Category Archives: Honors

Think. Plan. Do.

Thea Winston, a senior accounting major from Forrest City, Arkansas, is a thinker and a planner. She gathers pertinent information, dwells on it, creates a plan and then executes it. Information gathering is what led her to the Sam M. Walton College of Business and has kept her on track ever since.

When Winston was in high school in eastern Arkansas, she began to critique her likes and dislikes to plan for her future. She hated blood and gore, so medicine was a definite no. She liked numbers and logic, which led her to work after school at certified public accountant Sharon Wilson’s office in Forrest City.

While there, Winston performed administrative duties – answered the phone, made copies, filed materials – and was able to tackle the occasional accounting task and observe her boss at work. She learned what an accountant does and saw first hand that the work suited her. She realized she could become a CPA.

Her task became: Find a college that fit.

Over two summers, Winston attended two week-long residential programs at Walton College – Technology Awareness Program and Business Leadership Academy – where she met faculty and staff, lived on campus, befriended other campers and applied for scholarships.

After that, her mind was made up. Walton College was her choice and accounting was her major.

Helping Out

Winston’s summer camp programs eased her transition into college. She had made friends at both programs and reconnected with them in her freshmen year. She also met Barbara Lofton, the director of Walton’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“Dr. Lofton is always willing to help,” Winston said. “She always checked up on me. She gives you tough love and is always there.”

Thea Winston [photo credit: Ryan C. Versey]
Thea Winston
[photo credit: Ryan C. Versey]
Winston’s Honors adviser for the past four years is Jason Adams, the associate director of Walton’s Honors Program, who was always there for Winston as well. She cites Susan Anders, the assistant director of Global Engagement, as another Walton staff member who was equally friendly and supportive.

“She always made time to answer my questions,” Winston said.

With the support of these Walton College staff, it is no surprise that Winston was an active participant in the Honors Program and Study Abroad and scholarship opportunities.

During her high school summer camp programs, Winston applied for and became a Boyer Fellow. The fellowship is earmarked for business students from Arkansas who have earned a 32 ACT or 1450 SAT college admission exams, along with a 3.75 grade point average and pays for her tuition, fees, books, room and board and other academic expenses.

Winston has also received the Arkansas Academic Challenge and Arkansas Governor’s Distinguished Scholarships, as well as scholarships from Tyson and Conoco Phillips. Talking to Walton faculty and staff helped her find scholarships.

“They’ve helped out so much,” Winston said. “I see a lot of students struggle and I know that worrying impacts their studies. It (scholarships) allowed me to focus on what I was doing academically.”

The scholarships also had an impact on her parents who have two kids in college. Winston’s brother, Avery, is an engineering student at the University of Arkansas.

Walton World View

In addition to studying accounting and general business, Winston expanded her working business knowledge through an internship for two summers at Ernst & Young in Atlanta. She also participated in Walton’s study abroad program to learn about Vietnamese culture and business practices.

Thea Winston
During a service project in Vietnam, Winston works with team members to power and heat resident housing.

In 2015, the summer before sophomore year, Winston traveled to Vietnam for a month with five other Walton students. For two weeks, she worked on a community development project building individual greenhouse systems to power and heat resident housing. Working with other business and agriculture students from the University of Arkansas, Thea learned from Vietnamese students who served as mentors and translators.

The travelers stayed on a Vietnamese university campus for two weeks. They slept on mats lying directly on a twin-size bed frame – Winston bought a second mat to create a softer bed. The food also was a change for the Arkansas native. Breakfast was often meat with rice, along with coffee with sweetened condensed milk ladled on top. One of her favorite meals was a beef dish with a sauce. She avoided the fish dishes if the eyes and head were intact.

Thea Winston
Thea Winston

“The first year we went, none of us had much of an idea of what we would be doing or how successful the program would ultimately be,” said Stephen Kopp, associate professor for the Department of Marketing. “Whether she realizes it, Thea was instrumental in the initial and continuing impact of this program. This was a brand-new program, and I was still working on the details. Her consistent question was, ‘My mom wants to know how is this relevant to my major?’ This compelled me, and still does, to make sure that the students understand the relevance of our work in Vietnam. I think she did not and does not realize the impact of her mom’s question has had on every aspect of the Vietnam program.”

In spring 2017, Winston attended the University of Sussex in South England in the University of Arkansas’ exchange program. She took four classes there – international business, ethics, race and ethnicity, and leadership – with students from Russia, Switzerland, the Middle East and England. The experience taught her about multi-national enterprises, racial issues in other countries and group dynamics with diverse members.

