First of His Kind

Until 1998, the Foundation had never supported a baccalaureate student. Mike Fielder was a good one to start with.

Mike Fielder At the time, it might have seemed like a strange decision—for the Westark College Foundation to award a scholarship to a student earning a degree from a different institution. In retrospect, though, that decision appears almost prescient.


The student was Mike Fielder, who in the fall of 1998 was starting an Arkansas Tech bachelor’s program offered through Westark’s University Center. The scholarship, funded by E.H. Patterson, helped Fielder afford the two years it took him to finish his bachelor’s after doing lower-division work at Westark.


Never before had the Foundation awarded a scholarship to an upper-division student; the E.H. Patterson Scholarship was the first of its kind. What it accomplished, in effect, was to make it easy for a bright, driven young man to decide to stay right here and finish his bachelor’s instead of transferring elsewhere.


In the end, not only Fielder, but also UAFS and the community are better for Patterson’s foresight. And now the University accomplishes the same thing year-in and year-out—making it easy for promising students to pursue their four-year degrees without moving on to Fayetteville or Russellville or Conway or farther.


After earning his degree in computer information science in 2000, Fielder put it immediately to work as a technology specialist for the Fort Smith School District, testing and implementing classroom technology. Then, three years later, he returned to UAFS as a full-time computer analyst.


It wasn’t long, though, before curiosity got the better of him. With a passion for the outdoors and wildlife, he began using his tuition discount to take a few biology courses, which soon turned into a full-time course load. “I just really like education,” Fielder says. “I like learning new stuff. I’m weird that way.” This time, he paid his own way by continuing to work part-time for the University.


An avid birder, Fielder cooperated with Professor Ragupathy Kannan on a pair of research projects funded in part by grants from the Arkansas Audubon Society and a National Science Foundation offshoot. The two studied the status of rusty blackbirds in western Arkansas and how invasive Eurasian collared doves compete with native mourning doves.


This June, though, Fielder accepted a full-time position with the Fort Smith School District, teaching teachers, so to speak, how to make the most of the new generation of classroom technology. While he continues his studies part-time, he’s using that first degree—in computer information science—to improve the learning outcomes of the community’s public schools.


And without the E.H. Patterson Scholarship, he might well not have that degree. “It made a huge difference in my life,” he says. “At the time, my father was an accountant and the company he worked for had gone out of business. I was able to continue my education because the folks in the Foundation were able to help me out. When I was 19 years old, if it wasn’t for a place like UAFS, I wouldn’t have made it.”