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Featured | NewsDecember 17, 2021

UAFS Graduates Reflect Ahead of 105th Commencement

Three of the more than 450 University of Arkansas – Fort Smith students who will be honored this Saturday at the university’s 105th commencement ceremony shared reflections on their university careers this week, looking back on the triumphs, struggles, and joys that led to the monumental achievement of graduation. 

Kellie Lindsay Garner, Bachelor of Business Administration graduate from Fort Smith, said she faced a multitude of challenges as a first-generation student, working mother, and business owner. Despite her non-traditional college path, Kellie shared that she found so much more than an education at UAFS. “I came back to school thinking I would earn a degree for a promotion at work, but I’m leaving having earned a promotion in life.”  

After graduation she will move to Omaha, Nebraska, to pursue her Ph.D. in economics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She was awarded a graduate assistantship in the Koraleski CABLab at UNO, which begins Jan. 3, 2022.

“The faculty in the College of Business and Industry went out of their way to motivate me and to push me to reach beyond my limited idea of what was possible for my future,” she shared. “Each one inspired me by their brilliance and by their dedication to advancing business students in the world of academia.”

“Kellie Garner is the best representation of what UAFS offers – transformation,” shared Dr. Latisha Settlage, dean of the College of Business and Industry. “As a non-traditional student, Kellie found confidence as she excelled in the classroom. As she built relationships with her business faculty, she found a professional calling. While at UAFS Kellie served as a peer advisor and peer mentor. She interned with the Literacy Council of Western Arkansans, and her supportive family received the first-ever UAFS Family of the Year Award in 2020.”

Surrounded by the faculty and family who made her achievement possible, she said she can’t wait to see the smiling faces of her people on graduation day.

“I am most excited to see my best friend and partner, Landon Turner, as well as my son, Jameson Garner, cheering me on. They have been my rock-solid support, and I owe this achievement to them!”

Kyle Kelly, a Bachelor of Science in computer science graduate from Van Buren, said he owes much of his success to UAFS Instructor Andrew Mackey. “He has helped me tremendously. He helped me get a job as a lab assistant at UAFS and allowed me to work with him on some of his research projects. Without his intervention I likely would not be pursuing a master’s degree and a Ph.D. after that.” Kyle plans to pursue a master’s degree in statistics and analytics from the University of Arkansas, followed by a Ph.D. in the same field of study.

“Mr. Kyle Kelly is an outstanding student within the Department of Computer Science that strives for excellence in all that he pursues,” said Dr. Linus Yu,associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “He has been actively involved in academic research with faculty members where he investigated novel techniques for natural language processing and machine learning applications.”

“Throughout his time within the department, he also competed for the department in programming competitions against other universities in our region. He regularly supports his peers through volunteer tutoring and in his position as departmental lab assistant. He developed several applications to help streamline communication between students during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Allee Staggs returned to UAFS to earn her Master in Education while working as a full-time teacher and single mom. “I received my bachelor’s through UAFS and loved the faculty that I worked with, so knew I would be supported,” she said. 

“I have a better understanding of curriculum and how to the design my instruction to best reach all my students,” she shared. “I have loved all my professors, and they have all influenced the educator I am today. I have gotten to experience both the math department and the education department at UAFS, and both departments are full with people that are going to push you to be your best and support you when you need it.”

Allee plans to continue teaching at Alma High School with a future goal of becoming a math curriculum specialist. 

"Allee Staggs exemplifies the kind of student konw will thrive in the Master of Education program," said Dr. Monica Riley, Executive Director of the UAFS School of Education. "Allee has a true passion for learning. She tackles problems with a smile and comes to class with a good attitude and a growth mindset, and we are so proud of her accomplishments."

Allee said she is most excited to see her 4-year-old son Jaydyn cheering from the stands on graduation day. “I had him my junior year of college, and he unfortunately did not get to see me graduate from undergrad in May 2020 because of the pandemic, so it’ll be really cool for him to see me get my second degree this fall!”

Graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Health, Education, and Human Sciences will be honored at the 10 a.m. ceremony and graduates from the College of Business and Industry at the 2 p.m. ceremony, Saturday, Dec. 18, at the Stubblefield Center on the UAFS campus. 

Arkansas Senator Mathew Pitsch will serve as the guest speaker.

Graduate information for the commencement ceremonies including attire, arrival times, honor stoles and cords, and accommodations can be found here.

Guest information including ticketing, parking, programming, photography, and accommodations can be found here.