Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.
To mark the 20th anniversary of our first Academic All-Star class, we put out a call for All-Star alumni to let us know what they were up to. Based at least on those who responded, being selected as an Academic All-Star appears to be a strong predictor for future success. Aside from who/what/when/where questions, we asked all those below to give advice to their high-school self (though not everyone played along); All-Stars of 2014, take heed.
A note to those All-Star alumni who missed our call for info (or their friends or parents): We still want to hear from you! Drop us a line at email@example.com.
Say you are interested in social justice, thanks to a multicultural background that has made you sensitive to all manner of issues, and want to teach or maybe go to law school. But you've just graduated from Duke University and you've got a load of student loans to pay back. Do you take a satisfying but low-paying job and stretch those loans out forever or take on more debt to go to law school?
Rani Croager did neither. After she earned a degree in math and economics at Duke, Croager — one of the Arkansas Times' first All-Stars in 1995, Indian by birth and adopted by parents of English and Indian-Chinese ancestry — made a different plan: Work a couple of years at a higher-paying job, then pursue her dream. She got a job at Stephens Inc., where the two years stretched to a decade of learning the ins and outs of investment banking.
Croager, 36, now calls herself a "reformed investment banker turned social entrepreneur."
The experience she gained at Stephens and later at Credit Suisse, she said, "was a great platform to learn about business, capitalism, how deals get done."
But she shook off the "golden handcuffs," she said, in 2008 and started Oakland Cooperative Education Ventures, to help students get a business education with a lower burden of debt. The combined nonprofit/for-profit venture is, she believes, the first of its kind in the United States, one that uses a cooperative model of student and worker ownership — sort of like the employee-owned REI sports gear company for education.
As part of Oakland Cooperative, Croager and business partner Seyed Amiry have launched Uptima Business Bootcamp, where student members of the co-op will be buying into the school with their tuition fees. As investors, they'll eventually recoup their fees from profits earned by the cooperative and have a say in the running of Uptima. The nine-month program will offer training in business start-ups, including funding, scaling and marketing. "We are creating a real community, where business owners are investing in each other," Croager said.
Croager is also working on a cooperative technical institute that would provide cooperating employers with skilled workers they need; both workers and employers would be owners. The first institute will be located in Oakland and its first classes will start at the tech-support level, preparing students for a Microsoft certification. She likened the school to the Mondragon Corp. in Spain, a worker cooperative founded in the 1950s by graduates of a technical college that is now a global enterprise.
Croager said she'd love to "bring this model over to Arkansas. ... Our goal over time is to start setting up cooperatives in other parts of the U.S. and we specifically look at areas where there could be a high need."
Wilson is a pediatric nephrologist and teacher at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. She got her medical degree at Johns Hopkins and a master's in science at the University of Cincinnati, where she also did her pediatric and pediatric nephrology fellowship training. She has two kids, ages 8 and 4. Advice she would give her 18-year-old self: "You're not going to get me to go there!" she told the Times.
Morrow got a B.A. at Harvard and J.D. at Harvard Law, and was a corporate lawyer for in Manhattan two years before becoming a mentor for student interns of color at a nonprofit. She is now head of diversity and inclusion initiatives at Cravath, Swaine and Moore LLP, the firm where she began her legal career. Education is a passion, and she serves on the board of a Brooklyn charter school. She says she can often be found at Brooklyn Nets games ("I remember my days cheering for the Zebras!").
Morrison, who hailed from Bismarck, got her B.S. in chemistry at the University of Missouri-Rolla and her master's in science and Ph.D. in macromolecular science and engineering at the University of Michigan. She is now the principal investigator and senior materials scientist at R.J. Lee Group; her specialty is polymers, foams, elastomers, adhesives and composites. She is also an expert in "life extension programs" in nuclear weapons systems. She had advice for students at what is now the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and the Arts: "ASMS is an environment where you truly have the opportunity to learn from everything and everyone around you. Take advantage of that fully. ... You learn that no matter where you came from, you're all at the same starting line at ASMS. ... And best of all, you learn that you are at the footstep of a giant world full of wonder and opportunities."
Lease got his bachelor's degree in English at Fayetteville and an MAT at Duke University in Durham, N.C., where he taught high school English for a couple of years. He completed his doctorate degree from the University of Georgia in 2012 and now is assistant professor of English at Wesleyan College. Lease said he "got a kick out of reading the profiles from the original [Arkansas Times] article," in which he was quoted as saying, "I love a good book" and that he enjoyed conversations with his friends. He made that love of literature and discussion a career.
