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Italy: More Than Just the Boot by Whitney Meyer

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​Every time you visit a new city it leaves an impression, sometimes the impression is immediate and obvious while other times ambiguous. However, before we get to the story we first have to back track to November of 2015, the moment that set the story in motion. I was applying for a TAG grant from the Norbert O. Schedler’s Honors College to be a study abroad student and temporary resident of Florence, Italy. Ever since I was little I’d heard stories of Europe and it’s beauty from my dad, a native of Germany, but they were just thirty-year-old stories. So I bit the bullet and applied for a grant to travel to the continent of my heritage.
Now fast forward to June 2016. With a suitcase 1 pound under the weight limit and a backpack full of travel necessities, chiefly my passport and snacks, I was boarding my 1st international flight. After about a day and half of travel I was finally across the pond! Within the first few days of living in Florence I quickly surmised that the stories I grew up on were true, but at the same time it wasn’t the same Europe my father had left behind more than thirty years ago. I found myself in a historical city bustling with new construction, renovation, world-renowned museums, and top of the line stores. Florence was a melting pot of old world art and history with touches of modern advancement inside the cobble lined streets.
​Our weekdays leisurely consisted of “class” in the morning, lunch at Panini Toscani, and the afternoon spent wandering the city. Eventually we’d find our way to a supermarket to purchase fresh produce and vegetables for dinner. But the real thrill and adventure of being in Italy happened on the weekends. The most memorable and striking adventure happened my first weekend in Italy.
On our first Friday in Italy our gaggle of 25 students and 3 professors marched into the Santa Maria Novella train terminal. Initially I thought I had stepped backed into the international airport we landed in at Amsterdam. Italians, or at least people who understood the layout of the train station and departure board, were zipping past as Brooke (my roommate and confidante during the trip) and I made sure our backpacks weren’t pick pocketed. Police were canvasing all over the station with the recent attacks of Belgium and France still fresh on everyone’s mind. In addition to the Polizia, there were the stubble-chinned men, who we nicknamed “our best friends”, of the Italian army carrying semi-automatic rifles with triggers at the ready. While taking in all these cultural differences I felt our herd begin moving. I quickly grabbed my pack and sprinted to the platform as the buzzer was ringing for the train doors to shut.
​Three and a half hours and one connecting train later we were pulling into the Dolomites, or the Italian Alps as some call them. It was one of those picturesque scenes out of a movie, ya know the one where everyone crowds the windows to see the view? That was us, 25 American students with noses to the glass oohing and aweing at the snow capped peaks as we pulled into the station in the city of Bolzano. However, stepping off the train I was questioning if I was still in Italy or if we’d magically crossed into Austria or Germany. We had left the colors and style of Tuscany behind and were greeted by alpine culture, crisp mountain air, and the sound of German.
​You might be asking well that doesn’t seem too adventurous, and you could be right depending on your definition of adventure. But the true “adventurous” part of the trip came the next day as we took buses and cable cars up into the Dolomites. Most of us followed the professors’ lead and went on a two-hour (straight out of the sound of music) hike. Yet somewhere between the two cable cars and bus stop back into town Brooke (my roommate/confidante), Alex (Brooke’s boyfriend), and myself lost the herd. Okay so maybe it wasn’t magic that we lost the herd, but a stop at a restroom seemed appropriate before a 30-45 minute ride back into town. Imagine our shock when we walked down from the lodge toward the bus stop to see no one from our group. Our first thought was, “oh we must have beat them here.” We quickly realized as we all got texts from our roommates asking if we made the bus that this was most definitely not the scenario which was occurring.
​So there we stood, and while none of us would admit it to the other we all had some small twinge of fear down in our gut. We tried to read the bus schedule that was conveniently written in German, a language we had not prepared to decipher and Google Translate offered little help. From guestimation it seemed the next bus would arrive in about 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes came and went, and even though several buses drove past none of them were bound for Bolzano. So there we sat, each with 3.50 euro ready for fare evaluating our options. We knew the buses stopped running around 7:00 p.m. so we hatched a plan: catch any bus that was heading down hill regardless of destination. Around 6:30 a bus was coming down the hill. The driver pulled over and opened his doors, and in our best Italian we asked, “Bolzano autostazione?” We were answered with a firm “Bozen.” Bozen? What the heck was Bozen? Given our circumstance, arguing was not in our favor so we paid our fair and walked to the back of the bus praying that we had made a halfway intelligent decision.
​As the bus rolled down the hill we began seeing some of the same towns we had passed that morning. A definite sign of comfort, but we still had no idea if we’d picked the right bus. The bus started rolling into what looked like the edges of Bolzano, but our stroke of luck was confirmed when we saw out the window our hostel! I jumped up and rang for a stop, I’m sure the driver was surprised that this crazy American knew where she was going. After confirming our arrival with the professors, Alex, Brooke, and I went out for celebratory kebabs.
​While this is one of many adventures I had in Italy, it seems the most telling. Similar to the class environment I’ve experienced at the Norbert O. Schedler Honors College: I was presented with a problem or issue, I had tools and resources to attack the problem, and ultimately I came to a solution or deeper understanding. Forcing myself outside of what was comfortable allowed me to become a more culturally diverse global citizen. Italia taught me many things like how San Giovanni Battista day is the Florentine Memorial day, or that the Renaissance was shaped by the ninja turtles: Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo. Yet the most important thing I learned from Italia was to enjoy the journey. It may be long or short, difficult or easy, but it usually only happens once so enjoy the ride.

