you thankful for this year? What were some of the highlights of your 2020?

To listen to the Season One finale and other episodes of the CDI Podcast – click here!

A Glimpse Into Real Life Community Development

Recently the Center for Community and Economic Development at UCA hosted their Futures Game virtually with community leaders across the state. The exercise was provided to the Community Development Institute year one, year two and year three participants through the Zoom platform.

The Futures Game was first created by Innovate Leadership Australia through research developed by David Beurle, Alliant Energy, and Iowa State University. The Center for Community and Economic Development took the game and altered it to fit the social and economic landscape of Arkansas. The Futures Game is an exercise that tests the decision-making skills of community leaders and explores the many issues that face towns and communities in the real world today. The game is based on making major decisions on how to respond to critical issues and the outcomes that would result from those decisions.

The game used the fictional community of Sweet Tea County AR to provide the landscape of the decisions we’d have to make. Some of the issues we had to focus on were a declining population, young people leaving the area for larger cities, decreased economic development, and a general concern about the future of their community. The game begins with 2020 and ends in 2040 with certain moments where the members of the exercise will have to two choices to choose from at a major decision point for the community. There were five different ending scenarios, from the least ideal to the most ideal and depending on the choices the group makes at the end you find out how successfully your community developed.

Thankfully for our group, we made decisions that ended with our community evolving into a very rejuvenated and booming town. What in reality was the true success of the Futures Game was the ability for community leaders from across the state to work together and build on one another’s expertise in community and economic development. Having a mayor, a representative from Workforce and Labor, a director from a housing authority, and a director of Volunteerism from a University and others all working together provided a bounty of ideas, knowledge, and expertise that is needed for real life development. As a first-time participator, I found myself quickly invested in this make-believe town and was blown away by the group’s ability to communication and work together, leading to a successful end to the Futures Game. I would invite any community leader or person interested in economic development/community development to check out the 2021 Community Development Institute offered by the UCA Center for Community and Economic Development!

by Andrey Archer, CCED Intern

Make Your Downtown “Walkable”

If you’re anything like me, you love a good walk around your town. One of my favorite places to walk in Little Rock is the River Market. I enjoy walking past the local shops, restaurants, and getting an incredible view of the Arkansas River. What exactly makes an area of a town “walkable”? It takes a little more than funky local shops. 

While there are a number of aspects that contribute to an area’s “walkability,” here are just three you can consider in your own city’s downtown…

  1. Accessibility
    It’s no secret that everyone wants to be included, so you must take into account the mobility of all residents. Is it safe and easy for a wheelchair to travel across a crosswalk? Is it comfortable to push a stroller down the sidewalk? Be sure all parts of your town are ADA compliant.
  1. Amenities
    Consider adding benches and interesting flowers to your sidewalks. This can encourage visitors to literally “stop and smell the roses”. Amenities motivate visitors to spend time and even further explore an area. They are more likely to walk around, stop into shops or restaurants, should an interesting path lead them there.
  1. Complete streets
    “Complete streets” take into consideration all forms of transportation – walking, biking, and driving. Complete streets are not only easier for everyone to navigate, regardless of their mode of transportation, but they are safer too!

By taking these three elements into consideration, you can help improve your town’s walkability.  

Believe it or not, making your city “walkable” and improving the walkability of certain parts of your town can benefit your town in nearly every aspect, including economically! Check back soon to learn more…

To find out more about walkable cities, check out Episode 9 of the CDI Podcast featuring Dave Roberts of Crafton Tull. CLICK HERE to listen.

UCA Citizens Academy promotes local engagement

The following post originally appeared as an article in the March 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

In the fall of 2019, the University of Central Arkansas Division of Outreach and Community Engagement, in partnership with the UCA Political Science Department, launched the first-ever UCA Citizens Academy. During this program, UCA students and Conway residents embark on a 13-week program aimed at emphasizing civic engagement at the local and regional level.

Many cities around Arkansas, such as Jacksonville, Bella Vista and Mountain Home, conduct their own citizen academies. However, these academies focus primarily on law enforcement. The UCA Citizens Academy is unique in the way its curriculum is designed to cover a variety of topics ranging from the local judiciary system to the Conway Sanitation Department. The focus of the course is to “bring residents together to become more informed about local and regional government, the entities and institutions of which its composed and their activities, and with the idea that with a greater understanding of local government and activities, they will be more disposed to participating and engaging with it.” The topics covered in the academy include those in the public and nonprofit sectors, such as finance, economic development, transportation, safety, ecology and sanitation, and human services.

Clay Arnold, chair of the Political Science Department at UCA, designed and led the class as a part of a campus-wide initiative to promote civic engagement and citizen participation within UCA’s student body. The university partnered with Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities that aims to promote civic participation and community development within institutions of higher education. In addition to being offered to UCA students, the program is open to Conway residents so they would be able to learn more
about their local government and services. Participants in the program interacted with local officials from regional government and nonprofit agencies in a series of classes once a week for two hours. The presenters ranged from elected leaders, such as Faulkner County Judge Jim Baker, to Daniel Tyler, the founder of Deliver Hope, a local nonprofit.