After graduating from the University of Arkansas and Washington University School of Medicine, Ragar completed his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. Today, he's unit chief of Mass General's largest community health center and serves on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. During an earlier two-year stint working on the Zuni Indian Reservation in New Mexico, he helped start the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project, a nonprofit aimed at improving child health on the reservation. "Be more appreciative of everyone along the way and recognize how much individuals and systems are responsible for success," Ragar said he'd tell his high school self. "Hard work is only part of the equation and would not have been enough without all of the wonderful mentors and teachers that I had."
After attending Ouachita Baptist, Kirtley received his doctor of pharmacy degree from UAMS. Since 2011, he's served as the executive director of the Arkansas State Board of Pharmacy.
Ollison, a University of Arkansas graduate, is entertainment writer and pop culture critic at The Virginian-Pilot, the state's largest daily metro paper. In the last three years, he's won five national writing awards from The Society for Features Journalism. He's working on a memoir, tentatively titled "Soul Serenade," about searching for his father and himself through the family record collection. Previously, he was pop music critic for The Baltimore Sun and music columnist for Jet.
From 2000 until 2012, Mikael Wood wrote for the biggest music and entertainment magazines in the country — Rolling Stone, SPIN, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard. For the last year and a half, he's been a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times covering music.
"I've ended up working at the intersection of two collapsing industries," he said recently. "If you're wearing your journalism hat and not you're career-security hat, this is a tremendously exciting time. There are so many stories."
It helps that Wood is omnivorous when it comes to music. An L.A. Times staff memo announcing his hire praised him for being "as comfortable dissecting and assessing the world of hip-hop and R&B as he is country, gospel and bubblegum pop." His byline has appeared recently on stories about Lady Gaga, the "Frozen" soundtrack and the award-show showdown between the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.
Wood partially credits the influence of his father, Tom Wood, a longtime DJ and radio programmer in Little Rock, who toted Mikael and his brother to the studio and to concerts. Also, where a lot of music-besotted teenagers grow up playing in garage rock bands, Wood spent his high school years playing in Soophie Nun Squad, perhaps the strangest band in recent memory to achieve wide popularity in Central Arkansas. They counted David Bowie, Salt N Peppa and Rites of Spring as influences; generally incorporated costumes and puppet shows into their performances, and once excited a house party in Little Rock so much that a floor caved in. The band got big enough to tour Europe.
Another band of Wood's, who was born Michael, led him to alter the spelling of his name. The band was called K, and Wood thought it would be cool to promote it by swapping the "ch" in his name for "k". Gradually, it stuck. Because it was a unique spelling and there are other Michael Wood freelance writers, it later became useful. "It started out as a dumb high school thing and ended up being a vaguely savvy professional thing," Wood said.
Wood worked on the daily paper at Northwestern University, where he attended college, and started freelancing for other papers and alt-weeklies while still in college to a level that, by the time he graduated, he had enough writing gigs to survive. "To the extent that I have any advice to anyone," Wood said, "I always say that you're going to have to work [for a time] for free or appalling low."
Brantley, the daughter of Times senior editor Max Brantley, is director of business development for the Clinton Foundation's agriculture work. She calls New York home, but spends 40 to 50 percent of her time overseeing projects in Malawi, Myanmar, Rwanda and Tanzania. She graduated Yale with honors and spent her early post-collegiate years working as a business consultant, an equity investor for a global bank and, later, at a large hedge fund. She said that a few years ago, she decided that she wasn't passionate about that work. She started at the Clinton Foundation as a volunteer.
Isaac Chung, from the tiny Northwest Arkansas town of Lincoln, is an award-winning filmmaker who has screened his films at festivals around the world, including Cannes.
"Munyurangabo," the debut film of the second-generation Korean American (the only minority in the class of 1997 at Lincoln High School), made on location in Rwanda with Rwandan actors, won grand prize at the American Film Institute Festival after its Cannes screening and has received wide critical acclaim. Roger Ebert said it was "in every frame a beautiful and powerful film — a masterpiece."
Chung wasn't supposed to be a filmmaker. As a high school senior — then going by his first name, Lee — he told the Times he wanted to be president, an aspiration he said recently he didn't remember. "Apparently, at age 18, I had the hubris of a 5-year-old," he said.
Once he got to Yale, he chose ecology as a major with an eye toward going to medical school. His senior year, to fulfill a graduation requirement he long put off, he took a film production course, where he was exposed to foreign and art house films for the first time. "I just really fell in love," he said. "I found that I was spending all my time working on films."
