EPIC Spotlight: Kristen Zachary


“My honors classes have really challenged me and helped me grow.”

Some college students spend years figuring out their career path, but Kristen Zachary says she knew it the moment she stepped foot on the University of Arkansas campus.

“When I came to college, I always wanted to be in business,” she says.

That part was easy. Narrowing it down to a major took a little self-discovery. She thought about going into accounting. After all, she had always been good with numbers. But after taking a classes in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, the lure of marketing and communications was too strong to resist.

The consumer behavior courses fascinated her. She also loved the idea of building relationships with other people and entities.

A junior majoring in marketing with a minor in communications, Kristen says she has found the right fit.

“I love people,” she says. “I’m a big people person.”

Kristen says when she graduates in May 2013, she hopes to work for a company or an organization where she can best use her skills. She has already had plenty of practice as an undergraduate.

The Tulsa, Okla., native is vice president of development for her sorority, Pi Beta Phi. Her duties include facilitating workshops, monitoring academics and overseeing committees, she says.

“It’s been wonderful,” Kristen says. “It’s been a great opportunity to serve the women and serve this campus.”

It also enables her to get plenty of practice in public speaking – something that is becoming easier for her.

She also is a co-leader of the Walton Honors Student Executive Board, which is in its first year. Kristen says the group is comprised of 16 honor students who work toward building alumni relations and organize social and marketing activities for the college. Her duties took her to Boston College, where she and another executive board representative visited with hopes of modeling a program similar to one there.

Her summers have been spent working at Camp War Eagle near Rogers, about 30 miles northeast of Fayetteville. This also enabled her to build relationships and develop communication skills.

Kristen also is a member of the American Marketing Association’s university chapter and Gamma Beta Phi, an honor society open to students in the top 20 percent of their class.

Going to the University of Arkansas deviated from the Zachary family norm. She says family members, including her parents, attended Oklahoma State University.

“I just kind of wanted to do something different,” she says. She discovered that Fayetteville is just the place for that “something different” – she’s far enough away for new experiences while being close enough to home to visit on a whim.

All while finding her place in the world.

“My honors classes have really challenged me and helped me grow,” she says.

Kristen values the guidance provided by her professors. She says they care about her as a person and not just a student. “That side of it has been so rewarding – with the advice they have given me,” she says. “I know that they’re there to answer questions. … They’re available.”

EPIC Spotlight: Kristen Howell


“What I love most about Fayetteville is the abundance of small businesses here. It makes being a business major that much more enjoyable.”

Last summer, Kristen Howell taught Chinese business professionals a thing or two about American culture. For example, with the help of an English-speaking translator, she showed them the proper way to shake hands and how to speak to a superior. She also discovered that many of those she met learned English through movies and televisions shows. “Friends” is a big hit there, she says.

Kristen says she never thought of herself as a world traveler until her China visit, but she was aware of its global impact. “I knew that China was a force to be reckoned with in the business world,” she says.

She traveled to China with the help of the University of Arkansas and CRCC Asia. It’s offered through the George W. Edwards Jr. Career Center at the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Leadership Walton, a program that helps prepare students for the professional world.

Kristen says she found the transportation system extremely efficient in downtown Beijing, where she worked. Just getting around the city was educational on many levels, and she advocates that college students jump at the opportunity to go there. “I think [visiting] China is good for any kind of major,” says the University of Arkansas junior from Keller, Texas, which is located near Dallas and Fort Worth.

She says she worked for a small firm that wants to be more marketable globally. “I attribute what I know, and the knowledge that I had in the conversations with company department heads, from the core classes,” she says. She was referring to Walton College’s pre-business core classes required before a student can take junior- and senior-level courses.

Like many students who become accounting majors, Kristen says she always liked working with numbers. Though she had toyed with becoming a marketing major, she says it was her core class in accounting that made her realize she had a knack for it. Following her senior year, she says she hopes to continue her accounting education through the Integrated Master of Accountancy (IMAcc) program, which, upon completion, makes students eligible to become certified public accountants. After that, she says she hopes to be hired with one of The Big Four accounting firms: PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and KPMG.

