Up, up and away

I work with a superhero.

Not the kind you see this time of year on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and tend to geek out over comic book movies as much as anyone, but this story isn’t full of explosions, high-speed chases and daring rescues.

But it does involve super powers: quiet strength, fierce determination and perseverance that is as humbling as it is inspiring.

LaTonya Cockrell doesn’t quit. She just doesn’t. She started college back in 1993 at what was then Petit Jean Technical College (today the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, or UACCM). Her educational journey took her from Morrilton to Pulaski Technical College and then to the University of Central Arkansas. But as is the story for many of us, life’s unforeseen circumstances got in the way of her finishing her degree during that first go-round.

The easy thing would be to give up. No one would have faulted her for saying, “college just isn’t for me.” But that’s not how LaTonya approaches life. More than 20 years after she first enrolled at UACCM, LaTonya went back to school through the University of Arkansas System’s eVersity to obtain her Associate of Science in information technology.

LaTonya is good at her job. She joined the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Conference Food Service department in 2012 as a front-of-house server. Her infectious smile and laugh make it easy to work with her and make our customers feel welcomed. And even though she enjoys her job and co-workers, she felt the time was right to continue her education.

“I decided to go back due to financial reasons,” she says. “If I go back and finish my degree, I can do better not only for my children, but for myself.”

One of the things holding her back in her journey was the financial strain of paying for college classes while supporting her family. LaTonya then heard about eVersity through a co-worker and it seemed to be the perfect fit.

“I looked into other online classes and the cost was not in my budget, and I have no time to attend classes on campus,” she says. “After hearing that eVersity was just $165 a credit hour, I knew it would fit my life and my budget.”

The process, she says, has been fulfilling. She has finished 10 classes during her time enrolled, each class lasting 6 weeks. All of her credits from the other institutions transferred easily, which helped give her a jump-start in the program. Through her advisors, instructors, even financial aid workers, LaTonya has found a strong support system of people who want to help her reach her goals. Though easier than she first thought, like any good superhero story there have been obstacles to overcome.

“It was scary, transitioning back to being a student,” she says. “Online classes and the Blackboard were completely new to me. Time management has been a real struggle, too, having to stay up later when the kids are asleep. But everyone has been there to help me.”

One aspect of the help she’s gotten has been an opportunity here at work. LaTonya approached management about ways she might be able to get some on-the-job training in IT, and our executive director, Dr. Marta Loyd, along with our IT manager, Chris O’Cain, found a way to offer LaTonya an internal internship with our IT department. For a few hours a week, she is able to shadow our IT people and assist with their work.

“In school, you learn all the concepts, but you don’t get that hands-on experience,” O’Cain says. “With this internship, LaTonya will get to learn how things work in the real world.”

The importance of that hands-on training isn’t lost on LaTonya.

“When I found out that they were creating the internship, I was excited and wanted to cry,” LaTonya says. “I was overwhelmed that the Institute was willing to help me further my education and career in a way that is unrelated to my position here.”

The next step in LaTonya’s journey is to complete her Bachelor of Science in information technology, which she is working on. She’s proud of her success, and she’s willing to share her story with anyone who needs a bit of encouragement to pursue or finish a degree.

“You need a degree to make it and take care of yourself and your family,” she says matter-of-factly. “You want them to see you succeed; it will mean so much.”

It has meant a lot to me to work alongside this superhero, and I can’t wait to see what successes are in store for her.


Rethinking college

A new University of Arkansas System endeavor is tapping into its large pool of faculty across many institutions and reaching more Arkansans than ever. eVersity, the state’s first fully online education that launched last fall, ended its first term in February with a collective GPA of 3.47. The second six-week term starts this month to help more students complete their degrees and become workforce ready. With seven start dates throughout the year, back-to-school can happen anytime for people seeking this university path.

Why eVersity?

Arkansas ranks No. 49 nationally in the percentage of the population with college degrees. “And we’re falling fast,” said Michael K. Moore, chief academic and operating officer of eVersity and vice president of academic affairs for the UA System. “Something has to be done, whether it’s with us or another one of our many higher education institutions. It’ll take a great team effort from everyone across the state to improve that statistic. But being the state’s only 100 percent online institution allows us to offer a high-quality, affordable and workforce-relevant experience.” 

Michael K. Moore
Michael K. Moore, chief academic and operating officer of eVersity & vice president of academic affairs for the UA System

The need

The best thing about eVersity is it offers a second chance to those who gave up on their higher education dreams, Moore noted. “We know that there are 356,000-plus Arkansans who once saw the value in higher education and had a dream to earn a degree, but for whatever reason life got in the way and they didn’t complete what they set out to do. The goal of eVersity from the very beginning has been to identify as many of the barriers as possible that are preventing those people from returning to school and work really hard to remove the barriers and do whatever possible to get them across the finish line.”

