Lyon’s Mortar Board chapter received three national honors Saturday at the Mortar Board National Conference in Little Rock.
For the second straight year, the Order of the Tartan Chapter won the Gold Torch Award. The chapter also earned two Project Excellence awards.
Senior Madison Grant, president of Mortar Board, said the Golden Torch Award is presented to chapters that go above and beyond. To be eligible, chapters must complete all their paperwork, have all of their membership dues paid, and perform service projects on campus.
“We did a lot more than just typical projects,” she said. “The national advisors were impressed with our unique approach.”
Lyon also received Project Excellence awards for both the Leadership Conference and Student Creative Arts and Research Forum (SCARF) service projects. The Leadership Conference is held in the fall and teaches high schoolers how to be successful leaders. SCARF is held in the spring and gives Lyon students the chance to share the work they have pursued both in and outside of the classroom with their peers.
Grant said Lyon has built an outstanding reputation with national advisors.
“I felt really proud of our college. I thought we would get blown away by the big schools, but it turns out we’ve really impressed the advisors,” she said.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Irosha Nawarathne said Mortar Board has come a long way over the past few years. She started working with Mortar Board in 2015 and took over as advisor in 2016 following the departure of the senior advisor. The group struggled during the first year while continuing traditions.
“By attending the National Conference in Phoenix with two student delegates in 2017, I learned a lot about the honor society and had plenty of time to brainstorm with the students about how we could grow as a chapter.”
Mortar Board partnered with the Provost’s Office and reestablished SCARF, the only conference that highlights student research at Lyon. That summer, Lyon’s Mortar Board chapter received the Gold Torch Award for the first time.
“Last year, we took SCARF to another level and included judges from the community,” Nawarathne said. “We received the largest number of abstract submissions in history and were able to provide opportunities for many undergraduate researchers on campus.”
Nawarathne was asked to serve as a judge for the Ruth Weimer Mount Chapter Excellence Award, the highest honor in Mortar Board, and executive committee members encouraged Lyon to consider applying for the award next year.
“It has been my great pleasure to work with Mortar Board for three years,” Nawarathne said, “and I look forward to the day that our chapter receives the highest national honor! It looks like that day is not very far away.”
Grant enjoyed the chance to network at the national conference with the presidents from 231 Mortar Board chapters around the United States and gained new perspectives on how to lead a successful organization.
She said the Order of the Tartan Chapter is looking into collaborating with other Mortar Board chapters in Arkansas and finding ways to combine forces on campus for even bigger events.
“Mortar Board is a group of leaders all coming together, so, as president, I’m like the leader of leaders,” Grant said. “I don’t want it to be just another honor society. I want to cultivate everyone else’s leadership skills because we’re all involved in so many areas on campus.”
“On behalf of our Mortar Board, I would like to thank the Lyon administration, faculty, and staff for their immense support of chapter events,” Nawarathne said. “I would also like to extend my gratitude to all the Mortar Board members, especially our presidents from the last two years Natalie Milligan and Kristen Blagg, for their dedication and service to the chapter.”
A nationally acclaimed higher education advocate recently applauded Lyon College for its high graduation placement rates among low-income and first-generation students.
“Lyon shows that institutions that tackle the job of serving low-income and first-generation students can graduate substantial numbers of students and place them in jobs and graduate school,” said Terry W. Hartle, Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Public Affairs of the American Council on Education (ACE).
ACE is the major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, with a diverse membership of more than 1,700 colleges and universities, related associations, and other organizations in America and abroad. ACE is the only major higher education association to represent all types of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions: two-year and four-year, public and private.
In fall 2018, 54 percent of Lyon’s students were Pell Grant recipients, while 43 percent were first-generation.
“These individuals often are woefully underprepared for the academic rigors of postsecondary education,” Hartle said, “and they often have personal and family situations that are unimaginable to middle-income and upper-income families.”
Lyon reported a six-year graduation rate of 57 percent for its first-time full-time students in 2019.