Kristen currently has an internship in the state income tax department at Tyson Foods Inc., where she helps the company prepare its returns. She says the job was the result of her China internship, where her duties also included dealing with taxes.

As a student, Kristen serves as a Walton College Student Ambassador, where, among other things, she gives campus tours to prospective students. She is also a project leader for the university’s chapter of S.I.F.E. (Students in Free Enterprise), which has since changed its name to Enactus, and a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority.

Downtime, she says, involves hanging out with friends and exploring the community that surrounds the campus. She says she loves dining out at the different restaurants and shopping at stores in the area.

“What I love most about Fayetteville is the abundance of small businesses here,” she says. “It makes being a business major that much more enjoyable.”

EPIC Spotlight: Keri Stubbs

“The projects that they have in classes are applicable to the real world.”

Working with older people or operating a payment-friendly restaurant affordable to all. These are two ideas Keri Stubbs is kicking around as she majors in both management and finance at Sam M. Walton College of Business.
The thought of working with those much older came to Keri while she was in high school in Cassville, Mo., when she was in Future Business Leaders of America. One project involved making Valentine’s Day cards to give to members of the local senior center.

“They were so nice and so grateful,” she says. “I thought it would be really cool to work with the elderly.”
Fast forward to an entrepreneurship class Keri took at the University of Arkansas. There, she wrote a paper on “pay-what-you-can” restaurants where patrons decide how much their meals are worth. The idea is that those who are financially secure will more than pay the suggested price, compensating for those who can’t, Keri says. Many restaurants have tried this, including Panera Bread. This experimental model, with its obvious challenges, fascinate her. “It’s a risky business,” she says.

As a junior, Keri still has time to figure out her career path. With a minor in marketing, her concentration in three fields can open doors to many opportunities, she says.

Keri could have attended college in her home state. But the University of Arkansas roots run deep in her household. Her parents, who are both from Arkansas, met at a Razorback ballgame. In fact, several of her family members have names engraved on the campus’ Senior Walk, which lists every graduate from the institution.

“I grew up always having been a Razorback fan,” she says.

Keri admits that she briefly flirted with the idea of going to school elsewhere. In hindsight, she says, it was rebellion. When that passed, she applied to the University of Arkansas. It was her only college application. “I haven’t regretted it since,” she says.

Growing up in Cassville, located about 60 miles northeast of Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas is a completely different world from her hometown of about 3,000, she says.

“It feels like it’s a lot farther away from here,” she says. “I like it.”

Once at the university, she says it took her some time to find her place. Freshman Business Connections, a first-year program for business majors, helped, she says. Her participation in the program inspired her to become a Freshman Business Connections mentor, advising new students who were once in her shoes. While she says serving as a mentor to first-year students is rewarding, being a Walton College Student Ambassador, where she gives campus tours to potential students, adds a new dimension to her college volunteerism.

“Getting them before they’re freshmen is always exciting,” she says.

Her involvement with Students in Free Enterprise (S.I.F.E.), now Enactus, where she served on the leadership team, enlightened her to other possibilities a business degree can do. One of the S.I.F.E. projects entailed helping Mama Dean’s Soul Food Kitchen restaurant with its bookkeeping along with assisting a charitable meal program.

She also participates in Leadership Walton, a program offered to business students that provides training applicable to the real world, such as business etiquette, networking and community service.

But it goes back to her professors, who provide the core knowledge she needs to be successful.

“The projects that they have in classes are applicable to the real world,” she says.

EPIC Spotlight: Kellen Utecht

“The Walton College and Clinton School together have helped make me realize I want to work in supply chain sustainability.”

He lives in Fayetteville. He also lives in Little Rock. To further complicate things, his fianceé lives in Turkey. As in the country Turkey.

Welcome to Kellen Utecht’s world.

For three or so days a week, Kellen is in Fayetteville, pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Then, it’s off to Little Rock, where he is also a student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, working toward a master’s degree in – you guessed it – public service.
Kellen says he learned about the combined master’s program by “Googling” the words “MBA” and “public service.” On the second page of the results, he found a link to an article about Sarah Clark, the first student to complete concurrent master’s degrees in business administration and public service through a partnership between the Clinton School and the Walton College.

