Category Archives: Honors

Middlespeak: Building Bridges to Immigrant Integration

By Anthony Blake via U of A Honors College Blog

We’ve all seen the photo of Omran Daqneesh, the little boy in an ambulance in Aleppo, covered in dust and blood from an airstrike that destroyed his home. International news has been awash in stories of immigrants crossing borders from Syria and other war-torn nations, and these people and the policies governing them have been demonized or lionized by rival camps.

Nathanael Mickelson’s honors thesis isn’t interested in these binaries: “The truth is always somewhere in the middle.” This history and business economics major is more attentive to the middle spaces, on understanding the historical and cultural reasons for the current migrant crisis. Sure, Mickelson says, if immigrants cannot assimilate into a culture, they can become a burden on an economy, but they can also be integral to countries like Sweden with low birth rates and labor shortages.

As he puts it, there’s a moral and then a feasibility challenge to immigration policies. Mickelson considered the latter, focusing on ways to get immigrants assimilated into an economy. For this he looked at one of the most daunting barriers—the pay gap between workers who speak the native language and those who don’t. Mickelson considered many factors that might affect this—distance from the immigrant’s home country, for example—before striking gold with his research question.

Immigrants who don’t speak the dominant language are at an economic disadvantage, but what effect does the presence of a third language, a lingua franca such as English, have on their chances to assimilate? This is the question Mickelson took up for his honors thesis, and it’s one that hasn’t been looked at before. He chose to focus on Sweden, a country sometimes called the “most open” in terms of its immigration policy, where English is so prominent an American like himself could spend a semester there without learning more than a few words of Swedish. Mickelson comes from Scandinavian stock, his last name is Swedish, and he studied economics at Jönköping International Business School during his junior year. Mickelson said, “Based on my daily life, being able to do well for five months at a Swedish university using English, it made me wonder if, especially with how accessible English is today, that provides an opportunity for a transition market.”

After crunching the numbers with data he collected from the European Social Survey, he found that knowledge of English all but eliminated the language gap. Immigrants could use English, a language much easier for them to learn, as a bridge to Swedish. Through rigorous statistical analysis he found that this greatly improved their chances of economic success.

Raja Kali, Mickelson’s thesis advisor, wasn’t surprised to hear that this research won Outstanding Honors Thesis for the Sam W. Walton College of Business last spring. “It’s really an outstanding piece of scholarship. He was able to gather data and provide a statistical analysis to shed light on this question, and that’s not easy, even for someone who’s a well-established and experienced researcher.” He says it’s a great sign for future potential.

Mickelson, whose research was funded by a SURF grant, realizes this work is a small but valuable piece of a bigger puzzle. “There are a ton of variables to a complicated problem like immigration. The more and more puzzle pieces we find out, the more complete our puzzle is. I think that’s really the key to research and the driving force of this. The future of this research is finding more specific data for this question and finding what the practical applications are. Would it be feasible in practice to have this English transition labor market?”

Mickelson is currently finishing up his math minor and has been encouraged by Kali to apply to top graduate schools across the country for economics. But he wants to come back: “I think Fayetteville is one of the few places where whatever you believe or your background is, it’s open arms. Ideally the Arkansas kid in me wants to wind up in a couple of random places, make some new memories but come back to teach in Fayetteville when I get my PhD.”

Matthew Evans Named Boyer Fellow for 2015

College is a life-changing experience for many students. For 2015 freshman Matthew Evans, his life changed before he even went to his first college class. Evans is the 2015 Boyer Fellow in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. He was a superior student at Conway High and already headed for Fayetteville and the U of A when he was selected as a Boyer Fellow. Continue reading Matthew Evans Named Boyer Fellow for 2015

Walton MBA and Henkel Partner on Sustainability Course Project

IMG_1234 The M.B.A. program at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas has joined with Henkel, the company behind well-known brands such as Dial soap, Purex laundry detergent and Loctite adhesive, to offer experiential learning opportunities for students.

The latest partnership revolved around Professor Vikas Anand’s spring-semester course Partnering Project. The course, which enrolls both M.B.A. and honors upper-level undergraduate students, provides the opportunity for academic application of sustainability to a manufacturing company’s real marketing goals.

IMG_1259The course concentrates on market research and consumer behavior analysis with regards to sustainability and on marketing plan development. The first is to determine sustainable products’ impact on shoppers’ habits and the second focuses on how to market to sustainable customers.

Henkel executives were involved in the course from the beginning of the semester, including initial presentations to students about the business challenge. They also served as mentors to student teams as they researched and developed business solutions and as judges as students competed to present insightful consumer research.

