Kayla New will receive her MBA at UALR’s commencement Dec. 15, but she has already been putting her degree to work, advancing her life’s passions.
The 24-year-old from Dover, Ark., is the newest — and youngest ever — member of the board of the National Cave Research Foundation that facilitates research, management, and interpretation of cave systems.
The avid runner and hiker said she started caving about three and a half years ago.
“I started recreationally, and then I started meeting Cave Research Foundation researchers and joined the Little Rock Grotto,” she said.
Both groups of spelunkers are on the front lines of mapping caves and documenting the health of cave-dwelling bat populations. Both organizations work with the National Park Service and other agencies fighting the spread of white nose syndrome, a fungus decimating bat populations across the country.
“There’s a strain of a fungus that basically messes with (the bats’) immune system,” New said. “They wake up from hibernation too early and weak. With nothing to eat out there. When a colony is infected, there is about a 100 percent mortality.”
Federal agencies have closed all caves on public land in an attempt to protect bats from the syndrome.
“But we operate under a special research permit with the National Park Service. We provide research in biological monitoring, inventory information, and cave mapping,” New said. “I’ve explored caves 150 deep, and one’s 18 miles long. I’ve done six and a half inch squeezes. Not everyone can fit.”
When she is not squeezing through underground cave passages, New is finishing her MBA and working at the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at UALR’s College of Business, working to help small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures get off the ground.
She majored in economics and Spanish as an undergraduate at Arkansas Tech University.
“It’s pretty fun work, helping clients with their business plans, doing market research, financial development, and projections,” she said.
“I’ve been able to work with a variety of small businesses, from restaurants to variety stores. I’ve had such great work experience even before I get my degree.”
Fluent in Spanish, New recently completed translating ASBTDC’s “To the Point Business Planning Guide” and other agency documents into Spanish.
She has developed skills in Geographic Information Systems –- GIS –- to help clients make informed decisions by tying consumer spending and market data to specific locations.
“It’s my dream job,” she said. “If they would pay me to survey, I would certainly do it all day long.” She is mostly interested in focusing her talents and skills on the non-profit sector. “I like to help people,” she said.
Meanwhile, she is making her mark at UALR’s nonprofit small business center, where entrepreneurs and small business operators can obtain free advice and service to establish and grow their enterprises.
“Kayla routinely helps business owners evaluate potential business locations by looking at relevant market data for the location,” said ASBTDC Innovation and Market Research Manager Michael Singleton. “She is a whiz at managing complex projects and finding creative solutions to often difficult problems.”
New has used technology similar to what she uses at ASBTDC when she maps caves. The dreaded White Nose Syndrome hasn’t yet affected bat colonies in Arkansas, and New and her spelunker organizations hope it stays that way.
Singleton congratulated the Cave Research Foundation’s decision to appoint New to the organization’s board.
“We can teach business skills and give experience in working in real life business situations, but a student comes with her own attitude,” he said. “The combination of skill and attitude can take a graduate assistant to new heights, or in Kayla’s case, new depths.”