Kenny Duran: Sharing the Voice of a Survivor of the Cambodian Genocide

Reflecting on the last four years of my time in the Schedler Honors College, I underestimated how much the program has helped me grow as a learner, a thinker, and a person. With the program’s focus on interdisciplinary learning, I found new interests in a diverse array of subject areas. As I am continuedly exposed to different ideas, my perspective on life expanded and I began to develop a thirst for learning. When it came time to propose a capstone project in Oxford Tutorial, my new-found thirst had instilled within me the courage to do a project outside my comfort zone: writing a work of literary journalism called Thank the Evil, the real-life story of a Cambodian genocide survivor.

I came up with the idea after returning from an Honors TAG funded trip to Southeast and East Asia. I met with an old high-school friend, Amanda Lee, and she told me about how her parents enjoyed seeing the pictures I posted in Cambodia. As refugees of the Cambodian genocide, they hadn’t returned to their homeland. Seeing pictures of visitors smiling behind Angkor Wat showed them that the country is healing and progressing. According to Amanda, her father, Mr. Dereck Lee, frequently recounts his experiences living under the Khmer Rouge regime, and she hinted that Mr. Lee may desire to have a written documentation of those times. Being the owner and operator with his wife at Oriental Kitchen, a small Chinese-takeout restaurant in Conway, Mr. Lee more than likely never had the time nor energy to write. It then occurred to me to ask Amanda if I could write a book about Mr. Lee’s story for my capstone project.

It was terrifying at first to tackle this immense project with no prior writing experience. Luckily, I found a mentor from the creative writing department in Dr. Case who was willing to guide me through both the writing and publishing process. I cannot acknowledge her enough for the advice she gave, her developmental edits, and her patience answering all of my questions. Dr. Case helped me believe that I was capable of finishing this project, which was important because I never realized the amount of time it would take to write this book. I spent the Fall 2019 semester interviewing Mr. Lee while also transcribing his audio recordings. I spent the following six months writing the first draft, and the following six months hiring an editor, book designer and typesetter. Despite devoting energy each day to work on this project, it thankfully never felt like work. It was a pleasure interviewing Mr. Lee; his childhood story felt more real and intense with each Cambodian genocide source I read. This project also kept me from losing my sanity during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic. Finishing a full manuscript became my goal, giving me a purpose and the energy to wake up every morning.

Almost a year-and-a-half later, Thank the Evil is now available to the public. In hindsight, it feels surreal, but again this book is a testament to the lifelong impact of my Honors education. Writing a book-length work of literary journalism about a major historical event as a pre-physical therapy major embodies the culmination of an interdisciplinary education. Whether or not I continue to write in the future, Thank the Evil serves as a memento to my Honors experience from the courses I took, to the friends I made, and the adventures I had studying abroad. This capstone project and my Honors education made me realize the beauty of knowledge, the awe of curiosity, and the eventual gratification of leaving your comfort zone.

Taylor Canada: The Historical Deletion of the Black Female Body and Modern Healthcare

This past summer I was awarded an Undergraduate Research Grant (URGE) to work on my senior Honors capstone project, “Enduring Artifacts of Slavery: The Deletion of the Black Female Body and an Excavation for Historically Informed, Modern-day Healthcare.” My thesis focuses on how slavery medicine has perpetuated myths about Black women and how these myths have developed into present-day medical biases. My major is Biochemistry, and I am applying to medical school this fall. Throughout the course of my shadowing experiences in preparing for this career path, I encountered instances of medical prejudice against Black women specifically, right here in Arkansas. I wanted to use this thesis as a way to learn about the history of medical biases toward Black women; where they come from, why they exist, and how to alleviate these biases. I hope to use my thesis as a reference to come back to when I finally practice as a physician.

My URGE grant allowed me to stay on campus during the summer, which was crucial to me having the resources necessary to continue developing my thesis. Some resources that UCA provided were the library historical archives, the online databases, and the Interlibrary Loan service, which was a fundamental asset for my historical research. I did not end up using UCA’s archives during this summer, but I plan to use them in the future for Black Arkansans’ stories of medical bias. My goals at the beginning of the summer were to restructure the foundation of my historical background, get through all the cornerstone literature for my thesis’ ideal framework, and to narrow my topic.