The response

Faculty and students have been pleased at how engaging the online courses are, Moore said. UA System faculty works with an eVersity team of instructional designers to make classes as interactive, visually appealing and fulfilling as possible. “Our efforts to design very high-quality and interactive online classes are paying off, and our faculty has also commented about our students being among the most attentive and productive as any they’ve taught before.”

Areas of study

Courses last six weeks, and students generally take just one course at a time. Areas of study include information technology, criminal justice, business, health care management and university studies. Thoughtful analysis identified the needs of Arkansas employers and the current job market to choose eVersity’s fields of study, Moore said. “We’re happy with what we have to offer and feel like we are concentrating our efforts on what’s best for Arkansans and the state’s employers. With that being said, we are tapped into employers’ needs and ready and willing to meet those demands as things evolve.”

Quick facts

  • Cost per credit hour is $165.
  • Average applicant age is 35.
  • 73 percent of Arkansas counties are represented in the applicant pool.
  • 60 percent of the applicants are women.
  • Applicants bring an average of 67 transfer credits from prior institutions.

A day in the life: Station archeologist Dr. Emily Beahm

When I was asked to write an article about Dr. Emily Beahm, who became the station archeologist for the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s WRI research station in September 2015, I became more than a little excited. I’m serious when I say I’ve always had a fascination with archeology and geology and things going on beneath the Earth’s crust. I credit this interest to my Arkansas Delta upbringing.

In my corner of Northeast Arkansas, earthquake tremors are commonplace and arrowheads lay hidden just beneath cotton-field furrows. Plus, the Hampson Archeological Museum State Park in Wilson is only a few miles away from our family farm. It houses an impressive exhibit of nationally renowned artifacts from the nearby 15-acre Nodena site. This collection of Late Mississippian Period Native American artifacts (dated A.D. 1400–1650) provided many a school-day field trip for my classmates and me.

Even with my interest in all things prehistoric, until I visited with Beahm, I was a bit clueless as to the day-to-day activities of an archeologist. You may be surprised to learn the archeological goings on not only at Petit Jean Mountain but also all around Arkansas.

Q:  Are you a native Arkansan?

A:  No, but I grew up not too far away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I attended graduate school at the University of Georgia and did my dissertation research in Middle Tennessee ("Mississippian Polities in the Middle Cumberland Region of Tennessee"). 

Q:  How did you become interested in archeology?

A:  It seems like a lot of archeologists have cool stories about why they decided to go into the field, but I really don't. I like history and science, and I guess archeology is a way to both pursue scientific inquiry with data and learn about the past.  

Q:  So how did you end up in Arkansas and, more specifically, at WRI? 

A:  Originally, I moved to Russellville because my (then future) husband got a job at Arkansas Tech. He’s an anthropology professor. I joined the survey as an assistant at the WRI research station in September 2013. A few months ago when Dr. Stewart-Abernathy retired, I became station archeologist.

Q:  Congratulations on your new position. You couldn’t work in a more beautiful setting than Petit Jean Mountain. I suppose I’ve always romanticized archeology and imagined massive digs in exotic locales. I’m sure there’s more to it, regular “duties”. What’s a typical day like for you

A:  There’s a fair amount of variety in what I do from day to day. The Arkansas Archeological Survey's mission is to research, preserve, protect and educate the public about Arkansas' archeological resources. I often work on records management at the office—filing archeological site information and organizing our artifact collections. 

Q:  I did a bit of research on the Arkansas Archeological Survey website. I’m fascinated by the projects going on across the state, particularly the Plum Bayou Gardens at Toltec Mounds and Historic Cane Hill. What research do you have planned specific to the WRI station and surrounding area?

A:  There are several. One project that I’m working on is putting together a comparative collection at the WRI station—of artifacts ranging from historic pottery to prehistoric projectile points and chert types. I anticipate this will be a useful tool not only for those of us here at the station, but also for other local archeologists. Non-professional visitors to the station should also find this interesting. Also, I’ve begun researching the Mississippian (late prehistoric) occupation in the Arkansas River Valley. The first step in this has been to look closely at some artifacts we currently have in our collections that have not yet been analyzed. Another project that I’m excited about is the Native American garden I’m planning next to the station at WRI. It will have native cultigens—domesticated and cultivated plants used by Native Americans in the area prior to the introduction of corn. And I’m involved in the Project Dig program. This outreach program involves working with several local elementary schools.

Q:  I love that the WRI research station is working with schoolchildren. I think that’s so important.

A:  I agree. I love teaching children about the elements of culture and basic archeological methods. It’s a lot of fun and rewarding at the same time.