IMG_1266Last week, student teams engaged in a final round of friendly competition to present their research on consumer trends in sustainability. Using their findings, they made recommendations geared towards Henkel’s categories – Laundry & Home Care, Personal Care and Adhesives. Representatives from Henkel, Walmart, The Sustainability Consortium and the Walton faculty were on campus April 29 to judge the competition.

IMG_2620“Henkel has been a global leading innovator in developing sustainable products for many decades,” said Brent Horn, Henkel’s vice president of sales responsible for the global business development at Walmart. “Sustainability is one of our company’s five core values, and every new product is required to contribute positively to our sustainability strategy. Since 2007, we have gained invaluable consumer and product insights by partnering with the Walton College and The Sustainability Consortium at University of Arkansas. As a reult, we are launching new products that directly improve the sustainability metrics in our retail customers’ stores.”

The course united guest speakers from a range of businesses in the area that incorporate sustainable principles into their business strategies and that are familiar with consumer trends. Guest speakers included Rand Waddoups, senior director for Home & Office Electronics at Walmart; Angelo Welihindha, heaIMG_2627d of Hardware Sales at Google, Inc.; Julianne Brown, senior manager for Merchant Development at Walmart; Andrew Tucker, senior director for New Business Development at Nickelodeon; Soner Senlikci, vice president-Walmart at ShurTech Brands, LLC, and several others.

The application of the research students took on for this course could have far reaching applicability, as will the continuing partnership between Henkel and the Walton M.B.A. program to provide quality, hands-on project based learning experieIMG_2635nces for Walton College students as they prepare to enter the workforce.

Plans are for the course to be offered every spring. Contact Meredith McKee, assistant M.B.A. director, at or 479-575-3480 for more information.

EPIC Spotlight: Hannah Birch

Hannah Birch likes solving problems. She sees herself someday working for a consulting firm, helping businesses figure out mergers, acquisitions and management practices.

Coming to the University of Arkansas was an easy choice. Growing up about 45 miles southwest of Little Rock in the town of Malvern, her family always rooted for the Razorbacks. Following in the footsteps of her older brother, she became a U of A student. “This was the only place I applied,” she says matter-of-factly.

Hannah was inspired to pursue an education at the Sam M. Walton College of Business when she came to the university as a junior for a convocation that featured presentations by Walton students as well as Jason Adams, the college’s Honors Programs associate director, and Javier Reyes, vice provost for distance education and business professor. Hannah learned about the college’s rankings and opportunities for internships and real-world experience. The different study abroad programs offered through the college particularly interested her. “I knew I wanted to go to Belize,” she says.

During her freshmen year, she did. While there, Hannah and her fellow classmates participated in a community development program helping fledgling entrepreneurs, which included a daycare provider and juice salesman, with business planning, marketing and bookkeeping skills.

Since then, she has traveled to Mozambique, where she helped a poultry company analyze profitability measures, and to Rome, participating in the National Model United Nations class taught by Robert Stapp. While at the National Model United Nations, Hannah served on the Brazil team in the general assembly.

Now, Hannah participates in similar panels to the ones she encountered in high school encouraging students to come to the Walton College. “I try to show them the endless opportunities available here, like studying abroad,” she says.

She also works to partner freshmen with upper classmen through university’s Walton Honors peer mentorship program for honors students. “Students have great perspective and insight to share with one another because we deal with similar situations,” she says.

Hannah, now a junior, majors in both finance and accounting. Both involve working with numbers – which she likes – and problem solving.

She is vice president of membership for Walton’s Finance Association and chaired the freshman initiatives committee for the Walton Honors Student Executive Board. Hannah is also a member of Leadership Walton.

Away from Walton College, she is president of her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, where she has also served as treasurer, and is a U of A Ambassador. Hannah is the recipient of an Honors College Fellowship and the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship.

In the summer of 2014, she served an internship with the insurance division of BancorpSouth in Little Rock, where she helped build different programs, assessed the risk exposure of companies and organized some of the past policies for a few of the bank’s larger clients. She also has an internship with ConocoPhillips in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Following graduation, Hannah says she hopes to work for “three or four” years and then possibly earn an M.B.A. But in the meantime, she enjoys telling future students about the advantages of becoming a Walton student. “You get the big school opportunities but in a small group setting,” she says.

Gilbrech Featured in Arkansas Fellowship Video

Will Gilbrech, a Walton graduate and one of the inaugural class of Arkansas Fellows, is featured in a new video about his work at DataRank.


The Arkansas Fellowship program pairs graduating college seniors from state schools with Arkansas-based host companies for two-year internships that will pay an annual salary of $40,000.

Continue reading Gilbrech Featured in Arkansas Fellowship Video