Graduate Brianne Smith of Fayetteville wasn’t sure what her topic of research would be for the Honors International Studies Program at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith until her husband, then her fiancé, received a phone call her junior year.
Smith was required to conduct a junior research project as part of the program, which tasked her to explore a project within her major and present her research for her capstone. While she knew she wanted to explore a topic relating to early development of children, she didn’t have a specific focus until her husband was told he would be deployed for six months overseas.
“While his deployment ended up being cancelled, it still made me think about what happens to young children when parents are deployed,” said Smith, a Fayetteville High School graduate. “And after we got married, I couldn’t help but wonder how I would handle raising a young child should my husband ever be deployed.”
At UAFS, Smith found plenty of opportunities to do more with her research interest. When she went to program director Dennis Siler with her idea to research military families, he encouraged her through recommending faculty members for advisers and local military families she could interview.
What Smith found in her research frustrated her. There was a lack of information regarding the effect parents leaving for military duties had on their children.
She sought to remedy that, in part with the help of Dr. Shelli Henehan, assessment coordinator of child development programs in the School of Education, who agreed to serve as her adviser. Henehan supported her, helped her network with local professionals in her area of interest, and attended several of her presentations.
“Dr. Henehan is by far the most resourceful person I have ever met,” she said. “She was overjoyed to work with me throughout my project and was more supportive than I could have ever hoped. She’s practically my family now.”
Smith started her research by compiling a 15-page thesis of the limited information she could find about her topic, and then proceeded to study children from the Greenwood School District.
Her research revealed a wealth of information that she found both “disappointing and surprising.” She found a need to raise awareness of military children’s challenges to their teachers, and surveyed military families about their needs.
That research blossomed into a passion for Smith, which she has pursued in several ways. To raise awareness of the issue, she has presented her research at five different conferences in the region, including the Great Plains Honor Conference held at John Brown University and the Western Arkansas Early Childhood Conference held at UAFS.
Her passion for her research also led her to write a children’s book on the topic, written from the perspective of a fourth grade boy whose father deploys and misses out on almost his entire year of school.
“The book explores many struggles faced by military children and families as discovered through my personal research and observations, and repeatedly tugs at the heartstrings,” Smith said. “The book explores the boy’s personal and emotional struggles as he comes to term with his father’s long term deployment and military career.”
After graduating from UAFS in December with a degree in early childhood education, Smith is seeking employment as a teacher and plans to pursue her master’s degree, while also trying to publish her book. She is also considering enlisting in the military herself.
When she looks back on her time at UAFS, she sees a school that provided her more opportunities than she could possibly imagine.
“Without the Honors International Studies Program and my professors, there simply would have never been a research project or even my anecdotal research of military children,” Smith said. “I have no doubt that UAFS is the only university I could have chosen that offered this kind of support and close-knit relationships.”
The Honors International Studies Program Scholarship is a highly competitive scholarship for students who demonstrate strong academic performance. The program consists of a unique honors general education curriculum with international focus, exciting travel study classes, service opportunities, independent study project options, and the opportunity for graduation with honors.
For more information about educational opportunities at UAFS, visit www.uafs.edu or call 479-788-7000.
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Through a small campus, dedicated professors, and the university’s unique bond with its community, students at UAFS are able to do more in the areas they are passionate about, both on- and off-campus, in a way that prepares them for post-graduate success. To find out how you can do more at UAFS, visit www.uafs.edu.