- Prospective Students
- Faculty & Staff
- Make a Gift
Eleven teams of students from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service will complete public service projects in partnership with public agencies, community initiatives, academic ventures, and nonprofit organizations across Arkansas during the 2017-18 academic year.
As part of the school’s Master of Public Service degree program, the students will earn academic credit for their work on the projects that include creating economic opportunities in southeast Arkansas, assisting Arkansas museums with a historic decision on their institutional mission, and enhancing adult literacy programs in several Arkansas counties.
Organizations partnering with the Clinton School on the projects are located throughout Arkansas, including Bentonville, Dumas, Fort Smith, Hope, and Little Rock.
“What makes the Clinton School unique from other more traditional graduate programs is the field service work,” said Clinton School Dean James L. “Skip” Rutherford III. “In collaboration with community organizations, our students will help meet some important needs in Arkansas.”
The projects are part of the Clinton School’s Practicum program, the first of three public service projects completed during the two-year master’s degree program.
Forty-four Clinton School students will participate in the projects while also completing in-class coursework on topics such as program planning and development, field research, and communication.
Arkansas Farm to School (ACRI)
Team: Nicole Hellthaler (Trumbull, Conn.), Joshua DeBruyn (Grand Rapids, Mich.), Amy Stewart (Lancaster, Pa.), Alex Stradal (St. Louis, Mo.)
Supervisors: Emily English and Jenna Rhodes
The team will map existing assets that could potentially support farm-to-institution programs across Arkansas. Students will research and review other local food system statewide asset maps from across the nation, aggregate existing databases of assets from various organizations and agencies, and create new databases for currently missing information, all of which will inform the development of a searchable map to be housed online. As part of the process, students will develop a dissemination plan based on key informant interviews conducted with representatives of major stakeholders within the farm-to-institution community, such as the Cooperative Extension Service, Arkansas Agriculture Department, schools, and hospitals.
Arkansas Literacy Councils
Team: Mark Cameron (Fayetteville, Ark.), Megan Burrow (Hot Springs, Ark.), Mallory Rusch (St. Louis, Mo.), Tiffany Phillips-Peters (Detroit, Mich.)
Supervisors: Neil Jones and Nancy Leonhardt
The team will conduct research to inform the development of a strategic plan that addresses the need for community-based adult literacy programs in Cleveland, Lincoln, Desha, Drew, Bradley, Ashley, and Chicot counties. The plan will be used by Arkansas Literacy Councils to establish and develop new literacy councils in the region. Students participating in the project will develop evaluation criteria for successful program startups, perform a needs and readiness analysis for the potential new sites, and provide recommendations for a strategic plan incorporating the results of this research.
Arkansas Historic Decisions Learning Exchange
Team: Allison Tschiemer (Dallas, Texas), Brian Wegner (Saginaw, Mich.), Nathan Davis (Sherwood, Ark.), Ganelle Blake (Little Rock, Ark.)
Supervisor: Dr. Malcolm Glover
The Arkansas Historic Decisions Learning Exchange (ARHDLE) project is a partnership enabling four to five Arkansas museums, including the United States Marshals Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, and Delta Cultural Center to develop a National Issue Forums Institute-style issue guide about a historic decision related to their institutional mission. The ARHDLE practicum team will be introduced to NIFI style deliberation, trained as moderators, and learn the process for naming and framing issues. The team will then work with museum staff to name and frame a historic decision. Members of the ARHDLE practicum team will assist with crafting the research report from the ARHDLE.
Team: Karen Zuccardi (Bogotá, Colombia), Nora Vinas (Miami, Fla.), Rebecca Webber (Little Rock, Ark.), Adriana Ongay (Philadelphia, Pa.)
Supervisor: James Hopper
The EAST Initiative began in a single classroom of at-risk high school students and has expanded to serve more than 20,000 students annually, from elementary to college. The team will assist in conducting focus groups with stakeholders at elementary school EAST programs to better understand service-learning programs and their unique opportunities and challenges. The plan is that this project will result in recommendations for best practices that can be replicated across all of our elementary programs.
Team: Connor Donovan (Little Rock, Ark.), Kirby Richardson (Rogers, Ark.), Katie Barnes (Atchison, Kan.), Rachel Cole (Bloomington, Ind.)
Supervisor: Cory Biggs
This project is designed to support long-term academic partnerships between area middle schools and community institutions. The practicum team will conduct best-practices research on successful school-community partnership models from around the United States to help craft a structure for each school to engage with partners, and to help create a long-term vision for such partnerships. The project will culminate with a set of formalized school-community partnerships by spring of 2018.
Hope Academy of Public Service
Team: Joseph Stepina (Coppell, Texas), Marina Giannirakis (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Clay Turner (Leachville, Ark.), Beth Quarles (Nashville, Tenn.)
Supervisor: Carol Ann Duke
The team will assess the impact of a middle school public service curriculum. The students will work to gather data to show the impact of the curriculum on community partners as well as students and the “whole child” aspects of middle school and career and college preparation.
Phoenix Youth and Family Services
Team: Connor Flocks (Greenwood, Ark.), Eric Kouadio (Dabou, Côte D’Ivoire), Yaala Muller (Modi’in, Israel), Marquisa Wince (Milwaukee, Wisc.)
Supervisors: Roshunda Davis and Toyce Newton
Community planning and organization is needed to create economic opportunities within the Desha County region and break the cycle of poverty. This project will assist in identifying key formal and informal leadership within the communities served and use these resources as a backbone for community organization, to identify and engage local, regional, state, and national assets that can strategically plan and execute the plan to bring a sustainable solution of economic opportunity to the southeast region.
Ronald McDonald House
Team: Julie Joy (Portland, Maine), Nicole Kanu (Little Rock, Ark.), Madhov Shroff (Hot Springs, Ark.), Patrick McBride (Washington, D.C.)
Supervisors: Janell Mason and Donna Csunyo
The team will explore opportunities for a nonprofit to expand services to area hospitals through program creation or expansion. It will identify each potential program’s goals and objectives, as well as potential for support from donors and the community. Deliverables include a community assessment, family needs survey, financial assessment, and medical feasibility study.
Team: Thad Smith (Little Rock, Ark.), Izehi Oriaghan (Lagos, Nigeria), Salina Adolph (Little Rock, Ark.), John Jackson (Little Rock, Ark.)
Supervisor: Paul Leopoulos
The scope of this project is to design and implement a research project gathering specific information about student scholarship winners who have won arts-related scholarships from 2003 through the present. The goal is to gauge how many received college degrees, in what field, and how long it took to attain them. Where are these individuals now and in what field are they working or studying? This primary data collection should be supplemented by the years of research that shows students who grow up with interest and participation in the arts, are more likely to graduate from college, be better in math, join social organizations, and other positive attributes.
