Road Trips: Arkansas Landscapes

“What makes a class honors?”

We get that question a lot. And the answer is … it depends. In an engineering course, “honors” may be your entrée to working with the molecular beam epitaxy machine, which allows you to grow nanostructures one atom at a time. In an honors section of a history course, you might do additional readings and conduct primary research in the UA Libraries’ Special Collections.

In the honors section of Carl Smith’s American Landscapes course (LARC 1003H), honors students Morgan Palmer and Polina Timchenko gave up a couple of Saturdays last spring for personal tours of some quintessentially American landscapes located right here in Arkansas. The tours were led by a team of experts, starting with Carl Smith himself. An associate professor of landscape architecture, Smith was born and bred in Yorkshire, England, and brings a fresh perspective and a passion for sustainable development to the 21st-century American landscape.

His course surveys mankind’s changing attitudes toward urban and rural outdoor spaces and the origins of the environmental movement. Northwest Arkansas, he says, provides the perfect setting to focus on issues of national importance: “It is one of the fastest growing regions in the U.S.A., and will be facing some challenging questions concerning the accommodation of population growth and urbanization.” At the same time, the region “benefits from a varied, beautiful natural landscape, and cultural capital of national significance.”

Join us for the first of two road trips offering a fresh take on our own landscape.

Landscape into Art into Landscape: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

aerial view of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

1. At Crystal Bridges, you experience landscape both indoors and out. The museum is nestled into a ravine, poised above two spring-fed ponds and surrounded by a luxuriant landscape that rivals the painted landscapes within. Photo by Tim Hursley, courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Docent discusses landscape painting while student sketches.

2. The indoor tour, led by Museum Educator Matt Boyd, begins with a close examination of one of the museum’s signature paintings, a stand out in a strong collection of 19th-century American landscapes: Kindred Spirits, painted in 1849 by Asher Durand. “This work is unusual, in that the people are more prominent than usual,” Boyd points out. Central to the composition is painter Thomas Cole, leader of the Hudson River school of painters and an early advocate for conservation of the American landscape. Polina Timchenko, a second-year honors architecture student from the Ukraine, sketches.

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Posted in Architectural Studies, Fay Jones School of Architecture, History, Honors Courses, Landscape Architecture | Leave a comment

Saving Cash on Great Lash: Iliana Cuts Costs at L’Oreal

Female student in safety gear, holding clipboard, in a factory setting.

If you forget any of your safety equipment, you’re likely to get a firm nudge before you pass the first production line. The workers tromp around in steel-toed boots, goggles and hairnets while automated machines whir to life about them. This isn’t exactly the glamorous image an outsider would expect from a global cosmetics company, but L’Oreal has the serious business of cranking out 250 million units a year to attend to.

Iliana Hernandez, a senior chemical engineering major from Siloam Springs and PATH student, has been helping keep the ship running smoothly at this L’Oreal plant in North Little Rock. During her summer internship, she looked to improve efficiency in the UP1 production unit, which makes 65% of all mascaras sold in the U.S.—that’s a tube produced every two seconds. When she returns to the University of Arkansas, Iliana will bring back experience in finance and industrial engineering to supplement her major. Eventually, she’ll also know the exact amount she’s saved the company, which will be handy for her next goal (scoring another internship at Texas Instruments or Intel).

Iliana was born in El Salvador, but to keep her safe her parents sacrificed promising careers in telecommunications and law and moved to the United States when she was young. Continue reading

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Postcard from Cape Town: Darby Guinn


At the top of Table Mountain, looking over Cape Town

Darby Guinn, honors English and journalism major, spent the summer learning the joys and difficulties of piloting a Peacework service learning initiative in Cape Town, South Africa. Darby’s bond with her fellow travelers and her mission to make real changes made all the difference as she contemplated who should benefit most from a service learning experience.

Before I applied for my program, service learning wasn’t a concept I’d heard of. Once I read about it, though, it made sense, and something about it fired me up in a way that I’d never felt before. Volunteering, but more. A give and a take, both sides learning something from the other. I was sold.

I read, researched, and went to all the meetings. I was ready to volunteer in a way that mattered. I didn’t want to come back having gotten more than I’d given or having spent my time on a project that would die as soon as I left. I wasn’t going to change the world, but I felt like I’d figured out how to help it a bit or at least not exacerbate the problem of “voluntourism.” Continue reading

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Meet Jason Blankenship, Director of Retention and Student Advising


Not sure where to start on the honors thesis? Wondering if you can go pre-med and major in classics? You’ve got questions … Jason Blankenship can help you find the answers.