Kellen wanted to do that, too.

He contacted the Walton College, grabbed his father and made an 18-hour road trip from North Dakota to Fayetteville, where he toured the campus. The next day, they drove to Little Rock and met with people there.
“Then the two schools got to work, making this happen for me,” he says.

Born and raised in Underwood, N.D., (“about as far from the ocean as you can possibly be”) Kellen earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Dakota. After graduation, he spent two years as a business consultant.

“I loved it,” he says. “But I wanted more of a challenge and to serve.”

The Peace Corps was the obvious next step. He was assigned to Bulgaria, where he served for two years as a community and organizational development volunteer.

Then he enrolled at the University of Arkansas in January 2011. He did his summer internship with the Sustainability Consortium. In August, Kellen moved to Little Rock, where he enrolled at the Clinton School. He is currently interning at the headquarters of Heifer International, a hunger- and poverty-fighting charity that serves globally.
Kellen says the partnership between Walton College and the Clinton School has enabled him to learn from the many speakers they have brought in, including past presidents as well as leaders from the business world. He also enjoys that on one day he could be doing a SAP simulation and the next day discussing the decolonization of India.
“The Walton College and Clinton School together have helped make me realize I want to work in supply chain sustainability,” he says.

One way he might do this is through working with either a for-profit business or non-governmental organization in its sustainability efforts and communicating its progress to stakeholders.

“Most supply chains are international,” he says. “You have to be able to integrate and work with people of different cultures.”

He will continue his international studies this summer, when he travels to Turkey and does an internship with the World Wildlife Fund.

And get married.

He says he met his fianceé, Tugce, while backpacking in Turkey following his stint with the Peace Corps. She’s finishing law school while he completes his master’s degree. “Beyond that, I don’t know what will happen,” he says.
Yet, he says he knows his education here in Arkansas will help him with his pursuits.

“There’s so much good work to be done out there, and I want to be a part of it,” he says.

EPIC Spotlight: Katy Allen


Imagine starting a new job, getting married to your high school sweetheart, and enjoying the life of a newlywed. Now imagine all of this happening with the eyes of the nation on you and your husband. Welcome to the life of Katy O’Connell Allen, a recent Walton College graduate, sales support specialist with Acxiom, and – oh yes – the wife of 2009 American Idol, Kris Allen.

Those who watched Idol faithfully during the eighth season may recognize Allen from the audience – a joyful presence who always maintained a sunny smile and happy disposition as she cheered on her husband from week to week. But, onlookers should also know that there is more to Allen than just Idol. In fact, she is a smart, kind-hearted alumna who has represented her state and her company exceptionally well and has proven to be a diligent worker despite all of the distractions – and excitement – that life has thrown at her.

Allen says the Walton College prepared her for both her current position with Acxiom and her position in the American Idol spotlight with her husband, who won the title on May 20, 2009. She notes that her job with Acxiom, which she started in June 2008, was a direct result of being a student in the Walton College and the assistance she received from Renee Clay, assistant director of the George W. Edwards Jr. Career Center. Allen says Clay coached her for the interview process and, as a result, she felt very prepared. In addition to this, her student presentations and research projects enhanced her skill set, as did her study abroad experience in Italy, which, she comments, was good preparation and “a great experience for [her] life now.” When it comes to American Idol, Allen admits that while she isn’t directly involved in her husband’s management, her marketing background does give her the ability to relate to his management team and understand what they’re doing for his career.

Allen is clearly grateful for Acxiom’s flexibility, as they allowed her to work remotely from Los Angeles during the filming of Idol. After the finale, Allen was also able to take a six-week sabbatical so she could accompany her husband to L.A. and New York for press stops, a trip to Disney World in Orlando, and a brief homecoming in Little Rock. She notes that she has a “great boss and supervisor.”