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Democrats, Delegates, and Cheesesteaks by Jesse Hufstedler


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Sweat dribbled down my neck as my suitcase fell over and I stopped to check Google maps for the third time in five minutes. How was I supposed to know how to get to the University if the dot couldn’t keep up with me? Picking the forty pound green monstrosity that I called luggage up off the ground, I turned to Badria, a fellow Arkansan whom I had met on the train from the airport, and apologized for the wild goose chase Google maps and Apple seemed to be conspiring to take us on. “No worries” she said, for what would be the first in probably over a hundred attempts to reassure me over the coming two weeks.
​After the standard orientation type meetings that take place at the beginning of all such events, we were released to find our rooms and meet our roommates. Morgan Hall, a brand new modern dorm at Temple University in northern Philadelphia, mirrored Farris Hall at UCA remarkably well save two things: it was ten stories tall and had functioning stove tops in every suite.
​My suitemates and I, two reminiscent of Leonard and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and one the near picture of an all-American hunk, laid out our opinions on Brexit, Bernie Sanders’ populism, campaign finance, and a host of other issues all before our suitcases had been unpacked. We broke for dinner, me meeting back up with Badria and her suitemates, my suitemates going and doing their own thing (a schedule which we would repeat for most of the next week).
​As lectures started on Monday the days of the week seemed to blur together. We heard from speakers as notable as the CEO of the DNCC (Democratic National Convention Committee) Leah Daughtry and former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell. Mornings were reserved for speakers and then, in the afternoon, we broke into small groups for discussion — an academic structure very similar to that present in Honors at UCA. I soon fell into the familiar rhythm of work, play, sleep deprivation, and repeat. It was during this week that I visited such sites as the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia’s famous South Street diner Ishkabibble’s known for its bag-staining cheesesteaks, and the National Constitution Center (where I got to pretend to be a Supreme Court justice and take a selfie with a bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin).
​Then, with my routine and friends firmly established, my world was realigned. The week of the convention arrived and it was like Philadelphia came alive (in a sort of manic I-made-my-coffee-with-Redbull kind of way). The streets of Center and Old cities, neighborhoods in Philadelphia where most of the touristy and cultural attractions are, became clogged with protesters, delegates, spectators, and journalists alike. Apart from the signs carried by protestors (my favorite of which said “You’ve Got to Fight for your Right to Third Party”) it was nearly impossible to distinguish who was who.
​I soon learned the value of the “credentials” which everyone was carrying when I attended my training session for the Access Control team. Access Control was an arm of the DNCC responsible for organization within the Wells Fargo Center itself. My job with Access Control was to stand in the vomitoriums (a word of Roman descent which refers to the hallways which connect the outer concourses of a stadium to the inside of the bowl), and insure that only those with proper credentials were allowed to sit in my area — this is how I got access to the color coded schematic of what credentials were given to who.
As a result, I was to identify people on the street based on the color of their credentials (I got two interviews with delegates on the subway because I knew what credential colors to look for when choosing my seat next to people).
In descending order of clearance (meaning the places in the stadium where certain people were allowed to be) were Delegates (red), Honored Guests (orange), Special Guests (teal), and Green (DNCC volunteers and the press, who had special sections reserved for them). The problem with this system was that more credentials were given out at the Honored and Special Guest levels than there were seats to accommodate them. Therefore, I spent most of my time fighting back what, during the speaking times of well-known individuals, could be referred to as an angry mob trying to get into the bowl to see and hear. Luckily, the bans on people standing in vomitoriums were lifted each night before the keynote speaker too the stage so I was able to hear the speeches of former President Clinton, President Obama, and Secretary Hillary Clinton even if I did miss some of those that I would have enjoyed hearing (I missed Joe Biden saying “mellarky!”).