Blankenship brings 14 years of experience to his role as Honors College director of retention and student advising, a new position created to help honors students map out their academic career plans and prepare for the future.

Honors College students receive academic advising through their specific disciplines, but Blankenship’s “360-degree mentoring” program fills the gaps where students tend to stumble. These include the undergraduate research project requirement and the required 3.5 GPA. Continue reading

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Honors Olympian: Lexi Weeks

Female athlete is completing a vault.

Honors College Fellow Lexi Weeks wins the NCAA outdoor championship in women’s pole vault.


Honors College Fellow Lexi Weeks accomplished a lot in her freshman year — winning both indoor and outdoor NCAA championships in the women’s pole vault, for starters, while starting work on her pre-med biology degree.  Now, she’s headed for Rio.  Amy Schlesing reports.

University of Arkansas student Lexi Weeks knows a thing or two about rising to the top. The Cabot native began her freshman year at the University of Arkansas in the fall of 2015 and continues to set records in pole vaulting. In 2016, she added the title of NCAA Indoor Champion in pole vault to her resume and was named the NCAA South Central Regional Field Athlete of the Year. She was also the only freshman in NCAA history to win two national titles in pole vault.

At the age of 19, Lexi celebrated the ultimate accomplishment when she qualified for the United States Olympic Team for the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro. She joined an impressive 17 other former and current Razorbacks who competed on behalf of countries around the world.

But her accomplishments aren’t limited to the field. Lexi is a pre-med major at the U of A and an Honors College Fellow to boot. She was also a National Merit Scholar before coming to the Hill. As a Razorback student-athlete, she has demonstrated a remarkable ability to juggle the demands of her athletic and academic careers.

“It takes a lot of time management,” she said. “But it helps when you have a twin sister to help you.” Continue reading

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Puebla Mágica: A Summer Abroad in Puebla, Mexico

 During 35 days of study abroad in Puebla, Mexico, Honors College Fellow and pre-med biology major Garrett Bethel observed numerous surgeries, everything from childbirth to gunshot trauma repair. In the middle of one procedure, Garrett recalls that the surgeon, Dr. Delgadillo, looked up and challenged the students observing him to “remember this experience and the people we had met along the way.” Garrett won’t soon forget the challenges faced by Mexico’s doctors and hospitals, where healthcare is completely free to all and demand is very high, and he marvels at the gratitude expressed by patients treated under trying circumstances. To decompress, he spent the weekends checking out Mexico’s rich history and sampling authentic, mouthwatering cuisine. 

Student takes selfie under waterfall with Go Pro.

Chilling out at Cascadas Las Brillas Waterfalls in Cuetzalán, México.

When translated from Spanish to English, the word pueblo means town. When thinking of a town, what images come to mind? Perhaps a smaller, sparsely populated area that is home to all the resources necessary to sustain its people – a grocery store, church, limited array of restaurants, school, sheriff’s office, etc. This is the exact mindset I had when planning my five-week study abroad experience in Puebla, Mexico. Upon arrival, however, all of my preconceptions of what Puebla would be like vanished completely, replaced by the sights and sounds of a metropolitan city. Puebla was not in fact the small, walkable town that I had imagined, but home to over 3 million people – more than my entire home state of Arkansas.

city skyline

Puebla, Mexico — home to more than 3 million people.

Perhaps more shocking than the vastness of the city was the widespread Americanization of Mexican consumer culture. We were greeted by our host families at our in-country university, La Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP). We threw our bags in the car and anxiously headed to see where we would be staying for the next five weeks. However, on the way home our host mom took a pit stop at Bentonville’s finest establishment – Walmart. I was over 1500 miles from my family but felt oddly at home with the abundance of signature American eateries and stores on the short 15-minute ride from the university to my new casa. Continue reading

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Postcard from Valencia: Kassandra Salazar

Photo of young woman gesturing towards historic Spanish city.

Kassandra Salazar in the “Imperial City,” Toledo, Spain – the former capital of the Spanish Empire.


Honors international business major Kassandra Salazar learned a lot in her six weeks abroad, from the finer points of Castellano Spanish to the importance of comfortable walking shoes. Adjusting to the Spanish sense of time was an ongoing source of culture shock, but exploring ancient cities and enjoying the cooking of her host mom, Caridad, proved to be a major plus.