Meanwhile, 99 percent of Lyon’s 2018 graduates are employed or enrolled in graduate school, which is the highest rate reported by a college in Arkansas. Lyon’s percentage is also 18 points higher than the national average and 22 points higher than the state average.
The 2019 graduation placement rates will be available later this fall.
“I have said I am determined for Lyon to do much more than survive, and the 99 percent average shows that our graduates do much more than survive – they thrive,” said Lyon President Dr. W. Joseph King.
“A liberal arts education holistically prepares our students for whatever they endeavor after graduation.”
Hartle commended Lyon for focusing “on one of the most difficult tasks in postsecondary education.”
“Lyon has a clear mission and pursues it with a single-minded focus. We need more schools like Lyon.”
A Lyon senior is getting a handle on human resources (HR) this summer at White River Medical Center (WRMC).
Sam Taylor, of Houston, Texas, is interning with the HR department to gain professional experience for his business management degree. Taylor files employee information, meets with different heads to find out more about their job descriptions, and attends meetings to discuss the promotion of certain employees, new employee orientation, 401K signup and usage, community services, and more.
“I’m sort of an odd job man so that I can get a proper feel for the day-to-day workings of an HR office,” he said.
Going into college, Taylor did not know the language or inner workings of an office other than what he had seen on television.
“I knew that was probably incorrect,” he said, laughing.
Taking classes like business law and HR management with Lyon’s business law professor, Dr. Leigh King, helped Taylor understand what it means to be a manager or HR employee.
“I came into my first day feeling like I could actually do well among the other professionals,” he said. “The number and files I’m looking at aren’t just another problem in a book. There are real meanings to the numbers, and I’m no longer working in hypotheticals.”
Through the internship, Taylor has learned how to determine pay for employees based off of schooling and prior experience to properly compensate them, how to respond to formal complaints, and the unique tasks working in a medical HR department entails.
“I’ve learned more about what nurses, doctors, and practitioners do and how to correctly assess them,” he said. “My favorite parts are the meetings and being able to feel as though what I’m doing is actually useful.”
Taylor said these experiences will help him do even better in his business classes this fall.
“I plan on using what I’ve learned to show my professors that I have a better handle on the business world,” he said.
The experience is also vital for his future career.
“I will not go into my first job feeling like a rookie,” Taylor said. “This internship will make me more useful to future employers and help them view me as an asset to their team.”
Jordan Trant (left) and Natalie Milligan were some of the first Lyon students to use the new HPLC instrument.
Thanks to a successful grant proposal written by Lyon faculty, chemistry and biology students have access to a state-of-the-art research instrument.
The new Semi-Preparative High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) instrument will be utilized to purify chemical compounds possessing medical significance. During drug discovery-themed research, it will help achieve the ultimate purity of a drug before testing it for the biological activity, allowing faculty and students to conclude research projects in-house rather than using cumbersome manual approaches or waiting to use other labs’ HPLC equipment.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Irosha Nawarathne and Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Cassia Oliveira submitted a proposal to the Spring 2019 Competitive Instrumentation Grant, receiving nearly $40,000 from the Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (AR INBRE) to purchase the equipment.
“We do a lot of drug discovery research for tuberculosis and cancer, mostly modifying molecules to better target drug resistance,” said Nawarathne.
In order to test a molecule for its drug properties, she said it must first be in its purest form to account for contamination issues. The U3000 Prep HPLC System with Diode Array Detector (DAD) will make that process more efficient.
“Our research groups always had to spend months purifying these developing drugs. That process was not efficient or perfect; we were frustrated.”
Oliveira said the biology department will use the equipment to identify the microbial compounds within bacteria samples Professor of Biology Dr. David Thomas collects from Arkansas caves.
“Thomas is a speleologist and field biologist. He collects soil and water samples in the caves,” Oliveira said. “Once we bring them back, we then culture the bacteria and extract DNA directly from some of the soil samples.”
Oliveira added that DNA extraction and quantification is performed before sending samples for sequencing. The goal is to use DNA analysis to identify the species of bacteria.
