Donaghey Scholars Honors Program, a ‘hidden jewel,’ still strong 25 years later

It’s a typical muggy Arkansas afternoon, but the UALR Donaghey Scholars Honors Program is abuzz with activity as an incoming class of new scholars listens attentively from inside the comfort of an air-conditioned classroom in the Engineering and Information Technology Building.

“It’s never too early to start thinking about your final project,” Associate Director Dr. Marcia Smith tells them. “It is a requirement of the program in order to graduate.”


The scholars–who come from across Arkansas, as well as Texas, Kansas, and even Germany–ask questions about core course requirements and study abroad opportunities, but mostly, they just listen.

Approximately 350 graduates of the program have gone on to notch successful careers and opportunities across the globe.

The program, open to all majors, offers a distinctive undergraduate environment that emphasizes critical thinking through the reading of primary texts, writing, and discussion.

For the first time, UALR is offering this newest cadre of 25 scholars an overnight stay as part of their orientation in order to allow time with older, more experienced scholars and a more immersive campus experience.

Their orientation comes on the heels of the program’s Silver Jubilee celebration on June 1 at the Jack Stephens Center. June marks the 25th anniversary of the first graduating class of the program, as well as 25 years of Donaghey Foundation support.

About 170 people attended the celebration, including close to 100 former Donaghey Scholars, which was also a kickoff fundraiser to establish the C. Earl Ramsey Distinguished Lecture Series. Ramsey has served as the program’s director for 25 years and will retire in December.

About $14,000 was raised at the event and even more donations are flowing in for the campaign that ends Dec. 31, according to Howard Walker, major gifts officer in the UALR Office of Development.

Jessica Scott, Donaghey Scholar program administrator, said the event marked the first time UALR formally sponsored a reunion of scholar alums, although many informal get-togethers have occurred throughout the years.

“We are incredibly pleased with the turnout,” Scott said. “The response has been very positive and enthusiastic, so far. Our scholars clearly want to be involved with the program and UALR.”

Among them is Joy Matlock, legal services liaison at Heifer International in Little Rock. Matlock not only made the Silver Jubilee, she also served as a host committee member responsible for encouraging other Class of 1996 scholars to attend.

During the reunion, Matlock personally thanked one of the program’s first administrators, Emily Lewis, who planted in Matlock the idea to apply as a Donaghey Scholar during a visit to her high school honors English class. The double major in international studies and Spanish said UALR was not even on her radar at the time. Matlock remembers vividly getting the phone call to interview for a spot in the program and then having to explain to a committee what it meant to be a “scholar.”

“I remember saying it was someone with a thirst for knowledge, but who also deeply felt that for everything he or she knows and learns, there is still so much more to know and learn,” she said.

“It was, and still is, about making a connection to knowledge and personal growth and how you relate it to the people around you and society as a whole … you only grow when you keep moving forward.”

Matlock said she received a phone call from Ramsey welcoming her to the program. The money she received as a scholar enabled Matlock to immerse herself in a study abroad program in Spain for five weeks one summer and also to graduate from UALR without debt.

It also endowed her with the intensive level of reading, writing, and critical thinking skills later required of her at the law school at Washington University in St. Louis.

Matlock said the jubilee was a wonderful time to honor Ramsey as well as reflect on the program itself.

“You sometimes forget what is great about it. Back then, I could not see the bigger picture, but now I see what they were trying to accomplish, and it was stellar. I am eternally grateful,” Matlock said.

“It is a hidden jewel on our campus and a wonderful resource to allow UALR to be a contender for certain students.”

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