His parents weren't pleased. Chung told them he wanted to go to film school and be a filmmaker, not a doctor, just before a family trip to Disney World. "I remember standing in line waiting to get on a ride with my dad and mom just berating me on my decision. We'd go on this two-minute ride, and then it's back to them telling me I'm wasting my life."
They've simmered down today, Chung said, though they still worry about the stability of the film industry. So does Chung; he and his wife recently had a child. "I'm definitely starting to think I gotta make some money." He's also had a "personality change" and wants to make films that his parents can enjoy. "The films I've made so far can be a kind of opaque for a lot people," Chung said. "I'm ready to branch out."
His second feature, "Lucky Life," was inspired by the poetry of Gerald Stern. His latest, 2012's "Abigail Harm," reinterpreted the Korean folktale "The Woodcutter and the Nymph" and starred Amanda Plummer. All were made on micro-budgets.
"Munyurangabo" came about after Chung's wife, a longtime volunteer in Rwanda, asked him to travel to the country with her. There, he decided to teach locals filmmaking by drawing them into a real film project. He and frequent creative partner Samuel Anderson sketched out a story about two young men on a trip from the capital, Kigali, to the home of one the boys. The weight of the 1994 genocide — where at least 800,000 Tutsis and dissident Hutus were killed — is "underscored by the absence of graphic physical evidence," according a New York Times review of the film.
The experience sparked a film industry in Rwanda. Chung created a production company, Almond Tree Rwanda, in Kigali to channel equipment and money donated in the U.S. to Rwandan filmmakers. It's been a success. Rwandan filmmakers now run a self-sustaining business fueled by for-hire film work such as documentaries, commercials and wedding videos. "A lot of men and women have jobs," Chung said. "They're making their films. They're starting to get recognition for their work in international film festivals."
Chung, who lives in New York but will move soon to Los Angeles with his family, plans to return to Rwanda next year to finish a fiction-documentary on a Rwandan friend. Another future destination? Arkansas, to film a script set in his home state that he said he's "finally started working on."
McDonald, the systems librarian at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., graduated cum laude from Yale and received his masters in information science from the University of Michigan. But he wishes he would've been more adventurous as a student, though he left home in Leslie to attend ASMS. "I would tell my high school self to take more academic risks, the earlier the better. One of the most important skills you can pick up in life is how to go about learning something that is completely new and unfamiliar. And there's just something wonderful about being able to say, 'I don't know a single word of Chinese. It might turn out that I hate it or am terrible at it, or it could be my undiscovered passion, but I'm going to spend the next term finding out.' You don't get too many opportunities to do that in life."
Bruno knew he was going to be a doctor at age 18 as he was headed off to Princeton University, his All-Star profile indicates. He got his medical degree at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore., and is now a family medicine resident. He also directed the VACUUM Project (Voices and Concerns of the Uninsured and Underinsure Millions), filming patient stories. His advice to his high-school self: "Keep it up! Your ideas and passions will inspire others and connect you with like-minded individuals who can work with you to build your shared visions of improving our planet."
Drew is the development director of Literacy Action of Central Arkansas and is on the board of directors of KUAR, St. Joseph's Center, the Museum of Discovery and Children's House Montessori. She also volunteers with the Humane Society and historic preservation organizations (she expressed an interest in anthropology and archeology as a high school senior) and is interested in environmental issues. Her husband and son are her top priorities. Advice she would give her 18-year-old self: "You are fine the way you are. Stop trying to act different to please others and enjoy being yourself! You rock!"
A theater arts major at Hendrix who earned a master's in education theory from Arkansas State University, Reescano was named Teacher of the Year this year at Booker Arts Magnet, where she has taught drama to K-5 pupils for 11 years. She works with the Arkansas A+ program of the THEA Foundation as a fellow, working with teachers on integrating the arts and creativity into academic subjects. Reescano said this was the advice she should have given herself: "Stop worrying about being from such a small town and wondering how you'll do in the bigger world. You'll adjust just fine."
Glotzbach, a Princeton graduate, is deputy director of research and a principal at Southeastern Asset Management in Memphis. In his spare time, he has taught financial seminars at the University of Memphis and served as treasurer for Ballet Memphis.
After teaching regular math classes at Horace Mann Middle School for nine years, Miller now works as math coach for Horace Mann. She was named the 2013 Little Rock School District Middle School Teacher of the Year in 2013. She received her bachelor's and master's in education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
A Presidential Scholar in high school, Mock graduated from Stanford with a degree in biology and a minor in Japanese and then spent a year teaching English at Ehime Medical School in Shikoku, Japan. She now works for biotechnology firm Labcyte Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. She has a blue belt in Aikido.