The Wallace Center at Winrock International
Team: John Mensah (Accra, Ghana), Wes Manus (Little Rock, Ark.), Sara Swisher (Memphis, Tenn.), Wesley Prewett (Russellville, Ark.)
Supervisor: Susan Schempf
The team will develop a strategy for the Wallace Center at Winrock International in local food and agriculture work in Arkansas. The team will start by analyzing the organization’s historical programming and role in food and agriculture in the state, cataloging current programming, and identifying core competencies to contribute to this work. The team will then look outside the organization to conduct a landscape and gap analysis, focusing on the programs and players in local food and agriculture in Arkansas. Based on findings from these internal and external assessments, the team will provide recommendations to the Wallace Center at Winrock International staff to help develop its organization’s strategy for food and agriculture programming in the state.
Women’s Foundation of Arkansas
Team: Starre Haas (Little Rock, Ark.), Christine McCall (Chicago, Ill.), Dylan Edgell (Pottsville, Ark.), Mariella Hernandez (Guayaquil, Ecuador)
Supervisor: Anna Beth Gorman
The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas is investing in the research, design, and implementation of a new initiative, focused on women’s economic empowerment in Arkansas. As a part of the initiative, it is looking to create a designation/accreditation to businesses and employers that are committed to providing equitable opportunities for women in their workforce. Students will research models and/or best practices from other cities and states to help WFA create this tool for businesses that support women in Arkansas working toward economic empowerment.
Clinton School student Amie Alexander traveled to Tokyo, Japan, to do her International Public Service Project with the Foreign Agricultural Service, which links U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities and global food security.
What is the mission of the Foreign Agricultural Service? And how does it execute it?
The Foreign Agricultural Service is an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture. They work to represent the U.S. foreign policy interests involving agriculture overseas.
My work here has been with the Office of Agricultural Affairs, which is kind of the policy arm of the F.A.S. They also work on market access for U.S. companies in foreign markets. We would meet with Japanese government officials or U.S. industry that were hoping to resolve some sort of trade barrier to the market in Japan. We kind of were the middle man between the U.S. government and the Japanese government. Specifically, I researched and developed a lot of briefs for the foreign service officers on agricultural commodities and the market for those in Japan, and some of the issues that those commodities were facing in the industry.
I worked on a database that could showcase violations and import regulations that U.S. products had faced to try to be able to organize and collect those in a way that we could address those problems. I attended a lot of meetings with government officials and learned to talk to the Japanese government as well as U.S. industry and communicate the policy interests of the United States while making sure to push the issues the industry was facing.
Did the work match up with your expectations?
Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect going into it. My background is in agriculture, but I don’t have a large economic background, so I was a little nervous about that. But it turned out that of the foreign service officers – there are four at this post – three were gone this summer. One was transitioning to a new post, one was on home leave, and the other was working in Washington D.C.
There are two interns here, and the effect that had was it allowed us to do more of the work that the officers left behind, rather than the typical intern work that I was expecting. It was neat to take on those roles in the 10 weeks we were here, because we really got a taste of what life is like in the foreign service and got to do some purposeful work for the United States government.
How did you spend your free time?
It was perfect for experiencing free time and looking around the city. We were able to stay with a family and house sit at the U.S. compound. We were right in the middle of the city, next to subway stops, and so most nights, or at least a couple nights a week, my roommate and I would go to events around the city. Every weekend we had a place to venture or easy access out of the city.
It was a good place for me because I had never been outside of the United States. Tokyo is very foreign but it is also very westernized. Most things were very navigable as far as English goes. I was able to figure out most things for myself.
There was a lot of personal growth that took place. The experience with the cultural differences was easy to navigate but still very noticeable. It meant a lot that every time I was lost, someone was able to tell I was lost and point me in the right direction. I felt like I gained a lot by having to explore on my own, as opposed to my normal routine at home. I really like to keep a strict schedule when I’m home. I like to stay busy and I like to be very planned. Here, I wasn’t really able to plan things, I just had to experience things and deal with whatever came up. I think that was really good for me personally.
Did this experience have any impact on your long-term plans?
My background is in agriculture, and I’ve been searching for something to fill the gap between my background and my current education. I’ve worked in a lot of law firms and I’ve really enjoyed it, but I’m not sure that is what I want to do. So, this job is perfect for showing me what public service can look like in the field I want to work in. Trade policy is exactly the field I want to work in.
One of my first days of work, they were talking to us about diplomacy and what it means to represent the United States diplomatic mission. He told us, “I work for the American farmer, and that is the way I see it.” He talked about his idea of public service and what he does, and that was really cool for me to see someone working on the macro level, but their motivation coming from the micro level. The environment was really encouraging.
Both of our bosses were really interested in professional development and helping us figure out where we fit. This internship program is kind of a feeder program into getting students interested in foreign service. It definitely has done that. But all of our supervisors were very interested in our personal success as well. They made it clear that they were confident in our ability to do the work that we were tasked with, and that meant a lot professionally, to just believe in the work that I was doing, and believe that I was capable and confident to do it well.
Were there any other aspects of the experience that stood out?
I think it was just a really good experience. Particularly in this time, when a lot of things are going on in the United States, it was really neat to take a step back and look at it from across the world. It was neat to be surrounded by people from a completely different culture, and different country, that care about similar things that you do but see things a little bit differently. It’s good to take a step back and see it through a foreign eye.
The way I interpret things every day is obviously through my own lens, so it was neat to put on a lens that was not my own and would not have picked up had I been in Arkansas. It was an interesting time in history to see things from a lens that was not my own. I think it just gave me some good perspective coming home, as far as continuing to work on what I believe and what I want to complete professionally and service-wise. That made it a little easier and more mature.
Graduates of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, who live and work all over the world, are participating in a Global Day of Service on Saturday, August 19 to commemorate President Bill Clinton’s 71st birthday.
Organized activities are planned in cities with large Clinton School alumni populations. In others, UACS alumni will be participating individually.
In Washington D.C., Clinton School alumni have two main engagement opportunities on August 19.
First, there is a group option to join Rock Creek Conservancy and National Park Service to remove bush honeysuckle, a type of shrub that is invasive and damaging to park land. Volunteers will remove bush honeysuckle from inside Carter Barron Amphitheatre.
A second, individual option is to help Hands on DC, a nonprofit organization that organizes projects to improve the physical condition of Washington, D.C., public schools. Volunteer activities can range from painting murals and rooms to landscaping and organizing classrooms.
The northwest Arkansas UACS alumni will provide four different volunteering opportunities.