When asked about how she maintains a work/life balance, Allen laughs and says it was a challenge from the beginning. Her wedding to Kris, which she was planning as she started working for Acxiom, could have been a major distraction at the time, but she quickly learned how to keep her focus. During Idol, Allen admits that working on Tuesdays and Wednesdays was the hardest for her since she was usually stressed about the show. Kris, on the other hand, remained relaxed with the mentality that “whatever happens, happens.” As Kris continued to advance in the competition, Allen says it became a “surreal experience” and a bigger deal each week. To make up for the stressful days in the middle of the week, Allen often worked weekends to compensate.

Now, Allen is learning how to take things in stride, thanks to her husband. She admits that she has never been bothered by all of the attention Kris receives because she knows that it’s all a part of marketing him. However, dealing with negativity in the press has been a new challenge they’ve had to face, especially after he won. During the competition, Allen kept up with her husband’s mentions in the media, but some of the negative comments she read after the finale really dragged her down for about a week. Therefore, she decided to quit reading the media reports cold turkey to remove the negativity from her life. She no longer looks at fan sites, blogs, tabloids, or other articles because she realizes that obsessing with what others are saying can ultimately consume you and take over your life. She remarks, “It’s easier to read criticism about yourself than someone you love.”

Another challenge in her life now is planning or, rather, the lack of it. Allen admits she’s always been a big planner and enjoys knowing what’s coming next in her life, but that’s simply not possible now. It’s gradually getting easier for her as she learns to take life as it comes. However, a career change is ultimately on the horizon since she and Kris will be moving to L.A. for a while. No matter what she chooses, though, she believes that Arkansas – and central Arkansas in particular – will always be a home for them.

To face these challenges and others, Allen draws inspiration from her friends and family. She says there are certain friends who are so encouraging and inspirational that they have gotten her through this entire experience. She is also inspired to see Kris be so successful and by others who are grounded and maintain positive attitudes.

In the future, Allen and her husband hope to channel their passions for mission work and humanitarianism by establishing a foundation. She notes that they would like to “do something really cool in a big way” since they have always cared about helping others who are less fortunate.

Allen, who was listed in Google’s Hot 100 Search Trends in May 2009, “loves the Walton College” and “had a great time” here. Where the future takes her, she does not know. However, we’re confident that this former homecoming queen will continue to shine in the spotlight.

EPIC Spotlight: Dr. Katie Kelting

“The resources for the lab here are amazing.”

Dr. Katie Kelting had just graduated from high school and was getting a jumpstart on her college career as she sat in orientation, waiting to enroll in summer school. When she was asked to pick a major, she deferred the matter to her father, the chief financial officer for a bank.

“He said, ‘I think business is good,’” she recalls.

She never looked back.

Through the course of her undergraduate career, she took the requisite business classes. But one called Principles of Marketing hit home with her.

“I loved learning about all of the ‘behind the scenes’ strategies that marketers use to understand and attract consumers,” she says.

Inspired, she asked her professor if she could be his teaching assistant the next semester. As she applied what she was learning to the real world, she became captivated by the celebrities who endorse products on television and magazines. As a sports fan, athletes caught her attention the most. Her interest became so strong, it was the topic of both her honors and graduate theses while attending school at the University of Florida, she says.

“Celebrities are not in a box,” she says. “They’re real people doing real things.”

With the explosion of reality television and social media, Kelting says consumers are more celebrity-obsessed than ever, and they’re watching them closely. So is she.

“Celebrities have more meanings,” she says. “We’re getting to know celebrities’ professional and personal lives more.”

One celebrity she’s very familiar with is former NBA basketball player Michael Jordan, whose endorsements include Gatorade, Nike and Hanes. Those products, she says, are a good fit for him – ones that people easily associate with sports. But when golfer Tiger Woods endorsed Buick in the early 2000s, the public didn’t embrace the message; they associated him more with high-end luxury cars. Some, she says, are just strange, like when rap musician 50 Cent endorsed Vitamin Water.

After earning her doctorate from Indiana University in 2011, Kelting is starting her first academic year as a marketing assistant professor at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, where she teaches Introduction to Marketing Strategy. She says one of the things that lured her to the University of Arkansas was the research facilities at the college, which she says are at an “elite level.”