Brill, who received his undergraduate degree from Austin College and his master's in literature from Boston College, works as a staffer for Fayetteville's Lightbearers Ministries, a nonprofit that uses rental profits from residential ministry properties to fund mission projects overseas.
After graduating from Duke with a major in biology, an internship with Audubon Arkansas inspired Chu to attend the University of California Santa Barbara to get a master's degree in environmental sciences and management. She now works near Houston for Entergy as an environmental analyst. "I get to protect birds from power lines, train linemen, and generally help keep the company stay in environmental compliance," she said.
After graduating from Swarthmore College with high honors, Frost taught high school English for four years — including, for three years, at an international school in Hong Kong. He's currently pursuing his Ph.D. in English at Stanford University. In 2011, he won the university's Centennial Teaching Assistant Award.
Hill works as a data network engineer for Verizon Wireless in Little Rock. He received his degree in electrical engineering from the University of Arkansas and his MBA from University of Arkansas at Little Rock. "If I had to tell my high-school self something today," he said, "I would tell him to embrace who he is and don't run from it, for one day those like him (nerds) will control the Internet, and with it, pretty much everything else."
Deitz graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas, where he was student body president, with majors in biophysical chemistry, philosophy, political science and European Studies and a minor in mathematics. He then received a full ride to Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, where he received a master's degree in history, philosophy and sociology of science, technology and medicine. After graduation, he helped grow Richard Branson's health care start-up, Virgin Care, by 800 percent and was named employee of the year of the company in 2012. He now lives in Abu Dhabi and works on quality improvement and cost reduction for Abu Dhabi Health Services Co., the primary care provider in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Ann Glotzbach, a Princeton graduate like her brother and fellow All-Star Ross Glotzbach, is the CEO and founder of Puentes, a business focused on providing "customized and meaningful internships" in Buenos Aires. Previously, she worked for the Thomas J. Watson Foundation in New York and started the Buenos Aires office for TerraCycle, a U.S.-based recycling company.
Barnhill is a lawyer in the Pulaski County Public Defender's Office. Before law school and after graduating from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., she worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in Colorado Springs, Colo. where she helped implement service-learning programs and projects in low achieving public schools.
Giani serves as career law clerk for federal district Judge P.K. Holmes III in Fort Smith. She came to the job with a sterling educational resume: She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas with majors in political science, Spanish, international relations and a co-major in Latin American Studies. At Vanderbilt University, which she attended on a Chancellor's Scholarship, she interned with the nonprofit team of prosecutors who represented the families of those killed allegedly on order from former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Later she interned for a semester at the United States Embassy in Buenos Aires, where she met her husband.
Mahurin made the president's honor roll all eight semesters at University of Florida. She attended University of Texas law school and now serves as legal counsel for the Texas Municipal League. In her spare time, she works on Battleground Texas, the push to put Texas in play for Democrats; volunteers for the Wendy Davis campaign, and serves as a competitive gymnastics judge for USA Gymnastics.
Just as planned, Margaret Whipple went to Davidson College in North Carolina and later went to medical school, at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. (Her only deviation from the plan was to major in political science, not biology and pre-med, at Davidson.) Today, she is in her third year of residency in a combined internal medicine and pediatrics program at the University of Minnesota. When she completes her residency, she plans to become a hospitalist in her specialties.
Vivek Buch wants to know how the brain learns. "We don't know how the brain learns right now in normal people," he said, but "if we can figure out how that process works, my goal is to use that information to learn why kids with mental retardation can't learn." Buch, now in his first year of a seven-year residency at the University of Pennsylvania, earned his medical degree at Brown in the direct bachelor/MD program and was a Howard Hughes fellow at the National Institutes of Health for a year studying "connectomics," the study of how different parts of the brain work to, for example, make decisions. "I hope to pioneer the field of pediatric functional neurosurgery," he said, to treat childhood retardation, autism and neuropsychiatric diseases.
Clark Smith played bass guitar and dreamed of being a doctor when he headed off to the University of Arkansas on a Sturgis Fellowship in 2004. Today, he plays standard guitar and is in his second year of residency training in emergency medicine "with a scholarly focus on EMS/prehospital medicine" at Washington University's Barnes-Jewish Hospital. A decade ago, Smith told the Times that medicine "would be the field in which I could use my talents to help the most people"; today he is a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve Medical Corps, and will train as a critical care air transport team member and tactical critical care evacuation technician when he completes his residency.