After the completion of the program, participants are tasked with creating a civic engagement plan to help local agencies provide services more efficiently and create a better community. Another goal of the program is the development of a civic action plan library that could be made available to any civic group looking to perform a project to benefit their community. Arnold believes that the community civic engagement plans may inspire other communities, whether in partnership with institutions of higher education or not, to develop their own citizen academies.

In helping plan and create this program, Conway City Council Member Shelley Mehl, who is the former associate vice president of UCA Outreach, believes the academy is “an opportunity for UCA to reach out, educate and engage the community,” adding “this program is a way to bring all parties together in a constructive way that we hope would improve communication and support the development of engaged citizens.” It is courses like the academy that Mehl believes are “the start of moving our community forward.”

Participants in the class felt the program allowed them to engage with local leaders in discussions that permitted them to ask more indepth questions to more fully assess the needs within the community.

Booker White, a junior at UCA from Mayflower, said, “The class was very informative about the ways both state and local government and nonprofits work together and independently to serve the public. The civic engagement plan inspired me to look more closely at the needs of the community and come up with possible solutions or alternatives that will allow me to help work in a hands-on way to develop a better community.”

You can learn more about the UCA Citizens Academy at

By Javier Hernandez

Arkansplorer Trivia Show

Did you know that there is a monument erected in MacArthur Park commemorating Arkansas’s first legal human dissection? How creepy!  Did you also know that Mountain View is considered “The Folk Capital of America?” Arkansas is such an interesting state! Over the summer, our team took a deep dive into the Natural State’s history, geography, culture, and more to create the Arkansplorer Trivia Show. 

The CCED team researched and developed Arkansas-centric questions to ask guests on our fun and informative trivia show. Guests of the show varied, but often included some of our community partners, economic developers, and colleagues at the University of Central Arkansas. For each correct answer, guests received points (10 points per correct answer in the first round and 20 points in the second round). For the final question, our competitors wagered their points, like Final Jeopardy. 

In an effort to support nonprofit organizations across the state, participants competed on behalf of their favorite nonprofit and our staff donated $34 to the winner’s chosen organization. This was to celebrate the 34th year of the Community Development Institute (CDI). So far, our trivia winners raised over $400 for Arkansas nonprofits! 

Whether you’d like to impress your friends at a party or simply brush up on your Arkansas knowledge, one of the best sources for information about our beautiful state is the Encyclopedia of Arkansas (link). The Encyclopedia of Arkansas is a free, online resource and project overseen by the Central Arkansas library system. It is a definitive, comprehensive source for all things Arkansas. 

While we’ve taken a break from hosting trivia for now, you can watch past episodes on our Youtube channel (link). You can also expect new episodes this fall, live on the CDI Central Facebook page, Fridays at noon. 

Smart tech helps cities plan for the future

The following post originally appeared as an article in the February 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

The use of smart city technology is an emerging trend that will help Arkansas cities and towns remain competitive through the 21st century. Intelligent city infrastructure has the potential to elevate the economic resiliency and sustainability of communities in the state. How can your community utilize the new benefits of big data to hone a more informed and responsive system that connects citizens and optimizes resources?

What is smart city technology?
Smart technologies embody a variety of products and services that are designed to perform efficiently, quickly and conveniently. Modern consumers expect businesses to keep up with technological trends. This market pressure is evident in the plethora of items that have been transformed and labeled as “smart” since the turn of the century—cell phones, tablets, watches, air-conditioning units and refrigerators to name a few. With such a drive toward automation in society, it should come as no surprise that urban planners are experimenting with the idea of smart cities. By utilizing electronic and digital devices with existing municipal infrastructure, cities may gather large amounts of data that show how people and machines interact across a multitude of locations.

Is smart city technology right for Arkansas?
The implementation of smart technology in municipalities is a difficult and expensive undertaking. Cities must purchase and obtain software necessary for collecting large sets of data as well as position and maintain sensors in targeted locations. Then, city officials must consult analysts who will help determine data trends that lead to significant improvements in the overall welfare of the community. Metropolitan clusters of finance, infrastructure and labor are well-equipped for the task; urban areas in Arkansas will likely become pioneers in the shift toward smart city technology. Nevertheless, as smart technology becomes more commonplace and inexpensive, smaller rural communities in the state will be able to follow suit.

Smart city technology’s applications and benefits
With numerous applications, there are vast benefits from harnessing smart city technology. The data collected from its use will help optimize efficiency and communication across civic resources and services. For example, the town of South Bend, Indiana, implemented
smart sewer systems that gauge water flow to prevent floods. Furthermore, the collection of this data can alter the way that citizens navigate their everyday lives.

Traffic sensors installed on roadways monitor driving patterns and adjust signals to make travel more efficient. In 2019, Conway began using adaptive traffic signals on two of its busiest streets: Dave Ward Drive and Oak Street. Motorists now enjoy shortened daily commutes through town.

Fort Smith and West Memphis are in the process of implementing smart city pilot programs. Fort Smith aims to improve its municipal solid waste, recycling and yard waste practices. City officials hope that this program will help them make more effective and knowledgeable decisions about waste management and sustainability. These are just a few examples of the many
practical uses for smart city technology that will have a tremendous impact on resource management and quality of life for Arkansans.

The 2020s offer far-reaching potential to utilize technology in support of community and economic development in Arkansas. Therefore, it is vital that city and town leaders planning for the future recognize and give serious consideration to the smart city model.

By Will Gloster