The first is with Rockin’ Baker Academy and helping with the Springdale Farmer’s Market. The second is with Tri Cycle Farms, helping with weeding, watering, harvesting, planting, pruning, and mulching. Service with gardening activities is needed at Apple Seeds, a nonprofit for inspiring healthy living through garden-based education. Finally, Habitat for Humanity will be building a house in South Fayetteville.
There will be two opportunities to serve at locations in central Arkansas on August 19.
Clinton School alumni will help with groundskeeping and site beautification service work from 9-11 a.m. at Our House, a social service organization that empowers homeless and near-homeless families and individuals to succeed in the workforce, in school, and in life through hard work, wise decision-making, and active participation in the community.
At Ferncliff Camp, UACS alumni will be packaging and inspecting health kits that are sent around the world to victims of disasters such as tornados, earthquakes, and flooding. Volunteer sessions are available from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m.
Current Clinton School students have been invited to participate with the central Arkansas alumni.
The Clinton School opened in 2004, admitted its first class in 2005, and graduated its first class in 2006. Of the school’s more than 330 graduates, a large percentage of its alumni live and work in central Arkansas, northwest Arkansas, Washington D.C., New York, and San Francisco.
The Clinton School Class of 2019 was recently announced and includes students representing six countries and 13 states.
The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service will enroll 43 new students in its Master of Public Service (MPS) degree program this fall. Located in downtown Little Rock on the grounds of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park and in the River Market District, the Clinton School is the nation’s first to offer an MPS degree.
Since opening in 2004, the school has attracted students from more than 40 countries and over 200 universities.
Six countries and 13 states are represented in the Class of 2019. Students with armed service experience in the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard join those who have volunteered with The Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Teach for America.
Among the many select national colleges and universities represented are Bates College, Carnegie Mellon University, Michigan State University, Smith College, Sewanee: The University of the South, and Washington University in St. Louis.
“We’re very proud to welcome the new Clinton School class. As the nation’s first to offer a Master of Public Service degree, we continue to attract individuals with a wide range of backgrounds and interests, but with a common purpose to uplift others,” said Clinton School Dean James L. “Skip” Rutherford III. “Over the next two years, the public service projects these students will complete in Arkansas and throughout the world will have a significant positive impact.”
This fall, the new Clinton School students will begin team-based public service projects with partner organizations in communities across Arkansas. In the classroom, the students will complete core courses in professionalism, social change, and conflict resolution. Throughout their time at the Clinton School, students will work on three public service projects within their particular public service interests: the team-based Practicum project, the International Public Service Project, and their final project that culminates their degree known as the Capstone.
Orientation for the new class begins August 13 and classes begin August 21.
Salina Adolph (Little Rock, Ark.) – A graduate of John Brown University with a degree in family and human services, Adolph is pursuing a concurrent juris doctor at UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law. Her work experience includes a clerkship at the Monterrey Law Firm. Additionally, Adolph volunteered while planning and facilitating events, meetings, and discussions about multiculturalism at JBU. Her areas of public service interest include immigration law, multiculturalism, racial reconciliation, community development, and mental health.
Katie Barnes (Atchison, Kan.) – Barnes graduated from MidAmerica Nazarene University with a degree in business administration and minor in social justice. Her work experience includes a stint as an AmeriCorps VISTA public relations coordinator at Origin SC in North Charleston, S.C. Her public service interests are financial stability, youth empowerment, and youth access to enrichment activities.
Ganelle Blake (Little Rock, Ark.) – A graduate of UA Little Rock with a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts and a master’s degree in secondary education, Blake boasts a variety of work experience. She is the owner and strategic consultant at The Giovanna Group and was a major gift officer at the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of the American Red Cross. Her public service interests include fundraising and strategic planning.
Megan Burrow (Hot Springs, Ark.) – Burrow graduated from UA Little Rock with a degree in political science and minor in secondary education. She worked in English education in the Republic of Georgia as a member of the Peace Corps. Burrow’s public service interests include education reform, civil rights, and social justice.
Mark Cameron (Fayetteville, Ark.) – A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Cameron majored in international relations and Latin American studies with a minor in Spanish. He worked on the Council of Hemispheric Affairs and was an English teacher in the Heart For Change Colombia Bilingüe English program. Cameron was a senator for the UA Fayetteville Associated Student Government and a youth leader at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. His areas of public service interest include equal and equitable access to education both in the United States and abroad, youth development, and immigrant rights.
Rachel Cole (Bloomington, Ind.) – A graduate of Smith College, Cole majored in art history. Her work experience includes multiple positions with Teach For America in Arkansas. As a volunteer, she has worked with GLSEN Southeast Arkansas, Friends of Ouachita Trail and Smith College. Cole’s areas of public service interest include conservation, empowerment and leadership of young women, educational equity, and social justice.
Nathan Davis (Sherwood, Ark.) – Davis is a graduate of UA Little Rock with a degree in philosophy and minor in history. He served five years in the United States Coast Guard and has volunteered in numerous political campaigns. His public service areas of interest include Native American communities and encouraging engagement in the political process.
Joshua DeBruyn (Grand Rapids, Mich.) – A graduate of Grand Valley State University, DeBruyn holds a degree in psychology. His volunteer work includes time with AmeriCorps Austin, specializing in English/Spanish literacy for elementary school children, and working with refugees and irregular immigrants. His public service interests include international relations, foreign policy, and civil rights.
Connor Donovan (Little Rock, Ark.) – Donovan graduated from UA Little Rock with a degree in international business with a Chinese concentration. In addition to being voted Student Government Association President as a senior, Donovan was named the Whitbeck Memorial Award winner in May 2017 as the university’s top graduating senior. He helped to establish the Arkansas Association of Students, an organization representing SGAs for public universities and community colleges in Arkansas. His public service interests include international relations, educational equity, and strategic urban planning.
Dylan Edgell (Pottsville, Ark.) – Edgell graduated from Arkansas Tech University as a double major in economics and finance and management and marketing. He was an Arkansas Fellow and corporate assistant buyer with Dillard’s Inc. Additionally, he interned in the United States House of Representatives. His areas of interest in public service include economic development, poverty, and education.
Connor Flocks (Greenwood, Ark.) – A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Flocks earned a degree in marketing with a minor in economics while being voted Student Body President. The Arkansas Alumni Association announced Flocks as a winner of the Senior Honor Citation in May 2017, given annually to the top two seniors on UA Fayetteville’s campus. He was a strong advocate for college student voting rights in Washington County and implemented the first Color Those Hogs 5K, a homecoming color run benefiting Full Circle Campus Food Pantry. Flocks’ public service interests include economic development, voter rights, and mental health.
