As they embark on their careers, two 2020 graduates of the Department of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff are eager to build on the foundations they gained at UAPB.
Elliott McElroy, a graduate of agricultural business, and Melissa Walker, a graduate of regulatory science-environmental biology, are considering ways to learn about and gain experience in new aspects of agriculture.
Alumni of the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, both McElroy and Walker were recognized as 2020 recipients of the Chancellor's Medallion award, which is given to students with the highest cumulative GPA within each school.
"We are simply over the moon about these two outstanding scholars," said Nina Lyon Bennett, assistant dean for academics for SAFHS. "Their huge accomplishments will continue to shed a bright light on SAFHS."
McElroy, originally from Greenville, Miss., said majoring in agricultural business was an investment in his future.
"It is an industry that generates such great revenue producing products that are essential in everyday life," he said.
In 2019, McElroy was awarded a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/1890 National Scholars Program scholarship, which covered his full annual tuition, room and board and books and fees at UAPB. As part of the program, he worked for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) in Washington during the summers.
"The National Scholars Program allowed me to further my education and obtain my bachelor's degree debt free," he said. "It also provided me a once-in-a-lifetime experience through my internship. The most interesting thing about working for FAS was the vast backgrounds of many of my colleagues -- it was intriguing to discuss their backgrounds in comparison to my own."
The internship broadened McElroy's knowledge of agricultural sectors in the U.S. and abroad. He was required to conduct intensive research on a number of agricultural topics.
"One element that was vitally important in this internship was presentation skills," he said. "There were assignments in which I would have to present to the other colleagues -- sharp presentation skills were required to convey my messages and key points."
McElroy chose to major in agricultural business at UAPB because he felt the field is particularly important and impactful. He said he found many professors at UAPB to be influential, motivating and supportive. He especially appreciated the guidance of Tracy Dunbar, chair of the Department of Agriculture, and Henry Brooks IV, instructor and program coordinator for the political science program at UAPB.
"My children influenced me to further my education, because I know that by obtaining this degree, I am going in the right direction for our future," he said.
At UAPB, McElroy was president of Black Male Achievers and a member of the Gamma Delta Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
When she was a child, Walker, whose hometown is Port Antonio, Jamaica, dreamed of someday becoming a geologist or environmental scientist. As she neared high school graduation, Walker began considering the option of attending college in the U.S. She was immediately sold on the idea of attending UAPB after reading the description of the regulatory science program.
"I felt the regulatory science program was directly connected to my childhood ambitions," she said. "My parents were also influential in helping me pick my field of study. They had known about my interest in scientific fields for a long time and were also supportive in my decision to move to the U.S."
Walker is currently pursuing a master's degree in agriculture from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. She is primarily involved in "edge of field" research and is responsible for testing water runoff on farms.
"Studying regulatory science with an option in environmental biology at UAPB taught me a lot about agricultural policies and law," she said. "Now I am trying to diversify my understanding of agriculture and learn about more aspects of the industry. Right now, I feel like I'm enjoying the best of both worlds, as I get to spend time both working in the field and analyzing data in the lab."
During her studies at UAPB, Walker assisted Shadrach Okiror, professor of plant science, with his cow pea breeding project. She said the experience helped prepare her for the current field research she conducts.
"Dr. Okiror really got me interested in field research and working outdoors," she said. "My adviser, Ms. Alicia Robinson-Farmer (instructor of regulatory science), was also very influential to me. Her passion for and approach to teaching made a big difference."
In the coming years, Walker plans to pursue a doctoral degree. In the meantime, she hopes to gain experience in various internships to see what discipline of agriculture would most suit her. Eventually, she hopes to find work in the U.S. agricultural sector.
"When I first moved to Arkansas, it took some time to get used to the southern accent," she said. "Experiencing weather below 60 degrees was also a shock. I'm used to those things now."
At UAPB, Walker was a member of the Regulatory Science Club, the International Student Organization and the Honors Club. Her hobbies include reading, sitting outside and going on walks.
"Ms. Walker and Mr. McElroy are prime examples of SAFHS' commitment to excellence," said SAFHS Dean/Director Doze Y. Butler. "Launching from our School motto, 'Where Excellence is a Habit,' SAFHS faculty continue to go above and beyond in helping our students to succeed. I am pleased that Ms. Walker and Mr. McElroy acknowledged the faculty and the roles they played in helping them in to reach this milestone. These two recent alums have only just begun, and many more successes are in their future."
Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.