Many compounds with antibiotics and cancer drug properties are derived from microorganisms, she said, and caves hold unique microbial species found nowhere else.
“Research shows that a number of those species have compounds that are beneficial to human health. We’re going to take advantage of Dr. Nawarathne’s expertise to help isolate and identify the cave bacteria compounds.”
Collaboration was key for receiving the grant, Oliveira said, because it demonstrated that multiple departments could benefit from using the HPLC instrument.
Nawarathne said the HPLC instrument will be a great teaching tool. Generally, this kind of instrument is found only at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or in the pharmaceutical industry.
“It’s very rare for universities to have an HPLC instrument of this calibre,” she said. “Our students will get to see the whole process of drug discovery now that we have this tool in-house.”
“A few of my senior research students already used it in the spring, and we all figured out the software together. I’ve spent my summer exploring the full utility of the instrument to develop HPLC methods for some of our drug development research projects.”
Natalie Milligan, ‘19, was among the first students to use the HPLC equipment. She is attending the University of Arkansas Medical School this fall.
“The experience was special since we know the impact it will have on research going forward,” she said. “It is going to allow students to do more in-depth analyses on campus rather than having to send things off to other labs.”
Milligan said the equipment helps save time while also give students vital experience.
Last spring, she and Jordan Trant, ‘19, who started an MD/PhD program at the University of Kansas Medical School this summer, had the opportunity to attend the American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting in Orlando and present their research.
“I had no idea how diverse the career and research opportunities were for those interested in chemistry,” Milligan said.
“It’s like a whole city coming together to talk about chemistry,” Nawarathne said. “I wanted my seniors to attend and feel the enthusiasm and the commitment of a world-class research community before sending them off to postgraduate studies. They loved it.”
Travel to the ACS conference was covered by Lyon’s faculty travel funds, and Arkansas INBRE and FutureFuel Chemical Company provided travel grants for Milligan and Trant to attend. Oliveira said the new HPLC equipment will help faculty continue exposing students to a number of different research techniques.
“Sometimes students are afraid of making mistakes, and research is a great way of showing it’s by making mistakes that you learn. It’s by doing it in real life that you get that experience.”
Senior Lauren Kuykendall is translating her Lyon experiences to her studies in Québec this summer.
Kuykendall is studying the French language at Université Laval in Québec City. To take full advantage of the opportunity, she is participating in workshops and group outings to experience Québec firsthand while strengthening her language skills.
“There’s never a dull moment since most of my time is spent going to class, studying, exploring the city, and getting to know the locals,” Kuykendall said.
Lyon’s French courses aided her in adapting to life in Québec. She knew what linguistic and cultural differences to expect thanks to Assistant Professor of Romance Languages Dr. James Martell and former Assistant Professor of French Dr. Brian Hunt.
“I owe my competence of the French language to them as well as my French-speaking friends on campus,” Kuykendall said.
She said it took some time to get used to the local accent.
“If you were to compare French in France to French in Québec, you’d notice a difference right away,” she said. “I believe it’s important to introduce yourself to new dialects and accents in order to broaden your knowledge of the language you study.”
Kuykendall has also enjoyed interacting with locals in Québec.
“Everyone is so welcoming and easy to get along with,” she said. “The culture is not too different from our own, but there are some subtle differences.”
“One instance of culture shock was when I discovered that people like to eat meat with maple syrup. It goes on anything here. Their love for it knows no limits!”
When Kuykendall returns to Lyon this fall, she plans to share her experiences with fellow classmates.
“I’m hoping that they, too, will pursue the opportunity to study abroad.”
Her goal is to become a multilingual translator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
“One must be highly fluent in the languages they wish to work with in order to be considered,” Kuykendall said. “I understand that the best way to master a language is to immerse yourself in it.”
She studied in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a year ago and noticed definite improvements in her Spanish upon returning to Lyon.
“I’m hoping the same thing will happen to my French after this summer. There’s much more for me to learn, but I believe that studying abroad is an important first step in mastering languages.”
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