Diploma Tour Wraps Up by Honoring Central Arkansas Online Graduates

Ethan Kissinger was speaking for himself. He was not speaking for other U of A graduates who earned degrees studying online.

But he might have been.

“Whenever I finished my associate’s and transferred to the University of Arkansas, I knew that was the best decision that I ever made, and I’m so proud that I went through and finished what I started,” he said.

Kissinger, 31, of Sherwood, said he was determined to do more with his life.

“I was working as a truck driver, and my decision around then was I really needed to finish school,” he said. “I really pushed myself to get as good grades as I could and to do the very best that I could because I wanted to complete my degree at the University of Arkansas.”

Kissinger was one of 10 U of A graduates who celebrated their success at the Aug. 17 wrap-up event of the 2023 Razorbug Diploma Tour in Little Rock. Kissinger earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in supply chain management delivered online by the Sam M. Walton College of Business. He transferred to the U of A after receiving an associate degree in business from Arkansas State University at Beebe.

The faces of graduates, their families and friends beamed with pride as faculty and administrators from Fayetteville presented graduates with framed diplomas. Each was recognized in turn.

Below are the other graduates honored at the event, their hometowns, their undergraduate or graduate degree programs, and presenters. 

  • Crys Aguilera of North Little Rock, Master of Education in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages; diploma presented by Janet Penner-Williams, associate professor in the program offered by the College of Education and Health Professions
  • Stephanie Crowell of Roland, Master of Education in Educational Equity; diploma presented by Mandel Samuels, teaching assistant professor of human resource development in the College of Education and Health Professions
  • Susan Ferguson of Jonesboro, Doctor of Nursing Practice; diploma presented by Michael Hevel, associate dean for research, strategy and outreach in the College of Education and Health Professions, of which the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing is part
  • Dinella Michelle Griffin of Little Rock, Bachelor of Science in Nursing; diploma presented by Hevel
  • Ryan Henry of Alexander, Master of Science in Operations Management; diploma presented by Rich Ham, associate director of the program offered by the College of Engineering
  • Tillar Lewis of North Little Rock, Master of Education in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages; diploma presented by Penner-Williams
  • Marla Smith of Little Rock, Master of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning; diploma presented by Samuels
  • Allie Sheppeard of Sherwood, Master of Social Work; diploma presented by Alishia Ferguson, associate director of the School of Social Work in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
  • Theresa Tiner of North Little Rock, Bachelor of Science in Nursing; diploma presented by Hevel

Razorbug Diploma Tour Finale

The Razorbug, a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle converted to look like a Razorback, took the checkered flag in downtown Little Rock at the Walton College Executive Education center at Second and Main on Aug. 17. The final event brought the 2023 tour totals up to 23 online graduates, 14 academic presenters from the Fayetteville campus and more than 2,200 Arkansas miles traveled.

The Razorbug – with its tusks, razor-edged spine, snout, hooves and a curly tail – waited out front for visitors to take pictures. Temperatures climbed to the high 90s before day’s end, but the Walton College facility provided a cool refuge.

This summer, U of A Global Campus staff traveled through northeast and south Arkansas to deliver diplomas to 13 graduates in their hometowns. Faculty and staff met graduates in their yards, their workplaces and beside hometown murals for diploma presentations in front of this special car. The August event provided an opportunity for online graduates in central Arkansas to take part.

The tour celebrates the accomplishments of U of A graduates who stayed in their hometowns to earn their degrees while working and taking care of their families. They gave interviews about how they improved their lives and strengthened their communities across Arkansas. Many got new jobs in their chosen fields or received promotions. The graduates’ stories also inspire others to see what’s possible for them.

The U of A offers more than 90 online degree, certificate, microcertificate and licensure programs. They can be viewed at U of A ONLINE. The Global Campus supports U of A colleges and schools in the development and delivery of online, distance and workforce education programs and courses. It provides instructional design services, technology services and assistance with marketing, recruiting and strategic academic development.

Kissinger’s Second Chance

Kissinger’s traditional college experience did not go as planned, he said. He enrolled in college upon graduating from high school, but he did not apply himself and eventually dropped out, he said. He worked for nearly 10 years, including more than six years as a day-trip truck driver, before he decided to try college again. He proved to himself he could do it by making good grades at ASU-Beebe and decided the U of A was his next stop.

“Whenever I was younger, at 18, obviously I didn’t take things seriously, and I kind of blew off my education,” he said. Starting again at 27 “really put into perspective how much time and effort I was going to have to put into it, but I knew, in the long run, it was going to be worth it. At 18, I only saw the short term. When I was 27 and even graduating this May, I finally realized the long-term goal that I knew I wanted to achieve.”

It was not easy.

“I was getting up at 6 a.m.,” he recalled about a typical day working and studying full time. “I would go to work, get home around 5 or so and then I just had to do whatever homework, reading, quizzes, tests that I had to get done each day. Normally, I’d get done at 8, 8:30, then eat my supper and go to bed. On the weekends even, I had to commit full time; sometimes on the weekend I didn’t get to do anything because I had to get the program done, but I knew it was for the betterment of myself, and I really wanted to get my bachelor’s degree and finish the supply chain management program.”

Kissinger graduated with a 3.97 GPA, garnering him entry into several merit-based organizations: Beta Gamma Sigma International Honor Society for business students, Tau Sigma National Honor Society for transfer students and Sigma Chi Mu Tau Honor Society for supply chain management students.

Cheryl Murphy, vice provost for distance education at the U of A Global Campus, presented Kissinger’s diploma to him. Kissinger sported a belt with a Razorback on the buckle and the Razorback emblem on the back of his cellphone case, as well.

His degree has helped him excel at work, he said. Still in the trucking industry, Kissinger now works as a business development specialist at 160 Driving Academy in Little Rock. He started that position nearly two years ago.

“I chose the University of Arkansas mainly because of the supply chain management program,” Kissinger said. “It’s the No. 1 supply chain management program in the country for undergraduates. I was split between information systems and supply chain management, but the University of Arkansas just had everything else beat in the state, so there wasn’t really a choice.”

Gartner, a leading global research firm, ranked the supply chain management department’s undergraduate program No. 1 in North America last year.


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