Marina Giannirakis (Pittsburgh, Pa.) – A graduate of John Carroll University, Giannirakis earned her degree in sociology and criminology while minoring in entrepreneurship. She interned with the Legal Aid of Arkansas and American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration. Additionally, she acquired volunteer experience at a juvenile detention center in Cleveland, Ohio. Her public service interests include immigrant and refugee rights, criminal justice system reform, and women’s rights.
Starre Haas (Little Rock, Ark.) – Haas graduated from UA Little Rock with degrees in finance and accounting. She is currently serving in leadership with the Little Rock Beautiful Commission and is the former president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. Her volunteer experience includes time as a team member for the Food for Good program. Haas’s areas of public service interest include urban planning and development, social justice, civil rights, and youth empowerment.
Nicole Hellthaler (Trumbull, Conn.) – A graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in speech therapy, Hellthaler is an alum of Teach For America and has worked as a high school teacher and After School Community Service Director. She created Serve El Dorado, which helped organize volunteer work for more than 150 students around the Arkansas town. Her areas of public service interest include civic education and participation, food security, and women’s rights.
Mariella Hernandez (Guayaquil, Ecuador) – A graduate of UA Little Rock, Hernandez earned her bachelor’s degree in international studies with a minor in philosophy and religious studies. In addition to her work as supervisor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science Office of Translation and Interpreting Services, she has served as an advocate for the Hispanic community in Arkansas for more than 15 years. Hernandez’s public service interests include children and women’s rights, public health, social justice, food and housing accessibility, and international affairs.
John Jackson (Little Rock, Ark.) – Jackson graduated from UA Little Rock with a degree in anthropology and is pursuing a concurrent master’s degree in public health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science. A United States Marine Corps member, he participated in several humanitarian operations. Jackson also worked as an EMT-B/Medic providing field care and treatment to civilians and military personnel with the Arkansas Army National Guard. His areas of public service interest include international relations, access to healthcare, renewable energy, and access to safe drinking water.
Julie Joy (Portland, Maine) – Joy earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from Clark University before earning her master’s degree in social work from the Smith School for Social Work. Her work experience includes eight years in the Veterans Healthcare System in Arkansas and Maine. Additionally, Joy spent time as a relief house parent to adolescent mothers and adolescents in the Massachusetts welfare system. Joy’s public service interests include combat veteran community reintegration and military family support to facilitate healing and recovery.
Nicole Kanu (Little Rock, Ark.) – A graduate of Bates College with a degree in rhetoric, Kanu is the founder of the Share a Smile Box initiative, a project dedicated to putting smiles on unsuspecting faces by sharing boxes full of gifts. Her first project took place in Eastern Nigeria. Kanu’s areas of interest in public service include hunger relief solutions and rural development.
Eric Kouadio (Dabou, Côte D’Ivoire) – A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, Kouadio earned a degree in political science. While at UCA, he was involved in Model United Nations and served at the Arkansas Dream Center in Conway. His areas of public service interest include economic development, entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, and social justice.
Wes Manus (Little Rock, Ark.) – A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and the University of Oklahoma, Manus holds a bachelor’s degree in political science (UA Fayetteville) and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in international relations (OU). He is currently pursuing a concurrent juris doctor at William H. Bowen School of Law. Manus also worked as an intelligence officer and strategic planner in the United States Air Force. Manus’s areas of public service interest include access to justice, humanitarian and disaster relief, international development and entrepreneurship, and economic development.
Patrick Allen McBride (Washington, D.C.) – A graduate of Christopher Newport University, McBride graduated with an interdisciplinary degree in psychology, sociology, and leadership studies. His work experience includes eight years with various nonprofits. As a volunteer, he has 16 years of experience working in various capacities with LGBTQIA+ serving non-profits, advocacy coalitions, and community groups. McBride’s areas of public service interest include queer/LGBTQIA+ communities, health, empowerment, and rights; substance abuse, addiction, and recovery; and social justice.
Christine McCall (Chicago, Ill.) – A graduate of Boston University with a degree in journalism, McCall worked as a general assignment reporter for The Boston Globe, Bay State Banner and The Newport Daily News. Most recently, she worked as a grant writer at Saint Anthony Hospital in Chicago, Ill. McCall served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan from 2012-13. Her areas of public service interest include women empowerment, higher education, and healthcare access.
John Mensah (Accra, Ghana) – A graduate of the University of Cape Coast with a degree in social sciences, Nsaman has worked as an assistant field officer with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection. As a volunteer, he was as a liaison with the District Social Development Officers (DSDOs) to get low-income people enrolled onto social intervention plans in rural communities. Nsaman’s public service interests include international politics, poverty reduction, and economic and community development.
Yaala Muller (Modi’in, Israel) – Muller is a graduate of the Washington University in St. Louis with degrees in international and area studies and women, gender, and sexuality studies. She spent the summer of 2016 as an intern at the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in Washington, D.C. Muller brings volunteer experience with Seeds of Peace, an organization that brings Israeli and Palestinian youth together to engage in dialogue. Muller’s areas of public service interest include conflict mediation between disparate groups, women’s rights, social justice, and equal representation in government.
Adriana Isabel Ongay (Philadelphia, Pa.) – Ongay is a graduate of Millersville University with a degree in government and political affairs with a minor in Latino studies. She was the vice president of the student-run organization Society On Latino Affairs, which held workshops, lectures, and hosted speakers focusing on the Latino community. Additionally, she was the peer leader for the Latino Student Leadership Institute at Millersville. Ongay’s areas of public service interest include civil rights, women’s rights, and issues facing the Latino community.
Izehi Oriaghan (Lagos, Nigeria) – Oriaghan is a graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University with a degree in international relations. Her work experience includes time as Senior Administrative Officer at the Lagos Waste Management Authority under the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment. Oriaghan also spent time volunteering as a development knowledge facilitator on the Millennium Development Goals Community Advocacy Project. Her public service interests include international development, international economics, and environmental politics.
Tiffany Phillips-Peters (Detroit, Mich.) – A graduate of Philander Smith College with a degree in political science, Phillips-Peters served internships with the Arkansas Community Action Agencies Association and the Young People’s Project in Boston, Mass. Her public service volunteer experience includes assisting students in Philander Smith’s Academic Success Achievement Program. Phillips-Peters’s areas of public service interest are at-risk youth, civil rights, education reform, and social justice.
Wesley Prewett (Russellville, Ark.) – A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Prewett earned undergraduate degrees in economics and finance. In addition to an internship with Southern Bancorp Community Partners, he was the director of campus sustainability for Associated Student Government and acquired valuable public service experience with the University of Arkansas Community Development in Mozambique. Prewett’s public service interests include international development, economic growth, financial inclusion, sustainability, and food security.
