Most people earn an associate degree at least two years after graduating from high school, but Zackary McClain of Van Buren chose to do things a little differently.
McClain walked across the platform May 11 in the spring commencement ceremony at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith as a candidate for an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Automotive Technology -- two weeks before graduating from Van Buren High School.
In doing that, he joins a small, select group of other high school students who have received college degrees at UAFS before their high school diplomas were awarded.
McClain participated in the Automotive Technology program through the Western Arkansas Technical Center at UAFS, earning 70 college credit hours and most of them for free. He also received two certificates of proficiency, one in automotive drivability specialist and one in undercar specialist.
Dr. Ray Wallace of Fort Smith, provost and senior vice chancellor, was enthusiastic about the WATC program and about McClain’s accomplishments.
“The WATC program continues to produce outstanding students like Zack,” said Wallace. “We as a University community applaud his achievement. Very few students have had the ability to say they earned enough college credit before graduating from high school to qualify for an associate degree. He has succeeded in doing just that while in WATC.”
McClain’s education will not stop after receiving his degree. He received the Boreham Engineering Scholarship at UAFS and will continue his education and work toward a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
McClain was actively involved in the WATC SkillsUSA student organization and represented WATC in the 2012 and 2013 state competitions for diesel technology, receiving a gold medal both years. He represented Arkansas in the national SkillsUSA competition last summer in Kansas City, Mo., where he placed fifteenth. He will represent Arkansas at the national competition again this summer.
Even though most of McClain’s college education has been paid for by WATC, some credits were earned at his high school by taking advanced placement and concurrent credit classes. The typical WATC student who attends during their junior and senior years completes approximately 30 credit hours.
McClain sees his UAFS commencement as a personal milestone.
“This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” he said, “but I based my expectation of reward on the effort I made to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way. On May 11, I realized I succeeded.”
WATC Director D. Chris Rink of Mansfield said McClain has worked extremely hard to accomplish this goal.
“He has risen far above the norm and set great expectations for himself that he has now achieved,” said Rink. “Being able to have completed two full years of college before graduating from high school is a testament to his drive in completing the degree requirements for an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Automotive Technology. We look forward to what the future has in store for Zack as he begins his education in engineering here at UAFS.”
McClain’s mom, Carolyn Nauman, is also proud of what her son has accomplished.
“Zack’s willingness and dedication continue to amaze us,” said Nauman. “His dad and I could not ask for a better role model for his younger brother and sister.”
The Boreham Engineering Scholarship which McClain received awards up to $30,000 over four years to pay tuition and fees. It also includes an optional housing waiver of $2,500 annually for four years. Qualifications include having a 27 or higher on the ACT, a 3.5 grade point average and a major in mechanical or electrical engineering.
The Western Arkansas Technical Center at UAFS is an area secondary center serving a six-county area. WATC provides area high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to earn college credits in automotive technology, computer-aided drafting and design, criminal justice, early childhood education, electronics technology, engineering, graphic design, health sciences, information technology and welding technology.