One night I happened to be stationed in a vomitorium through which the press accessed one of their stands. The aforementioned Badria, whose fieldwork assignment was with CNN, came rushing through the door to the press stairway and said “Jesse! Elizabeth Warren is about to come right through here!” For those that might not know, Elizabeth Warren is a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts well known for her harsh criticism of Wall Street banking practices. As such, she is a progressive heroine and was a featured speaker on the first night of the Convention (not to mention her role as one of my favorite politicians, like, ever). In a momentary lapse of decorum, I let out a muffled squeak which got me yelled at by a couple of camera-men that I had banished from the vomitorium only minutes earlier for clogging the stairways. Badria was the designated person sent by CNN to ensure that Elizabeth Warren was not swarmed by fans on her way up and that I would actually let her up the stairs (big name people did not always have their credentials on them which led to a considerable amount of tension, one of my Access Control friends actually refused to let Leon Panetta, the former Director of the CIA, into a room he was over because he had not bothered to pick up his credential). The minutes ticked by, Badria and I standing breathlessly outside the vomitorium trying to contain our excitement, when she got a text from her boss saying that Warren was not coming. A complete fluke, it happened that one of our friends sent us a text at nearly the exact moment stating “Elizabeth Warren sighted running on the suite level!” Apparently something had come up that trumped an interview with CNN.
The Convention itself was well choreographed machine designed to give the party the opportunity to advertise their nominee, build party unity, and formally nominate their selection for President (though this last role is really a vestige of a time when primaries did not foretell who the nominee would be). A result of this, it seems that there is a certain amount of selective coverage that happens to the detriment of a conveyance of what actually goes on at the Convention. One of these such instances of seemingly selective coverage came to me upon my return home from Philadelphia.
I have discussed with several people the moment when Hillary Clinton formally accepted the Democratic nomination for President. In the hall Sanders supporters, who had been relatively quiet since Monday, suddenly sprang into action. Running around the concourses and breaking past the Access Control staff when possible to get into the bowl, they chanted slogans such as “Never Clinton!” and “Hill No!” This, apparently, did not make it into the coverage of the acceptance speech on any of the major networks. It begs the question whether the networks were giving some deference to the desire of the party to show itself as unified behind Clinton at that all important moment. Those causing a scene were the fringe element, but even still they were individuals that had somehow gained credentials, meaning that they had done something right.
My time at the DNC was not the solitary, gallivanting around Philadelphia time that I envisioned myself having, meeting important members of the press and delegates. It was hot, hard, stressful, and often crowded affair. It was one of the best weeks of my life. I made connections with people of my own age from all across the country with similar beliefs, hopes, and dreams as my own. As a Democrat from Arkansas that is not always easy to do. I am grateful that the opportunity to attend this event was afforded to me at this point in my academic career and not during my freshman, or even sophomore, years. The unwieldy scheduling, late nights, uncertain outcomes, and angry people that I encountered during this journey would not have been well-received by me at any previous time in my life (I struggled with them as it was). It is for this reason that I have garnered a new respect for the Honors College requirement that people receiving TAG/URGE moneys be at least sophomores. The mere life experience and age that I had going into this experience set me apart from some of the younger students that I met who had a much harder time coping with the ever shifting landscape that was our time at the DNC.

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Travel-Sick: Being Homesick For A Place Other Than Your Home (student article for The Odyssey)

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Honors College student, Jae Martin, shares how she developed her passion for travel in an article she published in The Odyssey Online. See full article here.

 

 

12 Reasons to Study Abroad (student article for The Odyssey)

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Honors College student and history major, Victoria Craun, shares reasons to study abroad in an article she published in the Odyssey online. See article here.