A big challenge that I encountered over the course of my grant timeline was first and foremost the immense amount of literature required for an adequate historical background. When I first decided on my thesis topic, I underestimated the amount of literature that I would need to get through by a wide margin. This underestimate was exacerbated by the fact that I started this summer with a much broader focus on my topic. To help alleviate these problems, my thesis mentor helped guide me to a clearer and narrower focus for my topic.  I am by no means a history expert, and my gap in historical scholarship related to Antebellum slave medicine was fairly wide. My mentor was amazing at helping me close that gap. She led me toward countless concrete resources that have augmented my level of understanding. My new goal is to use my thesis as a sort of overview of a few streams of historical literature and statistics for Black women’s health outcomes in gynecology and renal medicine.

Other challenges that I encountered were restructuring the goals of my thesis into a more manageable workload for the next year, narrowing my thesis topic to enrich its effect, and managing the emotional weight that accompanies the severity of this topic. When I was reading hundreds of pages a week, the emotional heaviness that I felt was a big weight to carry. Compacting dozens of horror stories into a few months’ time is a lot for anyone. I took this heaviness in waves and tried to remember that my thesis is not just a sad story about racist medicine, but also a way for Black women to gain agency in telling their own stories. I plan to devote a large portion of my thesis to Black women’s stories of medicalized racism.

Overall, I think my URGE grant experience was a positive one. I feel like I achieved most of my goals for the summer and that my purpose and direction for the remainder of my thesis has been refocused and reinvigorated. I am forever grateful for the experience I had this summer, and I would recommend every Honors student take advantage of an URGE grant. Thank you again to UCA Schedler Honors College, UCA Foundation, and all donors to these funds that made this experience possible.

Erin James: Summer Camp Counselor

Back in May, I began an internship with my church, First Southern Baptist Church in Bryant, Arkansas. I worked with the youth ministry alongside the youth pastor, Seth Alkire, and the other intern, Michael Buck. My initial list of responsibilities included setting up for Wednesday night activities, shopping for materials needed for service projects, creating Instagram posts for each event, making up games, and spending time with students. We also went to a camp, helped with different events such as a church-wide block party and VBS, organized group outings to mini golf and bowling, and spent every Monday at Moe’s, then at church for a sermon to be watched by everyone who attended. 

In addition to these tasks, I also planned and hosted a girl’s lock-in murder mystery party, which I feel was a success. Some of my girls took the initiative after that to host their own picnics, which I was invited to and I attended, even though it was not technically part of my job. The students were the main priority, and spending time getting to know them and having important conversations with them was the goal. While I did not always get to have spiritual conversations with them, I did get to build friendships with each and every one of them, which I truly feel is more valuable in the long run. 

Since we had so many different events and activities, much of my duties included cleaning and organizing areas that had been used. Seth, Michael, and I spent a great deal of time reorganizing the youth room, setting up and taking down tables, moving and stacking chairs, and picking up trash that had been left behind.

Throughout the summer, I have kept a journal detailing everything that I did. In addition to that, I completed my summer project, a series of short stories loosely based on the kids in our youth group, and heavily inspired by the real events we participated in. I ended up taking a different approach to the writing than I had anticipated. Rather than focus on different characters in each one, I created one main character who experiences and narrates each story. This way, the themes would tie together more cohesively, and the events could all be seen through the eyes of a student. 

Based on my original proposal for this summer experience, I feel as though I met most of my goals. The internship was very close to what I had expected it to be, though I did not realize how much work could really go into the entire experience. There were many moments this summer where I was tasked with a responsibility that I did not want to take on, though I did in the end. These moments were always incredibly rewarding, and I am grateful for the opportunities I had this summer as an intern at my church.