During her time in England, she learned many people there knew American politics, but most Americans were not in tune with world politics. She now sees the importance of being aware of global issues including political ones. She keeps up with her fellow students from her travels via social media.

Stateside

At the University of Arkansas, several classes and professors were especially thought provoking for Thea. Katie Terrell, an instructor for the Department of Accounting, taught Accounting Technology, where Winston learned about data analysis and the coding needed for accounting systems. It gave her insight into a different aspect of her major.

Thea Winston [photo credit: Ryan C. Versey]
Thea Winston [photo credit: Ryan C. Versey]
“She (Katie Terrell) enjoyed her job; it made me enjoy her class,” Winston said.

The Honors Economics Colloquium class taught by Amy Farmer, a professor in the Department of Economics, tackled life decisions, which involved economic thinking and decision making.

“Thea took my Honors colloquium course, which is a discussion-based economics class requiring a lot of critical thinking about any number of issues, some of which are controversial,” Farmer said. “Thea was an active participant in that class, adding a lot of insight and perspectives that added to the class.  She showed a great deal of maturity and ability to think critically, which impressed me quite a bit. I look forward to seeing what happens in Thea’s future.”

Next Steps

After Winston graduates in May with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, she will attend Vanderbilt University to earn a master’s degree in accounting. Once she graduates from Vanderbilt, she hopes to work at a public accounting firm in consulting, auditing or tax accounting for several years and then reevaluate her professional goals and direction.

No doubt, her skills at researching an issue, creating a plan and executing the plan will aid her on her journey to Nashville and beyond.

Walton Ph.D. Student Wins Fellowship to Study Rice, Information, Markets

Information moves markets. That’s something every business student understands – or should.

Jessica Darby wrote her honors thesis on the relationship of rice markets and information while she was a University of Arkansas undergraduate. Now, as a doctoral candidate in the university’s Sam M. Walton College of Business, she’s studying ways that timely and accurate information flowing out of the supply chain can help rice farmers in Arkansas and around the world.

Darby researches how rice farmers get their information about markets and how they make decisions based on that information. She’s asking farmers if better sources of information, additional resources and more analytical tools can be developed to help with market decisions.

In spring 2017, Darby gained support for this research by winning a prestigious and highly competitive Adam Smith Fellowship from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The one-year fellowship for graduate students – which includes a quarterly stipend – can total up to $10,000. Fellows also are eligible to apply for conference and research support.

“I believe that working with the Mercatus Center will help me develop market-based tools and address relevant policy levers to reduce the information burden for farmers,” Darby said. “I want to articulate the power of markets in agricultural supply chains.”

Her research can also be a powerful tool in helping the farmers and the economy of Arkansas. Arkansas is the largest rice-growing state in the nation, with the crop grown on 1.3 million acres each year, mainly in eastern Arkansas counties stretching from Louisiana to Missouri.

Darby’s interest in commodities such as rice and the behavior of commodity markets was sparked by an internship as a commodity analyst with an Arkansas-based global trading and sourcing company, and a second internship with one of the largest shippers of grain on the inland river system. The latter gave her insight into the role that public information – especially United States Department of Agriculture reports – plays in decisions.

“In both roles, I was responsible for producing regional analysis to determine potential growth and necessary defense strategies to adapt to changing market and political environments,” Darby said.

Darby was introduced to free-market concepts and information’s impact on commodity trading and pricing through a Walton College supply chain class on capitalism and a class on futures and options in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences. The latter class sparked an interest in working with Andrew McKenzie, a professor of agricultural economics and agri-business.

“He introduced me to Milo Hamilton’s book, When Rice Shakes the World,” Darby said. “Hamilton discusses the implications of policies on the functioning of global rice markets and argues for a ‘freer, market-oriented way for rice.’”

McKenzie directed Darby’s honors thesis on rice futures markets. The two published that research in the U of A undergraduate research journal Inquiry and then extended the research. Darby presented this extended research as a paper at the NCCC-134 Applied Commodity Price Analysis, Forecasting and Risk Management Conference. The two then co-authored an article on the topic – “Information Content of USDA Rice Reports and Price Reactions of Rice Futures” – that was published in Agribusiness: An International Journal.

“Our research shows that the USDA provides the rice futures market with important information needed by Arkansas rice mills and farmers to market their crops,” McKenzie said. “The Arkansas Farm Bureau notes that Arkansas farmers produce more than 9 billion pounds of rice each year, which generates billions of dollars to the state’s economy and accounts for approximately 25,000 jobs, crucial to rural communities.”

The impact of such research on Arkansas and its economy inspires Darby to continue to dig into the topic. “It’s important to me that my research connect to industry,” Darby said. “I have to see the practical application for both farmers and agri-businesses – especially those involved in the food supply chains here in Arkansas.”

