Featured Projects

2018/19 Signature Experience Awardee: Nicole Ursin
Named Edward L. Whitbeck Memorial Award Winner

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.

“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.

2018/19 Signature Experience Awardee: Michael Meziere, Wins SURF Award
to Investigate if Religiosity is Connected to Misconceptions about Sexual Assault

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student is researching the relationship between religiosity, sexual misconduct, and rape myth acceptance.

Michael Meziere, of Little Rock, is examining if religiosity plays a factor in the misconceptions and myths surrounding sexual assaults on college campuses. To carry out this study, Meziere will conduct surveys to gather information on religious beliefs and sexual attitudes.

“In society, the acceptance of rape myths, which lead to placing the blame on victims of sexual assault, is a real problem,” Meziere said. “There are not many studies that focus on religiosity and rape myth acceptance, so this will hopefully add some good data to that research area. We hypothesized that people who identify as very religious will be less likely to engage”

After discussing victim blaming among sexual assault victims in the classroom, Michael Meziere, a senior criminal justice major, got interested in doing research on the topic. Dr. Molly Smith, assistant professor of criminal justice, who specializes in research on sexual assault, rape myths, and the commercial sex trade, is serving as Meziere’s mentor.

“Michael’s research focuses on how religiosity impacts sexual victimization and sexual offending, particularly among college students,” Smith said. “While past studies have looked at these relationships individually, there has been minimal research on how they may be moderated by rape myth acceptance (false perceptions about the extent and nature of sexual assault). This is problematic given the high prevalence of sexual victimization and rape myth acceptance on college campuses, as well as the impact that religiosity may have on victim assault recognition and reporting. Michael’s study intends to increase our understanding of these relationships, and thus potentially inform future policy initiatives aimed at curbing victimization.”

Meziere will conduct a survey during February and March to see if there is a connection between a person’s religiosity, morality, and their acceptance of rape myth. He plans to present the results of his research at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences annual meeting in Baltimore in March and the UA Little Rock Student Research and Creative Works Expo in April.

“I hope this study will help the cause of preventing sexual assault across America and give researchers better insights to prevent sexual assaults from happening in the future,” Meziere said.

The research is funded by a $2,125 Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) award from the Arkansas Department of Education and a $625 match from the UA Little Rock Office of the Vice Provost for Research.

2018/19 Signature Experience Awardee: Madeline Burke, Wins SURF Award
to Research Outdated Maritime Law Cited by Lawyers in Missouri Duck Boat Tragedy

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student has received a $2,750 Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) award from the Arkansas Department of Education to research an outdated maritime law that lawyers invoked in an attempt to avoid or limit legal damages sought by victims and their family members in a tourist boat accident that killed 17 people last summer.

Madeline Burke, a junior international and legal studies major and Donaghey Scholar from Little Rock, is thankful to receive the prestigious award that is a “great opportunity for people to research special topics of their interest.”

Burke said she was inspired to investigate the 1851 maritime law after reading newspaper articles that explained how lawyers for two companies, Ripley Entertainment Inc. and Branson Duck Vehicles, facing multiple lawsuits over the July 17 accident used the obscure law.

In an Oct. 18, 2018, article in the “Claims Journal,” Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said this type of filing is “common in claims related to maritime incidents,” and the “goal is to delay the multiple court cases to give the parties time for mediation.”

“One of the strategies of the lawyers was to use this outdated law to try to not have to pay the victims of this tragic accident or their families any money,” Burke said. “The law says that the ship owner’s liability is limited to the value of the vessel after the crash and any cargo that was on the vessel. The boat did not carry any cargo, only the tourists who stepped foot on that tragic ride. So essentially, the lawyers argued that the boat owner is only liable for what the vessel was worth after the crash.”

Burke will conduct her research this semester and into the summer under the mentorship of Dr. Casey Rockwell, assistant professor of marketing and advertising in the College of Business.

“In a time of crisis, we all want to be responsive, but what is our response? Do we ponder silently why this happened or do we take the time to engage in the conversation regarding the legal, societal, and political constructs that exist in the aftermath,” Rockwell said. “Maddie chose social activism through research. Her intent is to not only raise awareness of this crisis, but further engage a larger audience in the conversation of how laws, when not a perfect fit, are often contorted to meet new objectives. This further raises the question of whether modern laws need to be restrictive or have an adaptability for an ever-changing society.”

Burke will investigate the history of the law and the reasons why it was originally enacted as well as how the law has been used over the years leading up to the Missouri Duck Boat incident. The problem with some older laws, Burke points out, is that, over time, they are often used for purposes that fall far outside the original scope and intention of the law.