Beth Quarles (Nashville, Tenn.) – Quarles is a graduate of Lipscomb University with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and a master’s degree in teaching English language learners and instructional leadership. She spent time as an English and American Culture instructor at Three Gorges University in Yinchang, China. Additionally, Quarles has experience as a community organizer in northeast Arkansas. Her areas of public service interest include education, women’s issues, and social justice.
Kirby Richardson (Rogers, Ark.) – A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas as a double major in history and religious studies, Richardson has collected a variety of volunteer and public service experience. In addition to his time with Habitat for Humanity, he has volunteered as a history and social studies tutor and writing editor for University College Program. Richardson’s public service interests include social justice, prison reform, poverty relief, employment and housing non-discrimination, and equal access to quality education.
Mallory Rusch (St. Louis, Mo.) – A graduate of Bradley University with a degree in communications, Rusch has worked as a senior consultant for Gladiator Consulting, a managing director for leadership and community for Teach For America—St. Louis, and communications director for The Mission Continues. She founded the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of St. Louis and has volunteered with local political campaigns. Rusch’s areas of public service interest include racial and gender equity, criminal justice reform, and public education.
Madhav Shroff (Hot Springs, Ark.) – Shroff graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences before earning his master’s in biomedical sciences at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science. He is currently pursuing a concurrent juris doctor at William H. Bowen School of Law. Shroff’s work experience includes time as a team leader and AmeriCorps member for City Year of Little Rock. Additionally, he was a legal fellow for Hillary For America. His areas of public service interest include access to healthcare, education reform, public interest law, and access to justice.
Joseph Stepina (Coppell, Texas) – Stepina is a graduate of Hendrix College with a degree in politics and is currently pursuing a concurrent juris doctor at UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. He has worked as a deputy court clerk in the Faulkner County Court District. Stepina’s public service interests include criminal justice reform, education, and social justice.
Amy B. Stewart (Lancaster, Pa.) – Stewart graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., with a degree in liberal arts. She worked as a team leader with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and as a site coordinator with Chestnut Housing Corporation. Additionally, she has worked with the Mennonite Disaster Service in Mississippi and Sharing With Appalachian People (SWAP) in Kentucky. Stewart’s public service interests include accessible food, affordable housing, sustainability, education, and community building.
Alex Stradal (St. Louis, Mo.) – A graduate of Truman State University, Stradal earned a degree in philosophy and religion while minoring in English. Over the past two years, Stradal has served as a team leader with the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team, leading crews in response to natural disasters and overseeing conservation projects. Stradal’s public service interests include disaster preparation and response, water accessibility and conservation.
Sara Swisher (Memphis, Tenn.) – A graduate of Christian Brothers University, Swisher earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in sustainability. She has worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and Food Policy Coordinator at Memphis Tilth. As a student at Christian Brothers University, she founded and coordinated a food pantry for students, faculty, and staff. Swisher was also president of Student Sustainability at CBU. Her areas of public service interest include food systems change, nutrition, public health, and education.
Allison Tschiemer (Dallas, Texas) – Tschiemer, who graduated from Hendrix College with a degree in history, is pursuing a concurrent juris doctor at UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law. She has worked with the Arkansas Municipal League, City Year of Little Rock, and Little Rock Parks and Recreation. Additionally, she served in Vinh Linh, Vietnam, while documenting the state of education, gender relations, and memories of the Vietnam War. Tschiemer’s public service interests include youth empowerment, education reform, historical representation, and reproductive rights.
Clay Turner (Leachville, Ark.) – Turner graduated from Arkansas State University with a degree in political science and a minor in Spanish. In addition to internships with United States Congressman and the Arkansas Lieutenant Governor, he has worked to bring attention to the arts in northeast Arkansas through the Foundation of Arts in Jonesboro. Turner’s public service interests include arts policy and human rights.
Brian Wegner (Saginaw, Mich.) – A graduate of Michigan State University, Wegner earned his bachelor’s degree in physiology. His AmeriCorps NCCC team leadership experience includes renovating a veterans therapy center in New Mexico and restoring woodland areas of Wildwood Park for the Arts in Little Rock. His public service interests include affordable housing, local food access, public health, and environmental sustainability.
Nora Viñas (Miami, Fla.) – A graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South, Viñas majored in psychology with a minor in international and global studies. Her experience includes time as a clinician working with children to improve reading and comprehension at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes. Viñas was a Bonner Leader, a four-year service internship at Sewanee. Her public service interests include immigration, youth empowerment, civic engagement, and women’s rights.
Rebecca Bryan Webber (Little Rock, Ark.) – Webber graduated from Ouachita Baptist University as a double major in music and business administration with an emphasis in management. Her work experience includes time as a recruitment specialist with the Girl Scouts and an internship in Senator Mark Pryor’s office in Washington D.C. Webber brings volunteer experience with STEP Ministries and the ACANSA Arts Festival – Avant Garde Committee. Her areas of interest in public service include community asset building and economic development.
Marquisa Wince (Milwaukee, Wisc.) – Wince graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a double major in economics and sociology. Her work experience includes time as a legal advocate at Legal Action of Wisconsin. Wince’s public service and volunteer experience includes UW-Oshkosh Social Justice Club, UW-Oshkosh Rainbow Alliance for HOPE, UW-Milwaukee University Legal Clinic, AmeriCorps–Public Allies of Milwaukee, and Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Eviction Defense Project. Her areas of public service interest include economic development of communities of color, poverty and homelessness, prison work, and LGBT rights.
Karen Zuccardi (Bogotá, Colombia) – A graduate of Lafayette College with a degree in international economics and commerce, Zuccardi worked in international order management with Georg Fischer Harvel LLC. Her volunteer experience includes serving on the board of directors at Firehouse Hostel and Museum and working with the City of Little Rock’s Sustainability Commission. Zuccardi’s areas of public service interest include sustainability, community education, and civil rights.
Clinton School student Chelsea Miller’s International Public Service Project took her to Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India, to work with Arthik Samata Mandal. ASM’s mission is to promote scientific, secular, and democratic outlook among people and to help them to become conscious citizens creating a new society based on Gandhian values of truth, non-violence, equality, dignity, freedom, and justice.
Miller’s work with the project included marketing content creation and partnership development.
How does Arthik Samata Mandal go about executing its mission?
Basically, this organization, for the last 40 years, has been the only reliable nonprofit in the 13 districts they have worked in. So the way they carry out their mission is by going and interacting with the community. Literally, they go and meet with people, and they have staff members who come from the community. They find out what the community needs through those meetings, and that is what they base their work around.
ASM started after the Andhra Pradesh cyclone, which took out thousands of people in 1977. They originally started as disaster relief. From there, they expanded into over 100 different types of programming. They have recently scaled things back due to staffing and budgetary reasons, with the way the government of India is changing and evolving.