Gavin Epperson: Cerner Summer Software Internship

Anyone else feel really unprepared for a full time job? This summer, I was given the opportunity to work full time for ten weeks at Cerner, a healthcare IT company in Kansas City, Missouri. They provide different types of software for hospitals around the world: patient management software, government document digitization, hospital employee management software – wait, wait, don’t fall asleep! That’s what the company does in general, not what I did specifically. I got to create a website for Cerner developers to use to test their code, and I got to do it all from home. This was my first ever internship and my first time working full time, meaning there was a lot for me to learn. Here are three of those things:

First of all, eight hours a day is a lot more than it sounds! Going from sleeping half the day and waking up at 1:00 pm to starting work at 7:30 am everyday and finishing at 4:30 pm was a definite growing pain. By the time you clock out, the day is basically over, which sucks, but it at least makes weekends all the more sweet. It definitely got easier as the weeks went by, but this was something that never fully stopped weighing me down.

Second, you shouldn’t be afraid of asking for help:  If you’re going in new, you’re likely not going to know anything. I definitely didn’t. In my situation, I would pretty often run into problems understanding the existing Cerner software and how to interact with it. My coworkers were always happy to answer any questions I had, and even though I sometimes felt like I was being needy or annoying, I really did need to ask, because without their help, I would have been totally lost. Don’t be like I was for the first couple weeks and waste an important resource just because you don’t want to bother anyone or sound stupid. Good coworkers will expect you to need help and will be more than happy to explain stuff to you if you reach out. 

Third and finally, you should make the most of your situation! I did my entire internship remotely, meaning there were downsides, like the fact that I never got to see my coworkers or other interns face to face. Despite these drawbacks, there were definite benefits to remote work:  I didn’t have to commute, I had the ability to reach out to coworkers with detailed questions instantly, and I could legitimately work from anywhere (with wifi). I was feeling stir crazy one day and went to a coffee shop (socially distanced, of course) to work. No need to ask off work or schedule anything, just sit down and get to work! Obviously, everyone’s situation is different, and nothing is perfect, but you have to look at the positives or else you’ll be unhappy no matter where you are.

As cheesy as it is, I think that’s the biggest lesson and overall theme of my time at Cerner:  You can steer your life however you choose. I don’t think anyone absolutely loves work. That’s why it’s work. But I do think you can choose how much you get out of it and how much you enjoy it. This summer, I chose to see the positives in my situation and make use of them whenever I could. I hope you could relate to some of these and, wherever you are, I hope you have some fun today! You deserve it.

Constacion Humphrey: Summer Youth Basketball Coach

Over the past month I have volunteered with a high school basketball team, which has challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally. The experience overall was great, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to grow a connection with these players. During the camp, I have improved in many areas in my life, things that will be helpful in the future. My communication skills improved and my leadership skills. I was able to take on a task where I was responsible for the outcome of the improvement of the players and the outcome of the camp. During these few weeks, I was able to meet some young players who I saw potential in. Seeing and meeting these young ladies, it felt as if it was me in high school all over again. They were so determined and motivated to learn. Their love for basketball could not go unnoticed. Throughout the summer, they were patient, consistent and hardworking. There were so many problems and situations that continued to pop up and came close to ruining our plans for this summer. With players who were both trained well and overachievers, we were able to overcome every obstacle that came our way. I am currently majoring in Exercise Science, which consists of being around a lot of athletes. My goal for this experience was to be able to experience hands on what I plan on doing in the future. Also, this opportunity enabled me to gain volunteer experience and hours. Although those were my main goals for this experience and I was able to achieve them, I gained so much more. Being able to work with these players and interact with them confirmed that I am in the correct field. I enjoyed every part of it, even being able to come up with solutions to different problems. From this experience I was able to gain better leadership and communication communication skills. I was able to learn how to be patient and encouraging. I became more comfortable with speaking out and taking charge of what needs to be done and corrected. Not only did I achieve my actual goals, I was also able to achieve lifelong goals. With this summer camp, I was able to grow a better connection with my old teammates from high school. We always worked together as a team on the court and now this summer we had the opportunity to work together as a team to help another team improve and grow a lifelong connection. Every problem that came our way we tackled together, moving forward and making sure the players were able to gain from the summer camp instead of having to worry about anything. Something that I particularly enjoyed about this experience was the connections we grew with each player. Each connection was different but special. We made sure that it was not always just about basketball, but also about learning how to connect and communicate with new people. Over this month we participated in team bonding activities, getting to know one another on a personal level.

