From mowing grass to NASA: Siratt finds success at UA Little Rock

John Siratt. Photo by Ben Krain.

Five years ago, John Siratt, of Malvern, began classes at UA Little Rock as a non-traditional transfer student with no “master plan,” but a desire to see how much he could achieve. 

Now, Siratt will graduate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on May 11 with a Master of Science in mathematical sciences as well as two prestigious graduate fellowships to earn his Ph.D. in mathematics at one of the best universities in the country.

In 2014, he struggled to support himself through college while working full-time as a groundskeeper at the College of the Ouachitas. It wasn’t his first attempt at college, having attended the University of Arkansas right after high school and later Henderson State University, but Siratt was determined to make this time a success.

“I originally decided to come back to school because we lost my little brother in 2010, and it made me reassess my life priorities,” Siratt said. “It made me see what a loss it was, considering how much good he could have done in the world. After a year and a half, I took that job at a community college mowing grass just so I could go back to school.”

After graduating from the College of the Ouachitas in 2014, Siratt began his studies as a part-time student at UA Little Rock. He became a full-time student after Dr. Allen Thomas, a former UA Little Rock faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, hired Siratt to work as a research assistant in 2015.

“I call myself a second-chance student. I wasn’t successful in college when I was younger because I didn’t have clear goals,” he said. “Growing up, most people around me didn’t understand the concept of going to school for math if you weren’t going to become a school teacher.”

At UA Little Rock, Siratt has found great success in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. He completed two internships with the Formal Methods Research Program at the NASA Langley Research Center in Norfolk, Virginia, in summer 2017 and 2018. Siratt has been recognized by the department with the Outstanding Achievement by an Undergraduate and Outstanding Senior awards.

Last year, Siratt received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship provides three years of financial support through a $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the student’s graduate institution.

John Siratt works on algebraic equations in his office at UA Little Rock. Photo by Ben Krain.

Siratt also received the Richard and Peggy Notebaert Premier Fellowship from the University of Notre Dame, where he will pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics. Siratt was one of eight recipients selected from more than 5,000 applicants for the fellowship, Notre Dame’s most prestigious scholarship. The fellowship is a five-year renewable scholarship that covers full tuition at Notre Dame and includes a $40,000 yearly stipend.

Looking back on his time at UA Little Rock, Siratt is thankful to his wife, Chassidy, who is studying drawing in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program, Dr. Lakeshia Jones, assistant professor of mathematics, and Dr. Steven Minsker, professor of computer science, for keeping him motivated and encouraging him to pursue new opportunities.

“You have to look for other experiences, like mentors, internships, and research projects,” Siratt said. “These experiences help you grow into success. No one should expect to come out of their education as the same person as when they started because education has completely transformed myself and who I am. It helped me explore areas of myself and opportunities that would not have been available otherwise. I mean, how many guys on a lawnmower get to go to NASA? It’s been a really cool experience after all.”

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