What were you specifically tasked with?
I conducted over 100 first-person interviews. I was interviewing former staff, current staff, beneficiaries, people who were beneficiaries who then turned into staff members, people who were in the government who had worked with ASM, people who worked with partner organizations that worked with ASM – I basically talked to hundreds of people whose lives have been made better through ASM, or they worked with ASM to make lives better. I then turned that into a 40-page book all about the work they have done with women’s empowerment and gender equity.
The partnership development aspect is very Clinton School-specific. They would love to have a Clinton School student there each year to help with their institutional memory. They want to create books, like the book I created, for all of their programming. So a Clinton School student that is passionate about health could do something for all of their health programming. Students could do something similar for their education programs, or child rights programs, etc.
My final deliverable to the Clinton School was a business report making the case for why ASM should be a recurring program and host organization for the Clinton School Office of Community Engagement.
What was your biggest professional challenge?
The biggest professional challenge was being the only truly fluent English speaker. In talking to people, I was under the impression that everyone would know English and be able to hold a conversation with me. Members of my host family, the people I stayed with, spoke fine English but spoke Telugu probably 90 percent of the time. So that was a real professional challenge. Probably 80-90 percent of the interviews I had to do were conducted with a translator in the room.
What was your biggest personal challenge?
I am the oldest of four children, so the biggest personal challenge was that I’ve never really been alone in my life. I basically spent nine-and-a-half weeks by myself. Learning how to be by myself was a challenge. Plus, I was living where I was working, so the work-life balance was also a challenge.
How did you enjoy your personal time away from work?
There is a hospital on the complex and they had women’s physio classes, so I was working out every day. I also spent a lot of time thinking about what is next in my career. I did journaling exercises and brainstorming about what I want to do after graduation. I want to make sure I spend my second year at the Clinton School lining things up correctly.
I was lucky to have the support of several fellow Clinton School students who motivated me to spend a lot of time reading, journaling, and working on my personal growth and development. I wanted to push myself out of my element and stay there as long as possible.
At the end of the trip I got to travel with Natalie Ramm, who is an MPS and JD concurrent student at the Clinton School and Bowen School of Law. That was a really incredible experience.
Her IPSP experience was very different. But it was nice to be able to come together, debrief our experiences, and travel around India with our public service hats on together. It was great to experience that before coming home and returning to our normal lives.
Did this experience have any impact on your long-term plans?
Definitely. Something that I have known for a long time is that I am good at connecting people who have resources to people who do not. So being able to look from a bird’s eye view of an organization that’s had such an impact in such a relatively short amount of time was important.
Being able to come in and say, “These are things I can offer you to help you improve.” Or, “These are partnerships I can help you develop with foreign NGOs.”
I’ve realized I would like to be in some sort of policy or advisory position to help nonprofits more efficiently and effectively. Watching how nonprofits, businesses, and the government interact in India has given me a lot of ideas on how we can improve those partnerships here in the United States.
Clinton School student Andrew Treviño’s International Public Service Project took him to London, England, to work with the African Prisons Project, whose mission is to bring dignity and hope to the men, women, and children living and working in prisons across Africa.
African Prisons Project is creating the world’s first prison-based law college. The program offers a law degree following a three-year program run through the University of London’s international program.
Treviño’s work with the project included best practice research on the processes, timelines, and risks involved in creating the world’s first prison-based law college in a maximum-security prison.
Your International Public Service Project was spent conducting best practice research with the African Prisons Project in London. What did that entail?
As far as the best practice research, that really included looking at other institutions doing prison-based education. So most of my work looked at the United States, because that’s the context I’m familiar with. I looked a lot at writing and math classes inside prisons in the U.S. They weren’t specifically toward law because the United States doesn’t offer anything like this, although they should. But best practice research basically came down to prisons in the U.S. and United Kingdom that offer prison-based education. I looked at timelines, examinations, and how to deliver education programs inside the prison. That’s where the research came in.
Next was determining how A.P.P. (African Prisons Project) was going to change this research or use this research when applying it in the African context. There are obviously going to be differences in how the prisons are run.
To go along with that, we did benchmarking. So I actually visited a prison in Brixton, a small borough of London, and got to see firsthand the educational programs they have. A lot of theirs is vocational and not so much academic, but there still was plenty that could be applied. Prisoners have certain expectations when they enroll in these programs. They have eligibility requirements they have to meet while in the programs. So it was important for us to benchmark this kind of program and see how we could make it fit for the African context.
Describe an average work day.
Based in the U.K., it was a little different than if I had been based in Uganda or Kenya, because they do have offices in those countries. But in my U.K. office, my day started around 9 a.m. when I would go into the office and begin doing desktop research for two to three hours, using their databases. They had lots of information on their own programs. I would analyze that data or do my own research, and then I would meet with my supervisor and go over what I found and ask questions to push the project forward. We had brainstorming sessions where we would try to come up with ways to make the program better.
We would have Skype sessions with the team members in Africa, and there were definitely cultural differences. A lot of the team members from Kenya and Uganda are native to that region, so there were some things that get lost in translation and it could get difficult to keep everyone on board. So those were some of the things we struggled with – making sure everyone knew what kind of research I was doing and that they knew how to answer some of the questions I had on an institutional level.
But it really just depended on the project I was working on, and they had me working on a lot of different things. But an average day was, again, a lot of correspondence with the team in Africa.
Based on your previous answer, is it fair to say coordination and communication were among the best professional lessons learned from this experience?
Absolutely. Obviously with a charity or a nonprofit, their biggest concern is keeping the lights on. So a lot of the work that their founder, Alexander McLean, is fundraising. He is a great orator and storyteller and he has a beautiful story about how he started the organization, but a lot of his time his spent fundraising. So, that to me was one of the biggest eye-opening experiences – seeing just how hard it is to keep everything running. On top of that, you are coordinating with team members in the U.K. and organizing with team members in Kenya and Uganda. Although they are a small organization, they have a lot of moving pieces in three different countries. So definitely communication and coordination were two important issues, as it is to a lot of charities and organizations this size.
You were in London during two major terrorist attacks. The first at the Ariana Grande concert in May and the second at the London Bridge attack in June. How did that affect the city and your time there?
I got there May 15. Just a few days later was the attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Just after the attack there was a huge police presence in London – officers walking around with military-style weapons. So yes, the Manchester attack really put the city on edge.
Then just a few weeks later the London Bridge attack happened. Actually, myself and Megan Kurten, who is a classmate, were out having drinks that night. We decided to call it a night; we were tired after a day of work. But about an hour and half after we both got home was when the attack happened. And we were not too far away from the attacks.
My family was very, very worried about terrorist attacks in London with the two happening while I was there. For me, it wasn’t too concerning. But I know my wife and my family were very concerned about it.