Kyla McFalls “A Reel Story”

Kyla McFalls

“Jurassic World” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” are two of the most successful films of all time, and they have something more local in common: both films have University of Central Arkansas graduates listed in their credits.

Magnolia native Kyla McFalls ’11 worked as an art assistant on “Jurassic World” and Little Rock native John Hockaday ’14 worked in post production on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

McFalls, a Schedler Honors College alumna, was originally a journalism major who became a digital filmmaking major by happy accident. Her sophomore year, she unintentionally signed up for the Intro to Film class and learned that it was for those majoring in film, a major she didn’t know existed. When she spoke to teacher Chris Churchill about it, he encouraged her to stick with the class.

“I was like, ‘Maybe this is just something that’s telling me that I need to do this,’ so I declared my major the next day in film and the rest is [history],” said McFalls.

The UCA film program offers classes in many areas of filmmaking, including screenwriting, editing, cinema history and classes that require students to make their own films. McFalls said it’s important to gain practical experience by working on sets, but she credits her passion for film to studying the subject in the classroom.

“If you want to write or you want to direct, you need to know cinema history, theory and all this kind of stuff,” said McFalls. “I wouldn’t keep going to work every day if it didn’t fill this passion for it that I got from UCA. I feel like passion is the thing that I learned in college more than any technical skill that somebody can just teach you later on.”

This passion certainly helped her in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she lived on couches so she could work on films like “Pitch Perfect,” her first feature film as an intern. McFalls then moved to her current city, New Orleans, where she has worked on projects like “The
Maze Runner” and “Left Behind,” for which she got approval to use UCA’s athletic logo on the lead actress’s jacket. Her biggest film credit to date is “Jurassic World.”

“Working on the film was an absolute delight,” said McFalls. “The art department [was] mostly based out of Los Angeles, but they were my favorite crew so far. We were based at the NASA facility here in New Orleans, [as well as] the abandoned Six Flags,” said McFalls.

McFalls’ current job is in research, which is in the art department and requires her to work with every department on set.

“I become the expert on whatever the movie is about. I’ve decided that if I do this for years and years, I’ll be great at ‘Jeopardy’ because of all this random knowledge,” said McFalls.

Along with a friend she met on the film “Deepwater Horizon,” McFalls started a production company, Page Turn Inc. With the company, McFalls hopes to continue doing research and also write and produce films.

“[I thought], ‘Why not? At least try it.’ If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,” said McFalls. “But if it does, how awesome?”

In New Orleans, McFalls helped out fellow alumnus Hockaday by recommending him for “Deepwater Horizon” and “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Hockaday relocated to Los Angeles after working for about a year in New Orleans.

“[Kyla] was my way in. I owe it all to her,” Hockaday said. “It’s also worth mentioning that her final film at UCA, ‘Danger Jones,’ is freaking fantastic. I still watch it from time to time. Definitely an inspiring film for my own final film.”

That film, “Stuck,” earned Hockaday awards for Best Production Design and Best Picture at the 2014 UCA Film Festival and Best Director (Made in Arkansas) at the 2014 Little Rock Film Festival.

Hockaday said that the film program’s focus on storytelling was a factor in him choosing UCA. “Learning to tell stories is the pillar of filmmaking. Once you have that, building the technical skills is next, which they also provide,” Hockaday said.

Hockaday and McFalls aren’t the only UCA graduates making strides in the film and television field — others are spread out from coast to coast, filming anything from reality television to videos for the Salvation Army.

Kim Risi ’12 worked in the art department on a Hispanic celebrity game show and the Comedy Central show “Drunk History.” Codi Bogard ’13 and Hunter Moore ’12 keep busy in New Orleans by working on shows and films like “Pit Bulls and Parolees” and “Daddy’s Home.” Travis Mosler ’13 produces, writes, directs, shoots and edits the hunting show “Spartan Outdoors” for the Sportsman Channel.

UCA is the only university in Arkansas that offers a bachelor’s and master’s in digital filmmaking. Dr. Bruce Hutchinson, director of Graduate Studies of Digital Filmmaking, believes classroom education is just as important for film students as working in the field.

“It’s just good to be an educated person who [knows] how things work and the classroom experience is part of getting that. I definitely think learning some history, learning theory, learning some story structure, all of those are just about making you a more thoughtful, more critical thinking, more well-rounded person,” said Hutchinson.