“This law was originally meant to protect ship owners from liability,” Burke said. “Back then, traveling across the ocean was very dangerous. This law was used to protect ship owners from being held responsible for accidents that were not their fault. Because the Duck Boat sunk and there was no freight on the boat, the company lawyers argued that they didn’t owe the victims and families anything.”

The award will cover the cost of Burke’s research materials as well a trip to Montreal to present her research, “Duck and Cover: How the Outdated Maritime 1851 Limitation of Liability Act Shields Shipowners from Liability,” at the Academy of Legal Studies in Business Conference in August.

Upon the completion of her research, Burke plans to make a policy recommendation to change the law so it would allow victims and family members the right to sue for civil damages.

“The end goal of this research is a policy recommendation to change the law,” she said. “The law is over 150 years old and so outdated. My policy recommendation would be to not only protect ship owners, but to provide victims and family members with the right to seek compensation when it’s the right thing to do, just like when you see a tragic accident like the Missouri Duck Boat incident.”

Burke has a history of uncovering outdated laws. In 2017, her paper, “The 1920 Death on the High Seas Act: An Outdated and Ambiguous Admiralty Law Shielding Cruise Lines Companies from Civil Liability,” earned the top student honor, the Outstanding Student Research Paper award, at the Academy for Legal Studies in Business conference and was published in the Maritime Law Journal, a top business journal in the field

Her paper explored how the law protects cruise lines from certain civil lawsuits by limiting families from recovering only pecuniary damages, what the deceased would have made for the family if the family is dependent on the person who died. This limits family members from suing for monetary damages if the person who died is unemployed, retired, a minor, etc., since the family is not financially dependent on the victim.

“The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is proud to make the investment in graduate and undergraduate research through SURF, the Signature Experience Grants, undergraduate research grants, and the College of Business research funding,” Rockwell said. “Through these sources, Maddie has become a top researcher in this field as an undergraduate. It is really quite impressive.”

2018/19 Signature Experience Awardee: Andrew Cherry
Researches how to Improve Lift Capabilities, Flight Times in Drones

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock student has been experimenting with drone design in hopes of making current drone technology more viable for commercial ventures.

Andrew Cherry, who will graduate May 11 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical systems engineering, is researching how to improve the lift capability and takeoff of quadcopter drones via fluid mechanics.

Drones that can take off using less force will use less battery life and be able to travel farther carrying greater loads, making them more viable for future ventures in delivery, transportation, and military operations.

“Most drones can generate plenty of lift to get themselves moving and have a good range distance,” Cherry said. “If we can improve the amount of lift drones generate at a lower RPM (rotations per minute) of the motor, then the drone will use less battery life and be able to travel longer without having to charge the batteries so often. If we can improve the lift, a delivery drone, for example, could travel to more places and deliver more packages without having to stop and recharge as often.”

Cherry first became interested in studying drone technology after taking a class with Dr. Jin Wook Lee, assistant professor of systems engineering, who serves as Cherry’s faculty mentor on the project.

“Throughout my classes with Dr. Lee, I’ve become more interested in fluid mechanics,” Cherry said. “It’s something I wanted to jump on board and learn more about. Working with drones is such a growing field. I came to school to learn, so I am glad to work on things that few people have worked on before.”

Cherry is one of more than 100 UA Little Rock students who received a $1,000 grant to conduct original research, creative works, and community service projects this semester as part of the university’s Signature Experience Award program. He presented his research at the Student Research and Creative Works Expo on April 18 in the Jack Stephens Center. The project is part of Lee’s ongoing research to create a novel thrust generator for drones.

“A novel thrust generator I am designing for drones is expected to have significantly less aerodynamic losses and therefore, the overall propulsive efficiency and the flight duration will be greatly improved,” Lee said. “Our ultimate goal is to implement this device for various commercial applications such as drone delivery service, military unmanned aerial vehicles, and passenger transportation.”

In Cherry’s research, he’s seeking to improve the lift and takeoff capabilities by employing a convex, dish-like surface structure known as a coanda surface underneath the drone’s propellers.

“According to the coanda effect reported in 1938, the pressure right at the convex surface is lower than the ambient air and therefore negative values, if air flows strongly over the surface,” Cherry said. “This negative pressure will generate additional lift forces and therefore contribute to improve the lift capability of a drone without significantly complicating the overall structure.”

Cherry was tasked with using ANSYS Fluent, an engineering simulation software, to create different designs of the coanda surface and running simulations with changing parameters to determine which design would generate the most lift force.

“From this project, we will be able to predict an optimal design so that eventually a quadcopter will have an improved overall efficiency and therefore longer flight durations and lift capabilities,” Cherry said. “The results will serve as a seed for further developments and improvement in the drone technology.”