Ursin named 2019 Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award Winner

Nicole Ursin, the 2019 Whitbeck Scholar Award winner, has worked at the Arkansas Historic Museum for two years.

A Donaghey Scholar who is passionate about preserving and sharing history through her work at museums has been chosen as this year’s recipient of the Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

Nicole Ursin, 21, of Batesville, has earned a 4.0 GPA while double majoring in anthropology and history with a minor in nonprofit leadership studies, all while working at nine different museums and historical organizations throughout her college career.

The Whitbeck Memorial Award is the single greatest distinction the university annually bestows on a graduating student through a competitive application process that comes with a $2,000 prize. Ursin will receive the award during a luncheon beginning at 11:30 a.m. Friday, May 10, at the Clinton Presidential Center Great Hall in Little Rock.

In the fall, Ursin will begin a dual master’s degree program in applied anthropology and historic preservation at the University of Maryland. Once her education is complete, she would like to continue her historic preservation and education work at a museum and consult for communities that want to  increase tourism based on historical sites.

When she started college in 2015, Ursin looked to UA Little for an affordable, in-state education the provided her access to museums and culture in the heart of the capital city. She was also accepted into the prestigious Donaghey Scholars program, which provides tuition, fees, an on-campus housing subsidy, and a yearly stipend for up to four years, as well as financial assistance toward a Study Abroad program and a computer.

“I wanted to stay in Arkansas for the affordability of staying in state, but I also wanted to be in Little Rock where I would be at the center of where things are happening in heritage and culture,” Ursin said. “I wanted to work and intern at museums and historical organizations, and being a part of the Donaghey Scholars helped me get the liberal arts education that I wanted.”

During her study abroad experience, Ursin interned at the Národní (National) Museum in the Czech Republic. She preserved historic human remains from medieval times as well as worked in the Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and Native American Cultures.

“I even got to piece together a human skull that was broken into fragments,” she said.

In Little Rock, Ursin has interned the National Archives and Records Administration, the Center for Arkansas History and Culture, and the Clinton Foundation. For the past two years, she has worked at the Historic Arkansas Museum, where she researched the factors that drive museum audience demographics and diversity.

Throughout her internships, she has developed educational materials for the Clinton Presidential Center’s traveling exhibits and photographed and rehoused museum artifacts from President Bill Clinton’s administration. She also created an online exhibit about the life of Elizabeth Huckaby, the vice principal for girls at Little Rock Central High School who was responsible for protecting the six female members of the Little Rock Nine.

Ursin loves the opportunity to bring history to life for people to better understand the past. During her last two years with the Historic Arkansas Museum, she has learned some invaluable 19th-century skills like candle making and butter churning, to the delight of visiting children.

Nicole Ursin, the 2019 Whitbeck award winner, has worked at the Arkansas Historic Museum for two years. Photo by Benjamin Krain.
Nicole Ursin, the 2019 Whitbeck award winner, has worked at the Arkansas Historic Museum for two years. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

“I love my time at the Historic Arkansas Museum,” she said. “I have learned the most and been given the most opportunities to work in different parts of the museum. I am on the education staff, so I help coordinate programs and give historic tours. Recently, I coordinated the museum’s spring break week activities where we do a lot of living history demonstrations. We show people how to do historic cooking and laundry, candle making, butter churning, and a printing press. Kids usually love to make butter. People often don’t understand how much of a chore it would be to do these activities back in the 1840s.”  

Additionally, Ursin has volunteered at UA Little Rock’s Sequoyah National Research Center, the Quapaw Quarter Association, and the Old Independence Regional Museum in Batesville. She has curated a permanent exhibit panel about school in early Arkansas, helped develop a database of Arkansas obituaries from newspaper records, and researched historic buildings in Arkansas to aid in historic preservation.

On the anthropology side, Ursin put her skills to use by studying an immigrant community of Micronesians living in Corsicana, Texas. Along with her mentor, Dr. Juliana Flinn, professor of anthropology and gender studies, she has visited Corsicana on multiple occasions to meet with community leaders and longtime residents to learn about daily life in the community.

“I think one of the most interesting components of the research is how much the immigrants are working to preserve their culture while maintaining a deep connection by visiting the island, sending money back to relatives, and staying active in politics,” Ursin said. “They are really trying hard to preserve their culture and share their culture in Texas.”

The UA Little Rock Faculty Senate Honors and Awards Committee selects the Whitbeck scholar based on t citizenship, scholarship, and leadership. Frank L. and Beverly Whitbeck established the award in memory of their son, Edward Lynn Whitbeck, who was a senior at Little Rock University, the predecessor of UA Little Rock, at the time of his death in 1965. Each scholar receives a personalized plaque and a monetary award and will lead the graduating students during the academic processional at spring graduation on May 11.

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