McKenzie added that, in an era of declining federal budgets, the kind of research he and Darby have produced provides economic justification for the continued publication of USDA reports. Darby said that it also illustrates an opportunity for the private sector to provide additional valuable information.

“Our results undoubtedly show that USDA reports play a vital role in helping futures markets to discover price and that this is particularly important for the U.S. rice market, where there is a paucity of private data and forecasts to supplement government numbers,” McKenzie said. “However, our research also highlights the fact that rice futures are a thinly traded market with low liquidity and volume.”

McKenzie and Darby are currently engaged in potential research to explore factors that may be driving low trading levels, which increases uncertainty for farmers. Darby said the aim is to determine potential solutions to increase volume and open interest through both regulatory changes and private information provided by partners in the supply chain.

Darby earned a B.S.B.A. in economics from the Walton College in 2015 and a Walton M.B.A. in 2016. She says her passion for reading, research and free-market capitalism left no doubt she would enter Walton’s doctoral program right away. Winning the Adam Smith Fellowship is pushing that passion into a whole different realm, though.

“I believe that it will enable me to examine and better articulate the power of markets in global agricultural supply chains,” Darby said, “as well as the power of global agricultural supply chains in the structuring of global markets.”

Middlespeak: Building Bridges to Immigrant Integration

By Anthony Blake via U of A Honors College Blog

We’ve all seen the photo of Omran Daqneesh, the little boy in an ambulance in Aleppo, covered in dust and blood from an airstrike that destroyed his home. International news has been awash in stories of immigrants crossing borders from Syria and other war-torn nations, and these people and the policies governing them have been demonized or lionized by rival camps.

Nathanael Mickelson’s honors thesis isn’t interested in these binaries: “The truth is always somewhere in the middle.” This history and business economics major is more attentive to the middle spaces, on understanding the historical and cultural reasons for the current migrant crisis. Sure, Mickelson says, if immigrants cannot assimilate into a culture, they can become a burden on an economy, but they can also be integral to countries like Sweden with low birth rates and labor shortages.

As he puts it, there’s a moral and then a feasibility challenge to immigration policies. Mickelson considered the latter, focusing on ways to get immigrants assimilated into an economy. For this he looked at one of the most daunting barriers—the pay gap between workers who speak the native language and those who don’t. Mickelson considered many factors that might affect this—distance from the immigrant’s home country, for example—before striking gold with his research question.

Immigrants who don’t speak the dominant language are at an economic disadvantage, but what effect does the presence of a third language, a lingua franca such as English, have on their chances to assimilate? This is the question Mickelson took up for his honors thesis, and it’s one that hasn’t been looked at before. He chose to focus on Sweden, a country sometimes called the “most open” in terms of its immigration policy, where English is so prominent an American like himself could spend a semester there without learning more than a few words of Swedish. Mickelson comes from Scandinavian stock, his last name is Swedish, and he studied economics at Jönköping International Business School during his junior year. Mickelson said, “Based on my daily life, being able to do well for five months at a Swedish university using English, it made me wonder if, especially with how accessible English is today, that provides an opportunity for a transition market.”

After crunching the numbers with data he collected from the European Social Survey, he found that knowledge of English all but eliminated the language gap. Immigrants could use English, a language much easier for them to learn, as a bridge to Swedish. Through rigorous statistical analysis he found that this greatly improved their chances of economic success.

Raja Kali, Mickelson’s thesis advisor, wasn’t surprised to hear that this research won Outstanding Honors Thesis for the Sam W. Walton College of Business last spring. “It’s really an outstanding piece of scholarship. He was able to gather data and provide a statistical analysis to shed light on this question, and that’s not easy, even for someone who’s a well-established and experienced researcher.” He says it’s a great sign for future potential.

Mickelson, whose research was funded by a SURF grant, realizes this work is a small but valuable piece of a bigger puzzle. “There are a ton of variables to a complicated problem like immigration. The more and more puzzle pieces we find out, the more complete our puzzle is. I think that’s really the key to research and the driving force of this. The future of this research is finding more specific data for this question and finding what the practical applications are. Would it be feasible in practice to have this English transition labor market?”

Mickelson is currently finishing up his math minor and has been encouraged by Kali to apply to top graduate schools across the country for economics. But he wants to come back: “I think Fayetteville is one of the few places where whatever you believe or your background is, it’s open arms. Ideally the Arkansas kid in me wants to wind up in a couple of random places, make some new memories but come back to teach in Fayetteville when I get my PhD.”