Diante Woodson: JP Morgan Software Engineering Internship

My internship with JP Morgan Chase & Co. for Summer 2021 was an amazing experience and made me significantly excited to start my career as a software engineer. I would love to do it with JP Morgan Chase & Co. unless I get outstanding job offers that I deem would be better for my situation. I wasn’t just “an intern” and I wasn’t given an intern “pet project’ (something to do on the side and the senior engineers help me with outside of the work that they do on actual products that will be used by JP Morgan Chase & Co.); rather, I was integrated directly into the full-time engineering team, comprised of nine senior engineers, five junior engineers, and one other intern, and given work that I would do as if I were a full-time engineer. This experience showed me what I enjoyed, and what I would be doing whenever I take my engineering experience to industry.

Ganell Jones: Biomedical Research Internship at UAMS

This past summer, I had the pleasure of being a part of the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. My hopes for this summer were to sharpen my laboratory, scientific writing, and communication skills. With high hopes of achievement and the chance to utilize all of the techniques I learned in class, I did all that and more.

I joined Dr. Justin Leung’s lab investigating the DNA damage repair pathway in the Department of Radiation Oncology for the summer. Although I had been eager to start, the truth is, I was so nervous the first day I mistakenly mixed two of the wrong reagents in a reaction and had to redo the experiment the following day. After the first week, I started getting familiar with the protocols and took pride in writing very detailed notes. I asked questions – lots of questions. I also did a lot of reading and independent study. I wanted answers to my questions, and as I said, I had a lot of questions. Before July started, I had nearly run out of pages in my notebook. The more I learned, the more questions I would have. I was an inquirer, many times, going down rabbit holes as I would go through papers and their references. As I started to understand the individual reactions and how they aligned with the project, I was finally speaking, writing, and doing science. 

The goal of my project was to dissect the molecular genetics of the histone variant, H2AX, c-terminal tail and investigate its biological functions in the DNA damage response. Alanine mutagenesis was used to evaluate the contribution of individual amino acids on the H2AX c-terminal to the DNA damage response pathway. One at a time, we substituted each amino acid to alanine to observe its effects. We analyzed the recruitment of DNA damage response associated proteins with each mutation to determine its contribution. This process was neither always easy, nor always challenging. It did, however, take some time to learn. .Some days we risked contamination, or our experiments did not work, and we were back to square one, but every day I was proud of the work I was doing and had done. 

As the program came to an end, I got the chance to showcase my project. Through the INBRE program, I produced my first publication and had the opportunity to present an oral presentation on my project. Again, I did this nervously, but if I have learned anything this summer, it is to step out of my comfort zone. This summer, I got the chance to push my abilities to new heights. I embarked on this journey with a few minor goals, but I accomplished way more. I developed new ways of thinking, learned lots of new techniques, and got the chance to be a part of an amazing group of people making memories that I’ll forever cherish.

MJ Wetzel: Comedy and Storytelling

My work this summer learning to write humorous stories for performance fit with my goal of building a skill I could use for Honors events.  I  ended up performing one polished piece at our sophomore retreat and another one for a move-in open mic night.  I suspect using pieces of this style will make my future presentations more engaging, and I feel comfortable enough with the new style to try integrating it into assignments. 

In order to improve my writing and concentration of humor, I had to share my work verbally with more than just my deaf dog (see picture).  Suddenly, the family gatherings I usually dreaded became opportunities to test material.  With my improved attitude and humorous pre-written lines to slip into conversation, I found myself actually enjoying them and not getting in trouble for discussing my homosexuality, gender experiences, or autism!  In addition to writing, I wanted the Honors Junior Seminar course “Experiential Learning” to help me navigate and communicate with the world around me, and I’d say thriving at a family gathering is a sign I met this goal.  I’ll just have to see if I can carry these skills over to interacting with peers at school.