Komander's advice: Learn computer programming, start early in taking charge of your personal finances and learn basic finances, and "don't study academics in a vacuum. Be mindful of the real world applications of what you're learning." Komander, who has a B.Sc. in materials science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, got interested in finance as a junior and went to work at Morgan Stanley after graduation. He is now on the investment house's emerging markets credit trading team, working as a Latin American corporate bond trader. "I enjoy the fast-paced nature of trading," Komander says; he also enjoys playing in a soccer league and dining out in the East Village.
Emily Whipple was the second in her family to become an All-Star, following her sister Margaret (2003). She did a double major in business and European history at Washington and Lee and got her law degree at Vanderbilt last year. She practices corporate law at Bass, Berry & Sims in Nashville, working primarily on mergers, acquisitions and governance for both privately held and publicly traded companies.
What seemed like the wrong choice of college — Harvard — over Washington University turned out to be the right choice for Anselm Beach. "It took me two years of being at Harvard before I found out what I believe to be the reason God wanted me there: to truly find him. That was two years of really struggling to find my own, going from a setting where I stood out as one of the best to a setting where I was one among a sea of people who were all the best and even better than me." At Harvard, Beach sang with the Kuumba Singers, who "specialize in music that rises from the African diaspora," and worked with elementary and high school students in the Summer Urban Program — "some of the greatest experiences of my life." Beach is now campus ministry leader for the Northern Mission Center of the Boston Church of Christ, serving students from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Salem State, Merrimack and other colleges north of Boston.
Coggins, who is in her third year of medical school at Vanderbilt, says that "hard work and dedication to one's chosen profession is crucial to success and rarely goes unnoticed." She was noticed: She won full-tuition scholarships to attend both undergraduate and graduate school at Vanderbilt and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior. When she graduated summa cum laude in molecular and cellular biology, she won the Founder's Medal of the College of Arts and Sciences. Her research is focused in the field of neonatology and she plans to be a pediatric intensive care doctor.
Heald serves as student life coordinator for New York University's Abu Dhabi branch. Working abroad for the last two and a half years, Heald said he's gotten to travel to more than 20 new countries and has "loved living as an expat." He graduated from NYU summa cum laude with majors in language and mind and minors in creative writing and media, communications and culture. During his senior year, he served as president of the school's Inter-Residential Council, overseeing a constituency of more than 11,000 students.
Topich, who earned a bachelor's degree in history at Swarthmore College and a master's in library and information science from the University of Pittsburgh, is now an archivist at Harvard University. There, she coordinates the digital archive of Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions. As a student, she worked at the Clinton Presidential Library, the Butler Institute for Arkansas Studies, the Library of Congress and other archives. Her most recent award: to present her paper "Black Historians and the Writing of History in the 19th and early 20th centuries: What Legacy?" last June at the University Paris Diderot.
Andrew Walchuk, who was a Bodenhamer Fellow at the University of Arkansas, where he majored in political science, international relations, European studies and Spanish ("AP credits and summer studies made for a lot of room in my schedule"), is in his first year of law school at Yale University. Between college and law school, Walchuk taught in Madrid for a year on a Fulbright Scholarship and worked for the state's Administrative Office of the Courts. He is interested in a career in international law and human rights; this summer he will study in Argentina and work in New York on LGBT rights at Lamda Legal. His advice to his high-school self and this year's class of All-Stars: "1. Success in school does not necessarily equal success in life. 2. Your plans are always going to change, so stop stressing out about them. 3. Arkansas has its problems, but there really is no place like home."
The winner of the University of Southern California's Annenberg Fellowship for graduate students, Reeves is in the John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts program. An animator herself, she has studied black animators and black images in animation, and last summer gave a talk, "Animation as Political Radicalism: Black Animators in the Field," at the Society for Animation Studies Conference. Advice for her high-school self: Do not be fooled by the amount of free time you will have as an undergrad.
Spradley, who holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Arkansas, is getting a Ph.D. in evolutionary anthropology, with a research focus on paleontology, at Duke. He's gone on fossil hunts in the Patagonia region of Argentina and the Big Bend region of West Texas. He teaches anatomy to Duke undergraduates and medical school students ("just announced to be in the top 5 percent of the best-rated classes at Duke!") He quotes Albert Einstein: "The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas."
John Lepine, who graduated from the University of Tulsa with a degree in economics, teaches 8th grade English through the Teach for American program at McLain Junior High School, where "I've learned a lot, and my kids tell me that they have, too, which I think is the idea." At TU, Lepine was involved in the Presbyterian Church's campus ministry, Reformed University Fellowship; covered football for the student paper; spearheaded a project to renovate the racquetball courts, and brought the rock band Imagine Dragons to campus. Lepine says he returns to Arkansas "whenever possible" to see family "and eat a good rack of ribs."
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