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EAST scholar becomes unexpected freshman

Submitted by Chelsey McNiel on September 5, 2012 – 4:22 pmNo Comment

Freshman information science major Marisa Damm planned to apply at the University of Central Arkansas; however, her letter of recommendation for the EAST Initiative Scholarship was accidentally sent to UALR.

“I received a phone call from the EAST lab [at UALR] and I had no idea what they were talking about,” the 17-year-old said with a chuckle. “The next thing I know I have the scholarship and I am applying [to UALR]. It was definitely a good accident.”

As a sophomore at Mountain View High School, Damm helped lay a foundation for the school’s first Environmental and Spatial Technology program; more commonly known as EAST Lab.

That work helped Damm get a scholarship that will provide $40,000 for her college education. She is also a recipient of the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship.

Damm’s mother, Theresa Comeau, said without the EAST Initiative scholarship her daughter would not have been able to attend a four year university.

“The program gave her a whole new option for life,” Comeau said. “I love to see her come home excited and dedicated.”

According to, EAST is “an educational model focusing on student-driven service projects accomplished by using teamwork and cutting-edge technology. EAST classrooms are equipped with state-of-the-art workstations, servers, software and accessories.

Students identify problems in their local communities and then use these tools to develop solutions, collaborating with civic and other groups in the process.

The focus, however, is not on the technology itself, but on the unique learning environment of the EAST classroom, where students are responsible for creating their own project-based learning experience.”

“I have always been interested in photography and videography,” Damm said. “I heard that they had equipment I could use. I joined [EAST] because of that, but then I got interested in the technology side of it.”

As a high school senior, Damm became a system administrator for her EAST lab and managed its computers. She also established an anti-drug and drinking program at Mt. View High School.

“I had never seen her more excited about anything,” Comeau said. “It became a passion and gave her self-confidence.”

Before her high school graduation, Damm wrote a grant for her school to receive a distracted driving simulator.

According to Damm, the simulator plugs into a cell phone and distracts the user through text messages. Once the user “wrecks,” the simulation takes them through all the stages of an ambulance or helicopter ride, getting booked in jail and the court system.

“You actually realize how bad [distracted driving] could be,” Damm said.

Damm also worked on a project she named “Letters to Legislators.” She encouraged fellow students to thank their legislators for the specific bills they were working with and for their support of Arkansas’ EAST Labs.

Damm said her biggest challenge was engaging team members, but she has learned to delegate responsibility because part of EAST Lab is learning to work as a team.

“I found out what they were interested in and I learned it [to teach them],” she said.

In her time at UALR, Damm hopes to organize a meeting at the capital’s Rotunda Room. The meeting will allow college students to mentor high school students and also introduce legislators to the affects of EAST Labs in their communities.

“I want to show [legislatures] we are not just a regular classroom,” she said.

Damm said she believes the knowledge and opportunity to achieve her dream job at EAST Initiative will come from her education at UALR.

While her studies focus on internet safety and computer forensics, Damm said she may also be interested in setting up EAST facilities.

But for now, Damm said she is adjusting to college life and making friends. And, of course joining campus groups such as the Society of Computing and Information Technology and the Society of Women Engineers.

“I am an optimist,” she said. “No matter what happens in life, there is always a bright side to it.”

Freshmen chosen for this series are nominated by UALR faculty and staff. To nominate a freshman email


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