How did you spend your free time away from work?
I definitely got to enjoy my time away from work. Every weekend I was in the U.K. I went into the city. I was able to get a full enjoyment of London. Also, I was able to go to Scotland for five days, which was really, really cool. I was in Glasgow and Edinburgh for work – they needed someone to go to another benchmarking assignment at a law college in Glasgow to check out their legal clinic. That gave me an opportunity to explore the rest of the U.K., which I really enjoyed.
I was also able to visit family in Berlin. So I got to travel to Germany and enjoy about five days. I had not been outside North America before going on this trip. I got to see a lot of the U.K., even small towns like Oxford outside of London.
What effect, if any, did this experience have on your career pursuits?
I am a concurrent law student at the Bowen School, so this project was perfect for me. That’s why I picked this project – it incorporated public service and law. I think the biggest thing for me is working with an organization that is dedicated to giving hope to people who are currently hopeless. That is something I want to do with my career.
I knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit or start my own nonprofit. Just being able to see the day-to-day operations of a nonprofit – the strategy, the marketing, the fundraising, branding, vision – for me, that perfectly translates to what I want to do with my career. It definitely was an experience that I will be able to continue to use in my career.
Three Clinton School students are enjoying their time in Cape Town, South Africa, this summer. Emily Loker and Joshua Snyder, who are working on the South African Education Project, were recently joined by Jason Lochmann at Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town.
Loker is busy conducting interviews with high schools students, parents and teachers to further enrich SAEP’s understanding of what factors affect students. Snyder is performing a comparative study on the impacts of for-profit and not-for-profit tutoring organizations.
Loker is a graduate of Northland College with a degree in English and writing. She served as an AmeriCorps member with Anti-Hunger Opportunity VISTA and Multilingual Leadership Corps. Loker’s public service areas of interest include youth empowerment, social justice, food security, and refugee and immigrant rights.
Snyder is a graduate of Arizona State University with a degree in Journalism, and a graduate of St. John’s College with a master’s in liberal arts. He has been a program monitor for an afterschool reading program with the Sherman Independent School District, a youth adviser at an emergency shelter for teenage boys, and an AmeriCorps VISTA member. Snyder’s public service areas of interest include public education and youth development.
Lochmann is a graduate of Lyon College, where he was student body president, with a degree in biology. He previously served as an Arkansas Department of Health Stead Scholar, Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence Summer Research Fellow, and volunteered as a White River Medical Center health coach. Lochmann’s public service interests include civil rights, public health with an emphasis in mental health, LGBTQ advocacy, and rural health matters.
The 2017 Under 40 Forum report was released this morning by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. The report is being mailed to political, business and community leaders across the state and can be viewed online at www.rockefellerinstitute.org/2017under40report.
The report summarizes the discussions that took place March 2-3 at the Rockefeller Institute at the Under 40 Forum, which invited all 40 Under 40 honorees as designated by the two business publications in 2016 to engage in meaningful dialogue to address “Fractured Arkansas.” The topic sought to explore the various divisions – social, economic, cultural, political, etc. – that divide the state and hinder progress, and to offer solutions to those challenges.
A group of the 2017 Under 40 Forum participants met earlier today with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to discuss the report and expand on their findings.
“After my meeting with the Under 40 honorees at the Capitol on Tuesday morning, I am more confident than ever about the future of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “This generation of leaders have big ideas and the commitment to service that will help bring the ideas into reality. I applaud them for their hard work and clear thinking.”
One of the key issues identified in the report is a need for alternative approaches to education.
“It’s no surprise that education was a key part of the discussion at the Under 40 Forum,” said Dr. Marta Loyd, executive director of the Rockefeller Institute. “This topic was a highlight of their meeting with the governor. They championed a greater commitment to internships and mentorships for high school students. Building bridges between the business community and our schools was a clear priority.”
Another key theme of the report is leadership in cultural competency.
“The need for better understanding across cultural gaps is pretty clear,” said Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. “It was encouraging to have this impressive group of young leaders, from various cultural backgrounds, all working together and all willing to be honest with the governor about what they think is important.”
One of the recommendations in the report is for cultural competency to become a priority not just in the more populated portions of the state, but also in small towns and in corporate board rooms.
The Under 40 Forum began in 2016 as a partnership between the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service,Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. It was supported this year by Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, Simmons Bank, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Clinton School.
About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute
In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.
Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.
First off, congratulations. Your achievement at this University is remarkable and it deserves all of this recognition and more. I’m honored to be speaking with you and I can’t wait to see what amazing things you all do in this world. I imagine some of the smartest ones among you are asking, what could a guy that makes movies possibly have to say to a group so committed to the betterment of the world? It’s a fair question, and one that I’ve been asking myself since Skip invited me to give this speech two months ago. So I tried to think about this program and the work that you all are setting out to do, and I tried to find a way to relate to it. I realized that what you all are setting out to do and what I set out to do in my career, while the goals are different, the inspiration and execution of those goals are pretty similar. We all are passionate about an idea, and we all must strive to service that idea with our work. So I want to talk about passion, I want to talk about the creation of an idea, and I want to talk about the service we give to those ideas. Together, I think these things are the engines that help us affect the world.
The greatest thing about a passionate person is that they don’t need to be told what to do. That doesn’t mean they don’t need advice, guidance or support throughout their life, quite the opposite actually. It means that a passionate person always finds a way, regardless of the path.
Growing up the son of a furniture store owner here in Little Rock in a solid middle class family, I couldn’t have felt or honestly been further away from the Hollywood machine that made the films I watched every week at our local multiplex, but despite this I grew up wanting to make movies. I went away to film school without a clue of what the process of making a film involved, and once I discovered more about that process and graduated from film school, I still had no clear or easy path to actually making my first film. I waited tables at a pizza place while living with my parents, I wrote ad copy for Fudruckers restaurant at a boutique ad agency. I did whatever I could to pay my rent, but had you asked me what I did for a living back then, I’d tell you, “I make movies.”
I was never defined by the jobs I took or the places I found myself along the way. I was defined by my passion for the thing I wanted to do most in my life. My first serious girlfriend once asked me over the phone when we were in college what I was going to do after graduation. I said, “Make a movie.” She wisely asked, “but what if you don’t?” I said, “But I am going to make a movie.” And she asked again, “Yeah, but what if you don’t?” I had no answer for her. She was smart, and she was being practical. But I honestly couldn’t answer her. And that’s what I mean by being a passionate person. You hold a goal in your mind, and no matter where you are in life, everything you do bends you toward that goal. I had no clue how long it would take, or who’s money would be spent to make it happen, but those just seemed like details to me. The greater trajectory was defined by what I was really passionate about.
