July 26, 2017

Jake Smith, top, stands in front of a baseball field at a school in Nicaragua where he helped build a backstop. Madeline Wagnon pauses by a horse while working at Sky Ranch Ute Trail camp in Colorado.

Jake Smith, top, stands in front of a baseball field at a school in Nicaragua where he helped build a backstop. Madeline Wagnon pauses by a horse while working at Sky Ranch Ute Trail camp in Colorado.

Jake Smith and Madeline Wagnon represented the College of Education and Health Professions in the 2017 Class of Razorback Classics at the University of Arkansas.

What that means is that they were among the top 22 graduating students last spring, 11 each of men and women, honored for not only their academic success, but also their achievements outside the classroom. Smith and Wagnon were recognized at a banquet in May that they attended with their faculty mentors, Sharon Hunt for Smith and Fran Hagstrom for Wagnon.

What the honor really means is that the two students were extremely busy throughout their time as undergraduates. Each took on numerous leadership roles and was otherwise heavily involved in activities outside their schoolwork, often to the benefit of other people. Both were members of the Honors College.

Both students were working in other locations this summer when contacted to answer a few questions about their U of A experience. Smith was in Nicaragua where he was working with a nonprofit organization he founded combining his love of baseball and his desire to assist underserved communities. Wagnon was in Colorado, where she was working at Sky Ranch Camp, which she has done every year since she was a freshman.

Smith, a kinesiology major, plans to attend the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in the fall and eventually become an orthopedic surgeon, and Wagnon, a communication disorders major, plans to attend Texas Christian University to pursue a graduate degree in speech-language pathology.

Smith is from Paragould. Some of his accomplishments:

  • 2017 Rhodes Finalist
  • Founder and executive director of 1and1 Ministries
  • Health coach, Washington Regional Care Partners
  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Council on Common Core
  • Vice president of development, Interfraternity Council
  • Traditions Committee, Student Alumni Board
  • Student researcher at the American Sports Medicine Institute
  • Member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon

Wagnon is from Shreveport, Louisiana. Some of her accomplishments:

  • Vice president of Traditions, Student Alumni Board
  • Vice president, National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association
  • Vice president, Razorback Booster Club
  • Scholarship chair, Chi Omega
  • Member of Order of Omega Honor Society
  • Sky Ranch Camps summer counselor
  • University of Arkansas Student Ambassador
  • Member of Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society

What was the highlight of your time at the U of A and why?

Smith: “In my senior year as I was preparing for the Rhodes Scholarship interview. Hearing words of encouragement from professors and staff members across campus who invested in me throughout the previous three years was the greatest feeling. I had looked up to and respected these individuals for so long and now hearing ‘well-done’ from them was incredible.”

Wagnon: “Working with the Student Alumni Association board because of the way we got to interact with people on campus. As a health professions major, there typically aren’t a ton of RSOs (registered student organizations) we can be involved in for health. To be involved in this was a way to impact campus as a whole, to encourage student involvement and involvement with alumni.”

Why did you feel driven to be involved in so much activity when you could probably get by on a much lighter schedule?

Smith: “Most of my drive comes from the way I was raised and playing baseball most of my life. I learned quickly nothing happens without hard work. In order to achieve my dreams, I knew I must work harder than others. Also, I enjoy being involved in a variety of activities because it allows me to influence more lives.”

Wagnon: “I knew when I got to college, that’s who I was in high school. I knew when I got to Arkansas, I didn’t want to be a kid who just focuses on grades. I knew I had a choice of what kind of college experience to have and this gave me the most joy. I really wanted to get to know people and make an impact on campus. If it was a sacrifice, it was not one I regret at all.”

How did your view of the world and your plans for your own future change because of your experiences at the U of A?

Smith: “My view of the world changed the most while I was in junior high when I took my first trip to Nicaragua. I saw the way of life in the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and it shaped me to be more thankful for my blessings in America. During winter break of my sophomore year in college, I visited a school in Condega, Nicaragua, where the principal wished to start a baseball program to keep at risk young men off the streets. Since I was just released from the Razorback baseball team, I saw the opportunity to use my talents to improve others’ lives. Over the next six months, I felt the Lord calling me to create an organization utilizing athletics to create transformational leaders who seek to better themselves and their communities.

“Also, while at the U of A, I studied abroad in Sweden. This was the first time I compared different types of health-care systems and experienced health-care policy. I wish to not only influence health policy in the U.S., but across the globe.”

Wagnon: “I went in thinking my first year being away from home would be very hard. It would be like starting over, making new friends. Halfway through, I thought I wanted to go back to Louisiana for graduate school, but I met a lot of people my junior and senior year and I realized I don’t need to go back home. I can go to a completely different place. I know I can start over and I like getting out of my comfort zone.

“Getting a minor in theater changed my world view the most. Hearing perspectives I’d never thought about before made me a better listener. Being a speech pathology major definitely opened my eyes to the fact that people in the community have disabilities. I became aware of all the ways the deaf community is present in Fayetteville and that was new to me.”

What would you tell U of A students just starting out about how to get the most of the college experience?

Smith: “I always tell freshmen to live the college experience to the fullest. Get involved with different activities in campus; you are bound to find your niche in more than one group of people. Set your goals to be the best in whatever field you wish to enter and seek opportunities to get there. I know doors will open and others will close, but without working hard to seek opportunities to achieve my aspirations, there will be no doors to open or close.

“College is a time to stretch yourself mentally and physically. Choose tough tasks and never take the easy way out. My most important piece of advice is to have fun and roll with the highs and lows in what will be the greatest time in your life.”

Wagnon: “Get out of your comfort zone, get involved on campus even if it’s nothing involved with your major. When I first started on the student alumni board, there was no one else in a health professions major. I thought it seemed silly to be involved because it had nothing to do with major, but I thought to myself, ‘I can’t quit because I love this.’ I enriched both halves of my brain. Do what you want to do for your career but also for what you’re passionate for. Experience art and science and communications.

“I feel like I got the best experience. I am super thankful for the education I got. I had amazing professors I know I will reach out to in grad school. It was a very one-on-one program.”

Talk about your career goals.

Smith: “I believe UAMS is a great institution where I can conduct research, earn a quality medical degree, and obtain my master’s degree in public health. I had my first orthopedic experience after I broke my arm and I was immediately drawn to the field. I visited the clinic when I felt pain in my pitching arm and I thought I would never throw again. It was an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed me and assured me I would be back playing the game I loved within a few weeks. I wish to do the same for others; whether restoring the ability to walk to elderly patient, getting a star athlete back on the field, or helping a young child after breaking his or her arm, I want to give patients hope and comfort in knowing there will be better days ahead.”

Wagnon: “I would like to start in patient speech pathology in a hospital. That involves a lot of swallowing therapy at the bedside. Then I would like to work with stroke and traumatic brain injury patients in an outpatient rehabilitation setting after a few years in a hospital.

“I’ve been thinking about research lately. If I do a Ph.D., it will be because of Dr. Hagstrom.”