Q:  Do you need volunteers to help with your projects?

A:  I would be happy to have volunteers. We usually have volunteer days the third Saturday of the month. Volunteers would be especially useful this spring when I start working on the garden. If someone is interested in devoting a few hours, email me at

Thank you, Dr. Beahm! Don’t be surprised if I show up one Saturday to volunteer.

The station located at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute is one of 10 Arkansas Archeological Survey research stations located throughout the state. To learn more about sites and ongoing research, visit

Read more from Talya Boerner at Grace, Grits, & Gardening.       


The Winthrop Rockefeller Collection—archiving the life of the ‘Arkansas Rockefeller’

There are many ways to take the measure of a man—usually by his deeds, his character or his achievements. If we’re talking about the legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller, we can also throw in linear feet. Nine hundred and sixty-seven feet, to be precise—that’s the storage footprint of the Winthrop Rockefeller Collection, the archive that is housed at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture in downtown Little Rock. 

To use another metric, that’s 1,934 document boxes. Not including photographs, audio and video. Just the audio portion of the archive—recording of speeches, press conferences, campaign events, etc.—consists of 688 cassette tapes and 1,488 reels. And there are seven collections of photographs.

Six-year-old Winthrop Rockefeller

Received by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1980, the collection documents Rockefeller’s life from his birth in 1912 until his death in 1973.

Beyond his very public life as a businessman, politician, governor and—well—a Rockefeller, the archives also preserve the record of his personal life, including his childhood, young adulthood, service in World War II, charitable activities in New York and his years as a citizen in Arkansas before and after his governorship.

The collection is as varied as life itself. Only Rockefeller’s was not an ordinary life. Along with school drawings and handwriting practice sheets that could have come from the hand of any modern 6-year-old boy, there are candid and formal portraits of members of one of America’s most iconic families. There are boxes labeled with names like Johnny Cash and photographs labeled “Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip of England (1957)” or “King Hussein of Jordan (1959)”. Ever heard of them?

Winthrop Rockefeller birth certificate file

You don’t have to be a scholar or biographer to access this fascinating collection—it’s available to the public and fully searchable through the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture online catalog, where anyone can browse through detailed descriptions of the holdings, preview photographs or request online access to audio and video material.

Check it out, if you’re curious to get a sense of the life and times of the “Arkansas Rockefeller.” I think you’ll find it measures up!

Read more from Kyran Pittman at Planting Dandelions.


Resident archaeologist retires, reflects on his own past

Arkansas archaeologist Dr. Leslie "Skip" Stewart-Abernathy “refuses to forget what time has buried.” So says The National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman’s Commendation, awarded to him in 2012 for his many professional achievements, including that “he has trained countless volunteers, from young students to enthusiastic retirees, spreading his infectious love of history across the 75 counties of the state.”

Certainly, he has earned the retirement he’s about to take from Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Research Station.

I caught up with Skip just before he had to go deliver supplies for the 2015 Arkansas Archaeological Society Dig and attend the dedication of two memorials at an African-American cemetery he helped to map and record.

Q:  Congratulations on your upcoming retirement!

A:  Thank you.

Q:  How long has your career spanned?

A:  I joined the Arkansas Archaeological Survey in August 1977—almost 38 years.

Q:  Fantastic. Most of your career has been right here in our own backyard—in Arkansas.

A:  It was too good an opportunity to pass up. When I was doing my doctoral dissertation fieldwork in Massachusetts, there was an archaeologist about every 40 feet, it seemed like. And when I came to Arkansas, I had 75 counties to play in. I didn't need to go anywhere else.

Q:  Most people associate archaeology with sites of grandeur. What's so fascinating about excavating ordinary places?

A:  I don't think there are any ordinary places. There are fancy places where governors, kings and pharaohs live and die, but those are complicated sites, and we tend to learn more about governors and kings from them than about ordinary folks. I'm more interested in ordinary folks.

Q:  Can you tell me about one dig that was particularly meaningful?

A:  Well, there have been many. One was Sanders House, in Washington, Arkansas. Washington is one of those places that survived with the landscape somewhat intact from before the Civil War—the town plan is still there.

On the Sanders site, the house was still standing but it had originally been surrounded by lots of buildings, fences and gardens. Supposedly there was a separate kitchen, which we eventually found. These kitchens were not just cooking areas—they were slave quarters. So we were able to explore a whole variety of issues. Among other things, we discovered that these kitchens weren’t separate at all. They were connected to the house by a walkway. The explanations given for why there were separate kitchens—fire dangers, mosquitoes, heat and all those kinds of things turned out to be rather silly. The Sanders house had four or five fireplaces in the house itself. There was just one fireplace in the kitchen. There were no screens then, so there were as many bugs in the house as in the kitchen. It was social separation rather than a physical separation.