“The resources for the lab here are amazing,” she says.

The faculty and staff also impressed her, she says.

“I feel I’m the most successful when I’m surrounded by nice people who are smart and will challenge me,” she says.
In addition to celebrity advertising, Kelting says she also researches private-label branding. “Retailers are introducing more and more private-labels into their stores,” she says. Kelting says she’s exploring how the presence of a private-label in a category affects consumer purchases.

Away from work, Kelting spends time with her husband, Bobby, a physical education teacher and coach in Rogers. She says they spend every spring break with their family and some close friends snow skiing in Colorado. She also likes to exercise, including running.

Naturally, spare time also means watching sports on television. And paying attention to the commercials.
“I’m a Gator fan, so I love Tim Tebow,” she says. “He makes a really unique celebrity endorser.”

EPIC Spotlight: Katherine Cloud

“The Portfolio Management class was especially helpful in gaining access to the extensive alumni network.”

Katherine Cloud graduated from the Walton Honors Program in 2011 with a double major in accounting and finance. While a student in the Walton College, she studied alternative investments and management entrepreneurship at the London School of Economics. During the week, Katherine would attend classes and socialize with students from all over the world. On the weekends, she would travel around Europe, visiting the Czech Republic, Holland, Belgium and Scotland.

She was very involved on the Arkansas campus, serving as the treasurer of Pi Beta Phi sorority and being a member of multiple clubs and associations.

“I believe internships and extracurricular activities are attractive to employers,” Katherine said. She took this into consideration when she worked as an intern at Stephens Inc. in the Fayetteville office as well as at TME Inc., an Arkansas based engineering firm, throughout college.

Being a member of the Walton Honors Program helped her networking for her career, Katherine said. “The Portfolio Management class was especially helpful in gaining access to the extensive alumni network throughout the country,” she said. She garnered real world experience in class that transferred to her professional success and job placement.

Katherine currently works with Stephens Inc. in Dallas, Texas, as an investment banking analyst. “The experience has been a challenging but rewarding endeavor, and it is great to be able to apply what I learned at the Walton College to my everyday work,” she said.

EPIC Spotlight: Dr. Karen Boston

“I travel a lot, and I’m always happy to come back to Arkansas.”

At the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Karen Boston oversees the undergraduate programs office so students get the most out of their college experience.

She’s also an advocate to the community at large.

Boston, assistant dean for Undergraduate Programs, is chairwoman of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Not only that, of the 101 who have chaired the board since 1889, she is only the fourth woman to serve the position. And the youngest.

She’s busy tending to many things, whether it’s attending ribbon cuttings for new member investors, meeting with city and community leaders or discussing the ever-growing trail system that will someday connect several cities in Northwest Arkansas. Fayetteville, with its low crime rate, has plenty that’s worth promoting, she says.

“I think we have all the basic needs and quality of life you can want,” she says.

Boston says she envisions the creation of leadership programs that involve other chambers of commerce throughout the region, including Benton County and Fort Smith. She’s also helping implement a similar program in elementary schools called The Leader in Me, where students learn concepts created by Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

As a representative of Walton College, she says she hopes to help the university bridge partnerships with businesses as well as enhance economic development.

She has help from others. Mark Zweig, an executive in residence for the Department of Management at the Walton College and Terry Martin, Associate Dean in the College of Engineering serve on the board, and Jayshica Amargos, an affiliate with the ALPFA Institute, is an ex-officio, sharing that title with University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart.

Being assistant dean and the parent of a 9-year-old son, in addition to her Chamber of Commerce duties, does present its challenges, she says.

“I have a busy job as it is, and I want to do a good job,” Boston says. “I want to represent the chamber well.”

As for her love for Fayetteville, call her a convert. Boston grew up in Spring, Texas, located about 20 miles north of downtown Houston. When it came time for college, however, she enrolled at the University of Arkansas, where she earned both her bachelor and master degrees and a doctorate.

She says the plan was always to return back to the Houston area following graduation, but when her family left the state, Texas didn’t seem like home anymore.

