UA Little Rock Fall Grads Move On To Next Chapter In Life

January 16-22, 2023

By Angelita Faller


Commencement is a time when college graduates can’t help but think about the next chapter of their lives. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock) celebrated more than 700 graduates during the commencement ceremony for the fall 2022 graduates on Dec. 17 at the Jack Stephens Center.


Gozde Gursoy, a native of Izmir, Turkey, earned a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration from UA Little Rock. Already a senior instructor in the Department of Construction Management & Civil & Construction Engineering, Gursoy has big plans for her career in higher education.


“I have been teaching for eight years, but my goal is to go into administration to become a chair and dean,” she said. “It occurred to me that I need to understand higher education as a whole. I wanted to learn about how to be more effective in the classroom. I am so glad I chose this as a degree. I feel like getting the doctorate has made me a better teacher and facilitator.”


After noticing how few women work in the construction industry, Gursoy interviewed women leaders working in the construction industry in Arkansas. Her dissertation identified the barriers women face in the field and examined the best strategies to attract Arkansas women to work in the construction industry. 


“This is one of the fields where it’s untraditional for a woman to want to enter,” Gursoy said. “Women in the United States only make up about 13% of construction management employees. Speaking with other women who participated in my study, I found it’s very common for a woman to be discouraged, disrespected, or people make remarks about her appearance instead of her skills. It takes the spotlight away from her talent. I call these women trailblazers, and they really are just by being present in the construction field.”


As a teenager, graduate Andrew Bomberger thought he would have a future as a dairy farmer in Pennsylvania. After discovering his passion for cybersecurity, he helped advance cybersecurity education for thousands of students and teachers throughout Arkansas while earning his master’s degree in computer science.


“I used to live in Pennsylvania, and my uncles owned a dairy farm,” he said. “I grew up thinking that I would do that for a living. I got to help on the farm and figured out it was something I wasn’t interested in. Around 2016, I saw a conference talk on cybersecurity and social engineering and thought it was really fascinating. I would love to be on the side that helps people configure devices, monitor networks, and help protect people from the bad people trying to break into their networks.”


He joined the Cyber Arena project, a cloud-based cybersecurity education initiative, in 2019. The Cyber Arena provides free cybersecurity education, training and exercises to Arkansas students and teachers. So far, more than 2,000 students have benefited from the Cyber Arena nationwide.


“I’ve really enjoyed working on the Cyber Arena for the past four years,” he said. “When I started, I only knew bits and pieces about programming. This has been a great learning and networking experience, meeting a lot of professionals in the field. I’ve grown a lot as a person and a programmer from this project. I’ve enjoyed helping others learn more about cybersecurity, and I hope I’ve inspired other kids to go into the field.”


Some UA Little Rock graduates fulfilled a lifelong dream of completing their college education when they walked across the stage on Dec. 17. At 73, Ellis “Gene” Thompson appeared as one of the oldest graduates, but he was just as excited as his younger counterparts.


His graduation marked the end of a college journey that remarkably began 50 years ago in Washington, D.C. A native of Joliet, Illinois, Thompson enrolled at Georgetown University in 1973 after serving in the U.S. Navy.


In 1975, Thompson left Georgetown with an associate degree and a strong desire to one day finish his college education. His career took him from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, to Dayton, Ohio, to Orlando and New York City. His final stop brought him to Little Rock in 2010 to work at KATV. He joined UA Little Rock in 2017 after retiring and graduated with his bachelor’s degree in history in 2019. Earning his master’s degree in public history has brought his college education to a close.


“It’s something that I feel I should have done a long time ago,” he said. “It’s basically been unfinished business as far as my life is concerned. So, getting this degree is a culmination of a lifelong search for my own comfort with myself. It’s a culmination of something that I felt I should have done a long time ago and should have been determined earlier in my life. However, it feels just as good now. This is who I should have been all my life, a person with a master’s degree.”


Another fall graduate, Anita Burnett, didn’t take quite as long to finish her college education, graduating more than 20 years after she first started taking classes in 1999.


 “I was doing well,” Burnett recalled. “Then in 2001 I took on the additional responsibility of becoming the 21-year-old legal guardian of my 16-year-old sister. The next semester was a struggle, and I didn’t do so well. I decided to take some time away from school. My intent was to make sure that my sister finished high school, and then I was going to go back to school. Life happened, and the more time that passed, the more my plan to return to school seemed to fade.”


Burnett would later move to Michigan for five years to care for her sick mother before returning to Arkansas. She has a son, Nathan, 17, and a daughter, ChloeAnn, 10, and worked in a variety of careers as a restaurant manager, tech expert, and diesel cashier. When her son was in ninth grade, he attended an event that encouraged students to prepare for the future by thinking about college and careers.


“I was telling my son how important it was for him to go to college,” she said. “He called me out on telling him that it was vitally important, even though I hadn’t finished. I had a bunch of excuses for not returning to school. I had two kids and worked full time. I just didn’t have the time. Then my kids ganged up on me. They said that they refused to be the reason that I didn’t go back to school.”


After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in business analytics, Burnett is making sure that her children get every opportunity to go to college.


“My parents and grandparents didn’t go to college, and none of my siblings or nieces or nephews went to college,” she said. “I am going to make a change. My son graduates from high school in the spring. He intends to follow in my footsteps and go to college. I may be a first-generation college grad, but I know I won’t be the last.”