By looking ostensibly for a building we were actually looking for a whole way of life.

Our archaeology was part of the process that led to the reconstruction of the kitchen and all its associated outbuildings. 

Q:  I'm fascinated by the work you've done with documenting African-American cemeteries. 

A:  I got involved in cemetery work because the Arkansas Archaeological Society got involved in cemetery work. We got started with a grant program so that black cemetery associations could apply for help in cleaning up cemeteries.

We work with communities to find these cemeteries, to map them, on occasion use fancy toys to find graves. But mainly to record them as cemeteries. Again, ordinary folks.

Q:  Speaking of fancy toys, what's the next frontier in your field? 

A:  Probably remote sensing. Techniques to look into the ground before you dig. Metal detecting is one example, but ground communicating radar, electrical resistivity and magnetometry will find foundations, or evidence of foundations. So we're much more efficient—we can get a sense of what's potentially below the surface. You still get to dig. You just don't have to dig boring holes with nothing in them anymore.

Q:  Just for fun—if you were given a blank check to put toward any archaeological project in the United States right now what would it be?

A:  I'd like to find out more about the first Arkansas post, which we have now found—the 1689-1749 post, complete with a cemetery with Christian Indians buried in it. We found it during a society dig in southern Arkansas County.

We kept finding these caches of brass tinkling cones that were common on Indian and French pioneer outfits that turned out not to be caches at all, but what was left of burials. While we were exploring that, a site survey nearby came up with broken French dishes. It’s since been shown to be the first Arkansas post, one of the first pioneer settlements in the entire Mississippi Valley. It was buried by clay from the Arkansas River for many years.

I'd like to find out more about that site. The French would not have made it without the Quapaw, so here's an opportunity to examine Colonial relations between them.

Q:  Any suggestions for ordinary citizens wanting to get involved with archaeology in Arkansas?

A:  Get involved with the Arkansas Archaeological Society. Anybody who wants to volunteer and agrees to the set of ethics can come do real archaeology with us. Right now, there is a dig going on near the Parkin site in eastern Arkansas, with probably 150 people participating, anywhere from age 13 to 95—of which about 20 are professional archaeologists. It’s a great hobby and it's in your backyard. We have chapters all across Arkansas. 

Q:  One more thing: do you own a bullwhip and a fedora?

A:  I haven't been issued them yet! Someone did give me a tricorn hat once, but I've never worn a fedora. And oddly enough, I've never found a use for a whip!


Arkansas MarketMaker highlights local food, brings producers and consumers together

Well-known farmer and author Joel Salatin says, “This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain’t normal.”

Millions of Americans agree with Salatin, and as a result, the local food movement has grown in the last decade. Beyond just seeking out local food, Americans are also starting to show a real interest in where all of their food comes from. But this comes with challenges.

The challenge for consumers and food-related businesses, like restaurants or grocers, is finding sources for their food. The challenge for producers, like farmers and farm businesses of all sizes, is finding markets and consumers of their products. Arkansas MarketMaker is a solution to these challenges.

MarketMaker is a user-friendly database operated out of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Office. It is intended to help market and connect growers, food producers, retailers, or anyone else with a food-related business to each other and to consumers. Developed by Darlene and Richard Knipe via the University of Illinois Extension Office, the database is used in more than 20 states. Arkansas joined the network in 2010.

So how does it work? Anyone with a food-related business can create a profile with details about what the business does, its location, contact information and other details. MarketMaker then then maps each location and allows users to search by location or business type to find the products they want. For example, in Arkansas a consumer can search for “Tourism” sites and find the Post Family Vineyard in Altus or J & P Ranch in Scott.

As Arkansas MarketMaker program director Beverly Dunaway says, the more participation the database has, the more effective it is for all users, and in the long run, the better it is for the agriculture industry in Arkansas. Farmers probably have the biggest challenge in using the system as they often work long hours and simply do not have the time or energy to devote to marketing their products. MarketMaker makes this aspect of business development fairly simple for busy people. It also consolidates all of their information into one profile so they don’t have to create profiles on multiple directories or databases elsewhere.

Another benefit of participating in this multi-state network is having access to food businesses in other states. If a restaurant in Louisiana is looking for regional produce, it may find a grower in south Arkansas or Mississippi. This type of network can also be a real boon for the farmer who wants to expand his or her sales nationally or for retailers who want to provide regional specialties in their stores or restaurants.

Growers, food producers, retailers, or anyone else with a food-related business is invited to create a profile at Creating an account is free, and Dunaway is happy to help people use Arkansas MarketMaker to its greatest effect. The database is also free to consumers to use to track down their favorite peaches or fish to use at their next family reunion or to find a great corn maze in autumn.