Hello Readers, I have just returned from six weeks abroad in Valencia, Spain. I was there to fulfill the study abroad requirement for my International Business major but also earn credits for my Spanish minor. I completed two courses, one in Spanish Cinema and one in Spanish Grammar. I enjoyed both of the courses, however, they were a bit challenging. The cinema class was an excellent way to learn about the different eras in Spanish culture and how the country suffered under Franco’s rule. It was also a really great way to expand my vocabulary. My grammar class also did the same for me, but was challenging to me because as a native speaker, I had never focused on grammar before. These classes both helped me immensely with my Spanish skills, but it was a little difficult at the beginning because I did not realize how different Castellano (the official language of Spain) was from Latin American Spanish, the language that I had grown up with. I am definitely inspired to continue practicing the language until I feel confident conducting business affairs in both English and Spanish. Continue reading

Posted in Honors College Study Abroad Grant, International Business/Marketing, Sam M. Walton College of Business, Spain, Study Abroad | Leave a comment

Mining the Potential of Gold Nanoparticles

David Jacobson in Australia

David Jacobson has left the lab for Australia this spring.

David Jacobson, an honors chemical engineering and physics junior, is helping us learn a little more about gold nanoparticles and their “nearly futuristic applications,” from the improvement of solar panels to the creation of cloaking devices (James Bondesque invisible sports coupe, anyone?). With laser beams and sometimes erratic lab equipment as his tools, Jacobson’s work might sound like science fiction, but under the direction of Dr. Roper, he’s been able to create real-world understanding about how light is scattered.  Continue reading

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A Taste of Istanbul: Sketching Connections in Turkey and Denmark

Last summer Adel Vaughn and 12 other landscape architecture students from the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design explored two very different 21st century cities: Istanbul, Turkey and Copenhagen, Denmark. For Adel, a sketchbook assignment became much more than an exercise in observation – it helped her to connect and bond with locals.

Sketching Connections  
Since much of studying landscape architecture in the built environment is done through observation and documentation of form, structure, physical elements and overall character of a space, the sketchbook acted as our medium for this documentation. The sketchbook went everywhere with me – every day, for hundreds of miles. I would normally start the drawings on-site and get as far as I could, then finish it out later while sitting at a cafe or restaurant.


A group of Turkish kids stopped by when I was drawing at Ephesus. I was telling them in the little, broken Turkish I knew: “I’m a student studying landscape architecture,” “I don’t really know much Turkish, but I’m learning,” “I’m from America” (when they asked), and “Thank you!” (when they told me the drawings were very nice).

Drawing at some of the cafes led to unique and unforgettable interactions with the locals, because they would give us insight on the symbols we were drawing, tell us a story about the sites we were drawing, or ask about the sketchbooks. There was one cafe in particular that my friend and I went to many times – we became friends with the guys who worked there, and they would even give us free çay (Turkish tea) and dessert. It was actually a tearful goodbye on our last night in Istanbul because we had grown close to the people there in such a short amount of time. We ended up doing some paintings for them to keep so that we all could remember those times.

Courtney_Adel_Turkey_Falls in Galata

This is Courtney and I with Omar, our very kind and outgoing waiter at Falls in Galata Cafe. We sat at this exact table almost every time we came – right on the edge of the patio watching what was happening on the tiny adjacent street.

The Sketches


Click to see Adel’s sketchbook at full size.

The water spigot, to me, is a symbol for Istanbul. They were all over the city – many right outside mosques where people would wash their hands and feet before entering, and others in seemingly random places. The one that I painted was in Gulhane Park near Topkapı Palace. It was such a beautiful element in the park, carrying a rich sense of history while embracing the newly blooming, bright red roses surrounding it. I actually put the final touches on this painting later in the summer while doing research in Berlin, so the memory of this one spans Europe!

waterspigot       bluedoor

The blue door is one of my favorites.  I love painting things that are clearly weathered and worn, and this door captured the heavy use of the while building in an area of Istanbul called Beşiktaş.  I just loved the character and colors in the door. Each drawing carries a meaning and a many memories for me.

Adel Vaughn’s summer studies and research were supported by Honors College Traditional Study Abroad and Travel Grants.

Posted in Fay Jones School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Study Abroad, Turkey, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Service Learning in Vietnam: Colleen Kretzer Helps Launch a New Program

Colleen helps dig a trench for a new, sustainable biogas fuel system in Hoa An, Vietnam.

Colleen helps dig a trench for a new, sustainable biogas fuel system in Hoa An, Vietnam.

Honors physics student Colleen Kretzer was one of the first students to participate in the new Global Community Development in Vietnam program. There, she helped to install two biogas systems that provide cheap, renewable fuel for families, and learned to love the lotus plant (flower, pod, seeds, stem, and root). Colleen learned first-hand about the resourcefulness of the Vietnamese, and will take home some great lessons in hands-on learning when she becomes a teacher.  Continue reading

Posted in J.William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, Physics, Study Abroad, Vietnam | Leave a comment