Hometown Heroes

We often highlight alumni making waves across the nation and around the world – after all, there’s a certain glamor to be found in Sarah Mesko’s opera career, Joe Weishaar’s World War I monument design, Ben Hood’s software startup in Poland, and the list goes on. But in truth, the Honors College’s impact may be greatest right here at home. Here is a sampling of alumni who are making a big difference in our state and region.

“The best memories from my time in the Honors College are from my semesters spent studying abroad in India and Costa Rica, which were fully funded by my fellowship. These programs opened my eyes to the world and continue to influence my life and professional career, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.”

Stephen Ironside


Ellen Brune (B.S. Ch.E., ’09; Ph.D., