Research and Road Trips: Arkansas Political Science Association

by Kaitlyn Tyra

After two months of intense research and preparation, Brian and Christina were finally ready to present their work to professionals at the Arkansas Political Science Association’s Conference. The trip would include stops at three major cities, and many interesting sites along the way over a four-day period.

Day 1: Before the sun rose, the LEAP Ambassadors were off for yet another adventure. Hosted by Arkansas State University, the conference was located in Jonesboro, Arkansas. We set out on our journey Thursday morning and began our drive to Little Rock for some sightseeing.

Seven hours later (and thankfully right around lunch time), we arrived in Little Rock to grab some lunch at the Little Rock River Market.  Selecting from many cultures, we sampled a variety of cuisines such as Nepalese food, Asian, and Mediterranean. From there, we embarked on a tour to the Arkansas Historic Museum which had many exhibits, but we focused on the art museum portion.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Arkansas History Center, Little Rock

The museum had mostly regional artists from the Arkansas, but we didn’t mind as we took the opportunity to learn about the art collection of Gordon and Wenonah Fay. After numerous years of public service and supporters of the arts in both Arkansas and Tennessee, they moved home to Little Rock and donated their art collection so that others could enjoy their work too.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Arkansas History Center, Little Rock

Another fun way to explore Arkansas’s culture was to visit their State Capitol.

We were excited to check off another state capitol from our list as we headed over to the Arkansas Capitol.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Little Rock, Arkansas State Capitol

Previously, LEAP Ambassadors visited the Arkansas Supreme Court, but none of the current ambassadors had visited the Capitol itself. Interestingly, the Arkansas Legislature is part time (similar to Texas’s Legislature), but they meet for two months in odd numbered years and for approximately one month in even numbered years to set the budget. Arkansas only operates on an annual budget period, which requires the members to meet during even numbered years between their regular sessions to determine the state’s budget for the upcoming year. We visited both the House and Senate chambers, comparing Texas’s legislature and Arkansas’s legislature.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Little Rock, Arkansas State Capitol

One of the most surprising differences was the accessibility of the executive branch offices. In Texas, the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor’s office are much more hidden within the capitol and placed within tighter security measures. In Arkansas, both offices are easily accessible to the public and do not have additional security.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Little Rock, Arkansas State Capitol

Upon our initial arrival, we thought the outside of the building was dingy and gray. However, the inside of the capitol was covered in white marble and simplistically beautiful. We visited Bill Clinton’s portrait before heading off to the Clinton Library.

With only an hour before the museum closed, Ambassadors made sure to hit the highlights of the Clinton Presidential Library. We visited a replication of Clinton’s Oval Office…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Little Rock, Clinton Presidential Library & Museum

…where he had paintings by Childe Hassam and Norman Rockwell.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Little Rock, Clinton Presidential Library & Museum

We also visited the timeline of his presidency where visitors learn not only about his professional accomplishments, but some of the social aspects of the office. One of our favorite things about the Library was the building’s architecture.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Little Rock, Clinton Presidential Library & Museum

Designed by James Polshek, the library was designed to look like the Little Rock bridges and to mimic Bill Clinton’s campaign principle of bridging to tomorrow.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Little Rock, Clinton Presidential Library & Museum

The building has also received LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum distinction, making it the first existing federal building to receive the honor. After making our way through the museum, we headed to dinner at a LEAP favorite, the Whole Hog Café. After enjoying mounds of BBQ, we decided to call it an early night to give Brian and Christina a chance to practice their presentation and get some extra sleep. We still had busy days to come!

Day 2: On our second day of the trip, we left Little Rock and drove two hours north to Jonesboro. When we arrived, we stopped at Sue’s Kitchen for a quick and light lunch before attending the first day of the ArkPSA conference. We checked in right on time and split ways for our first panel. Brian attended a panel on International Relations and Comparative Politics, while Kaitlyn and Christina attended a panel on American Politics: the U.S. Federal Courts in Review.  We then grouped back up and attended the second panel of the day on Public Administration and Policy. Again, our evening included preparation for Brian and Christina’s presentation the following morning.  Their hard work was soon to be rewarded with the capstone of their presentation.

Day 3: It was finally presentation day for Brian and Christina!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Jonesboro AR, ARKPSA

They were eager (albeit nervous) to share their hard work with the panel. The conference began early, but we were there earlier to prepare and get organized for the presentation.  The panel consisted of two undergraduate papers. One on the Powers of the Lieutenant Governor by Hunter Hall from University of Arkansas- Monticello and Brian and Christina’s paper on State Funding for the Arts. Both presentations proved to be great! Brian and Christina gave a concise introduction before giving background on the arts and explaining their study’s methodology. Their research compared the funding of the arts by state governments and the effects specific variables, such as education, income, party affiliation, and gender, had on the funding from state governments.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Jonesboro AR, ARKPSA

To do this, they collected data from all fifty states and then preformed a bivariate test based on their variables. They also addressed their next steps for the research and possible areas of improvement.

Once finishing their presentation, the panel discussant offered helpful feedback for both papers. Brian and Christina thought it was a beneficial experience as political science students to present research at the conference.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Jonesboro AR, ARKPSA

We attended a second panel of the day before attending the conference lunch and guest speaker presentation by US Representative Rick Crawford. Although he is not our Congressman, it was great to hear how passionate he was about his district, as well as, his knowledge of it, and his opinions on hot button issues like arming teachers with guns to protect against future school shootings. He also spoke of the political rancor of the nation and the importance of working around those differences. We enjoyed his lecture so much and we were lucky enough to take a picture with him!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Jonesboro AR, ARKPSA

With the close of Representative Crawford’s speech, we packed into the car and drove off to Memphis to visit the Brooks Museum of Art. When visiting an art museum, we always try to scout out recognizable artists. We made our way to the American and Contemporary Art galleries where we stumbled upon art by Thomas Hart Benton…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Memphis, Brooks Museum of Art

Georgia O’Keeffe…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Memphis, Brooks Museum of Art, Georgia O'Keeffe

and Josef Albers…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Memphis, Brooks Museum of Art. Albers

We made a quick trip through the rest of the museum before driving to visit the Lorraine Motel.

In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed outside a motel in Memphis.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Memphis, Lorraine Motel

The hotel has now been preserved as a civil rights museum and tribute to MLK. Although we did not have time to go into the museum, we paid our respects outside and read about the legacy of MLK.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Memphis, Lorraine Motel

We wanted to eat on the historic Beale Street before it got too dark and we had to make our drive back to Little Rock. We decided on Miss Polly’s Soul City Café in the heart of Beale Street. We enjoyed home cooked favorites of chicken and waffles and chicken fried steak.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Memphis

After finishing dinner, we observed the Memphis night life from afar as we headed back to Little Rock to begin our drive back home.

Day 4: Our final day of the trip consisted mostly of driving the seven hours back to Huntsville. To bring our trip full circle, we stopped at President Clinton’s childhood home on the way through Hope, Arkansas.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Hope AR, Clinton's Childhood Home

Although it was not open, it was interesting to see where Clinton’s life began before he started his career in politics. We reflected on our last few days and of our upcoming events this semester as we hurried back to Huntsville.


Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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