 As a result of working on the project, I also began to follow The Yarn radio show’s Facebook page and am looking forward to attending a live performance.  I wish I would have known about them sooner so I could have written that into my original Experiential Learning plan, but I’m glad to know about them now.  Sharing a story with them will be another post-class goal to consider.


Hypatia Meraviglia: Mapping Titan

Despite the limitations of remote work, my internship allowed me to establish professional connections with a number of NASA scientists asking intriguing questions. Most connections are centered in Goddard Code 600 (Solar System Division), although a few scientists and engineers hail from other divisions. I hope to return to Code 600 in person next summer to meet and work alongside these scientists and engineers.

Halfway through the internship, my mentor recommended I add a new goal: presenting at the Titan Through Time V conference in addition to the standard Goddard intern symposium. I was able to present my work, discuss it with Titan specialists and non-specialists, listen to others’ presentations, and gain more perspective on my work over the summer. Although I’ve presented at small poster sessions and meetings, Titan Through Time V was first true presentation at a conference!  I was nervous and grateful for the experience.

I met most of my goals for this project, adapted those that became infeasible, and took on new opportunities as they arose. In retrospect, I wish I had developed my programming skills (especially Python and terminal!) before beginning this internship; I believe I could have been more scientifically productive with just a bit more experience. Being able to chat with other Goddard interns helped me immensely over the course of the summer; I struggled with imposter syndrome and concerns about lagging progress, but sharing stories and burdens with others in similar straits mitigated those worries. I’m hopeful that, if I can return to intern at NASA next summer, it will be in person and with a more adept skill set.

Dylan Garrison: Learning to Fly

This past summer, I took on the challenge of earning my private pilot’s license through an online flight school and with the help of a certified flight instructor. Over the course of the semester, I went from knowing basically nothing about aviation to being able to fly completely on my own. Every bit of the experience was incredible, and from it I’ve gained a lifelong skill that I’ll be able to use for fun or maybe even a career with a little more training!

I had initially planned on focusing the first half of my semester (roughly five to six weeks) on ground school training, which consisted of roughly twenty to thirty hours of video instruction, and then spending the rest of my semester doing practical flight training. My goals for the course were to graduate from my ground school and complete my ground school test, log twenty or more hours of flight time (including solo flights and cross country flights), and finally to cap off the course by taking my practical flight test and earning my private pilot’s license. Of these goals, I was able to completely and successfully complete the first two, but time constraints and unforeseen circumstances prevented me from achieving my final goal of obtaining my private pilot’s license. I was, however, able to earn a student pilot’s license, and I plan on following up with my instructor to finish the last bit of my flight training intermittently throughout the fall semester, with hopes to earn my private license by the end of the year.

In terms of what was realistically achievable, I don’t believe that my original plans for the course were unrealistic by any means. I consulted with my flight instructor ahead of time to make sure that what I planned to do was feasible in the timeframe that I set out to do it. I likely would have met my goals on schedule had things run perfectly, so I guess that my biggest shortcoming in this course was failing to plan for the unknown and the unexpected and allotting myself enough time to recover should something major happen. Most notably, I got appendicitis the second week of the course and had to undergo emergency surgery that put me out of commission for a few weeks, but I put in some extra work once I started to recover in order to catch up on some of the time that I had lost. However, the surgery did prevent me from being able to get my flight physical done and take my practical flight test, which requires a physical for administration, at the end of the semester as I had hoped to do.

In hindsight, I wish that I had begun the practical flight training a little sooner. I expected the ground school work to almost act as a prerequisite for the actual flight training, but after doing each, I think it would have been more beneficial to me if I had begun both at around the same time (perhaps begin actual flight training in week three or four as opposed to after finishing the ground school work). Beginning the practical flight training sooner would likely have helped me to understand how to apply the material that I was learning in ground school to real situations a little better because the learning would be occurring simultaneously.

The coursework and in-flight training themselves were rather challenging, and no part of the learning process was easy by any means. Every bit of the course required my full attentiveness and effort.