“I certainly had intentions of going back to Texas,” she says. “But I really enjoyed Fayetteville, the size of Fayetteville, the demographics. … I love the University of Arkansas.”

Boston stayed with the university. She began working on campus in 1993, the year she earned her bachelor’s degree, she says. Three years later, she came to Walton College as an academic advisor and was named assistant dean in 2006. By then, she was a long-term resident of Fayetteville. It became home.

In 2006, she was accepted in the chamber’s Leadership Fayetteville program, which trains people to become strong leaders and volunteers in the community. From there, her involvement kept building, including serving as chair of the Leadership Fayetteville committee in 2009, graduating from Class II of Leadership Arkansas in 2008, and serving as the Volunteer Coordinator for Bikes, Blues and BBQ in 2008 and 2009. These leadership roles culminated with her serving this year’s chair position – one that continuously reminds her of all the advantages of living in the area.

“I travel a lot, and I’m always happy to come back to Arkansas,” Boston says.

EPIC Spotlight: Justin Urso

“I always tell students today to take advantage of the internship opportunities.”

Growing up the child of a single parent, Justin Urso saw his mother work three jobs just to put a roof over his head and food on the table. College wasn’t a family tradition, but Justin says his mother instilled in him that it needed to be. “Two key things I learned as a child were the importance of hard work and to always continue learning,” Justin says.

The journey to where he is now – a National Account Manager at Merisant, which manufactures tabletop sweeteners – was a little winding. “I never knew exactly my career path, but I give a lot of credit to the University of Arkansas for putting me on the right track,” he says.

Now, with a college degree, real-world experience and a master’s on the way, he says he wants to share with others what he has discovered: there are great opportunities for those with a background in economics and, more specifically, in Northwest Arkansas.

Following high school, Justin earned a scholarship and left his hometown of Van Buren to attend college in Conway, with plans of becoming a medical doctor. Yet, as a student, he says the business section of the daily newspaper got most of his attention.

In Justin’s sophomore year he relinquished his scholarship and moved to Fayetteville to enroll at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. He said it was the first time he felt he was on the right path. “I just realized my passion – business and economics,” he says.

Justin says the highlight of his collegiate experience was a “life-changing” study abroad program in Japan led by Robert Stapp, a Walton College economics clinical professor. “Meeting business professionals outside the United States and interacting with Japanese people on a daily basis made me realize I wanted to work in global business one day,” he says.

By his senior year, Justin was applying what he was learning by interning as an international analyst for Tyson Foods, Inc. He worked for Mary Bryant, who was director of global accounts at the time. “Having this opportunity and strong mentors was instrumental in putting me on a path to success,” he says. “I always tell students today to take advantage of the internship opportunities.” After graduating, he returned to Japan through an exchange program where he taught English to students for a year in a remote village, while improving his Japanese fluency.

He returned to the United States and moved to Chicago to accept a job with Wilson Sporting Goods Co. as a retail analyst for its Walmart account. There, he figured out a way to use his economics degree to build effective plans – much of which was at the height of the global financial crisis.

“When you sit in class and study supply and demand, you never think about how it relates to a product in a retail space,” he says. “I was fascinated by all the moving parts of the business and how the study of economics touched every part of it.”

By 2009, he was working for Merisant as a demand manager, where he led the company to three consecutive years of forecast improvements using his experience and economics background as key drivers. Justin eventually relocated to Northwest Arkansas to be closer to family and to work on the Walmart/Sam’s Club account for Merisant. In 2012, he married his longtime girlfriend, Mailena, who is director of marketing and communications for Collective Bias, a social content marketing company in Bentonville, and also a University of Arkansas adjunct journalism instructor.

Now, Justin is enrolled in the Walton College Master of Business Administration program, where students can earn a master’s degree in two years by attending class one Saturday a month and doing the rest through distance learning. He admits to being an entrepreneur at heart but says he hopes to continue his track of success in his current career. He says he eventually would like to be a business professor – one who can share real world experiences. He says he feels the Executive M.B.A. program and the “great community” of Northwest Arkansas will continue to open those doors.