You may have already encountered a few, “But what if you don’ts?” You may have even encountered a “That’ll never happen.” In a way, those are the easiest ones to respond to. Sometimes, you may never have anyone ask, “But what if you don’t?” That could be because they may not be asking about your project at all. It’s easy for people to go all day without thinking about getting water and sanitation to more parts of Uganda. Nothing in their day may cause them to wonder about the quality of services for seniors from the Arkansas Food Bank. And that is where your passion starts to pay off. As a passionate person, you are always going to be the best advocate for your idea, regardless of resistance or worse indifference. If you’re truly passionate about something, every person you come into contact with will have the opportunity to be affected by your ideas. Your passion for that idea will consume your life, and it will be your greatest tool in realizing your goal.
Now, it’s not always easy being a passionate person. I remember driving around one day behind a garbage truck. I was in the middle of trying to write one of these screenplays, which usually means I was deep in the pits of self-doubt and crippling insecurity. And as I trailed behind this garbage truck, watching these guys grab sacks of yard clippings off the street, I thought, “That must be amazing.” I bet when those guys go home, they don’t think one minute about that sack of garbage. I bet when they get home their minds are free to think about sports or the weather. I’m sure they have their worries. I imagine they’re worried about paying their mortgage, or if the city is going to cut their health benefits next quarter, but whatever they are worried about, I can almost guarantee you it isn’t that sack of garbage. No, when you are passionate about something, it is your work and your life. It shapes you, your family, and everything that comes in contact with you. It has to be that way, and the truth is we don’t have a choice in it. Our passionate ideas choose us, and how we respond to them will define our efficacy in this life.
Now, passion for an idea, passion for an idea. Let’s talk about this supposedly great idea. This is where the rubber starts to meet the road. In my life, I can attest to the fact that it is not always about the quality of your idea, but usually the clarity of it. In most of my films, I’m not reinventing the wheel. I’m actually trying to find universal ideas and tether them to earth through specificity. Unrequited love was the basis for my film MUD. Not exactly treading new ground with that one, but you don’t often see a boat in a tree or a man in a homemade diving helmet crafted out of a hot water heater. It’s those details, that specificity to place, that makes the big, universal idea gain traction in the minds of the audience, and it’s where my ideas begin to find their clarity.
I’m a big believer in clearly enunciating your idea, say it out loud, even if it sounds cheesy. Say it out loud, even if you’re not entirely sure what it is yet. I love to sit people down and tell them about the stories I’m working on. It forces me out of my own head and makes me accountable for the dreams I’m hatching. It also drills down the essence of my idea. It’s shocking how far you can get on something before you really know what it is you’re trying to do. I made a film called MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. Don’t worry if you didn’t see it, the vast majority of people did not see that film. Despite that fact, it’s probably the most personal film I’ve made, because it’s about my son. Now, I could literally tell you every scene in the first 45-minutes of that story long before I ever knew what it was about. I knew it would be a sci-fi, action chase film, but that’s just plot. I knew I wanted it to be about a father and son, but that’s not a full idea. Father and son, what about a father and son? It wasn’t until I witnessed my son having a febrile seizure, and my wife and I feared we might lose him, that I realized what I was doing. I was making a film about a father having to deliver his son to another place. Maybe that’s heaven, maybe it’s college, or in the film’s case a parallel dimension, but at the end of it I knew my idea behind this film was about a father delivering his son to another place. That’s a lot different than just saying I’m making a film about a father and son. What I challenge you all to do, is never stop cultivating your ideas. Work them over, say them out loud. They’ll be better for it.
Okay, so we’ve got a group full of passionate people here with amazing, fully realized ideas. Great. High-fives all around. But this work is serious and a lot of inspiring words aren’t enough. That’s what leads me to the word service. Every film that I’ve made was born out of an idea that was personal to me, and that’s a terrifying thing to share with the world. Once you step out and say, this is how I see things, this is what I think of things, in your case this is how I want to fix things or make things better, when you do that you immediately set yourself up for critique. In fact, in my business, there are people specifically employed to sit back in judgement of my ideas. And that’s okay, that’s how things work, and it can honestly be a galvanizing force, but the worst critique I can get, is one where the viewer failed to see, feel or understand the idea behind my film. That’s my failure. Because everything I do, writing, directing, editing, should be in service of that original idea.
The service of an idea is one of the most crucial things any of us can do with our lives. I’m going to say that again because it’s kind of my point for this whole thing. Your service to an idea is one of the most crucial things you can do with your life.
To make an impact, I believe you have to clearly enunciate what it is you want to say or do and then make every choice and action in that endeavor support it. In a film, every line of dialogue I write, every shot that I frame, every cut that is made, should be in service of the greater idea I’m trying to convey. If it doesn’t do that, it’s not necessary. It needs to be culled.
When I set out to make my most recent film, LOVING, about Richard and Mildred Loving’s battle for the right to be married and live in their home state of Virginia, I was immediately struck by the idea that this was a great American love story. These were two people whose love was so sincere for one another that they were willing to live in hiding under the threat of arrest or much, much worse just to stay together in the place they belonged. To me, it was one of the most beautiful, pure expressions of love I’d ever heard of. Now, Loving V. Virginia also happens to be a landmark supreme court decision that would prove integral to the Civil Rights movement as well as more recent struggles for marriage equality. To grossly understate the matter, it was an important case. But you watch the film we made, and you don’t see any rousing court room scenes. You don’t even see the sweeping effect the decision had on our society. Why not? Because that was not my idea for the film. My idea was about the love between these two people. So rather than court room scenes, all you see are two people, continually reaffirming their love for one another. Every line, scene, and edit was constructed to service that idea. Lots of people disagreed with that approach, but luckily for me lots of people liked it too.
Regardless though, once I had that idea clearly enunciated, every part of the process that followed had to be in service of it. And I look out at you all, and I know you are teeming with ideas to thrust upon this world. Accessibility to housing, school breakfast, women’s empowerment in Dubai, tourism in Albania, improving computer systems in Mozambique. These are worthy, true, good ideas, and it will be on your shoulders to service them with the passion that got you here. I truly believe the service of an idea is what will ultimately allow you to fulfill your passion.
So, in closing, I’m becoming more and more rare in the world of filmmakers because I’ve never made a big superhero movie. I talked about directing Aquaman for a while, but luckily the studio came to their senses and hired someone else. I’m sure it’s going to be great, but the point is I’ve spent some time studying the subject, and I have to say, you all are like superheroes to me. Through your ideas, your passion and your studies, you now have these powers, and today we are watching as you take them out into the world and do great, great things with them. I’m inspired by you, and I look forward to seeing what your passion delivers. Thanks for letting me be a part of this. Good luck.