Math struggles turn to triumph for former chef Franklin Bick

Franklin Bick

For Franklin Bick, a college degree seemed out of reach. 

Everywhere he turned, a nemesis blocked his path. He couldn’t pass algebra.

At least that’s what Bick thought until he enrolled in a 2013 summer class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Not only did Bick excel in that algebra course, but this month the 37-year-old North Little Rock resident will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in economics and finance and a minor in math.

“It does blow my mind,” said Bick, as he looked back on his undergraduate experience. He now will pursue a master’s degree at the University of North Texas.

Bick graduates the same year his 18-year-old son Tyler finishes high school.

“(Tyler) said, ‘Dad, are you going to come to my graduation?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, are you coming to mine?’” Bick said with a laugh.

Tyler plans to attend the University of Missouri to pursue a career in sports journalism.

When he was a teenager, Bick didn’t enjoy school and didn’t see the value of education. In Bick’s view, his family was surviving just fine even though his dad dropped out of high school and his mother had a GED.

While Bick had no love for school, cooking had long been a passion. Since his first fast food job at the age of 16, Bick prepared food in just about every restaurant environment imaginable.

He was working as a cook in Little Rock when his job was eliminated, and he decided to, once again, go back to school.

Facing the challenge

Bick had a previous stint at UA Little Rock and also was enrolled in culinary school — each time, algebra seemed an insurmountable obstacle, and he withdrew from classes.

In total, he took algebra four times.

After his job was eliminated, Bick enrolled in a summer 2013 algebra class taught by Ida Umphers, senior instructor in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Mathematics and Statistics Department.

“She had a big role in helping me,” Bick said.

Bick wasn’t accustomed to seeking assistance, but this time he was engaged from the beginning. He showed up to class, did his homework, and asked plenty of questions.

“He’s incredibly sharp, and he didn’t take anything for granted,” Umphers said. “His struggle was not evident in class. He did a super job.”

Bick was adept at leading or working in groups, Umphers said.

“Franklin is just one of those folks who has the old-fashioned politeness,” Umphers said.  “It’s a really nice thing to encounter,”

Seeing students who previously struggled with math start to shine is one of the joys of teaching for Umphers.

“We’re going to hear great things from him down the road,” Umphers said. “He is going to be a success in whatever he decides to do in economics.”

Charting a new course

When Bick decided to enroll at UA Little Rock in 2013, he wasn’t sure about his major, but he had a good idea about which general direction his studies would take.

“I knew it was going to be business,” Bick said. “It’s always been business for me.”

As he explored his options, he found a fit with economics. He was particularly intrigued by math models that described economic behavior.

“This stuff is amazing,” Bick said. “I just got engulfed.”

Dr. Sarah Quintanar in the Department of Economics and Finance introduced him to research.

She also “taught me to think about why economic relationships matter, which will motivate my study and help frame and answer questions,” Bick said. “She has been an amazing mentor throughout this process.

He now envisions a career as a research economist. After he finishes his master’s degree, Bick plans to pursue a Ph.D.

A helping hand

In addition to the guidance Umphers and Quintanar provided, Bick is thankful for the assistance he got from TRIO Student Support Services and the McNair Scholars Program.

“The TRIO program has helped prepare me for graduate school,” Bick said. “It’s a very stressful process, and they’ve been there.”

Julie Shelby, a Student Support Services adviser, called Bick an “awesome, committed student.”

There is a downside, however, to Bick’s success, Umphers said.

“The world lost a great chef,” she said.

Bick still prepares meals at home and is enjoying the creative freedom cooking on his own provides. He also made sure that Tyler knew his way around a kitchen before he heads off to college.

While Bick considered not participating in the Saturday, May 13, UA Little Rock graduation ceremony, he wants to set an example, to show how important education has become to him.

“I’m doing this so my son sees this,” Bick said.

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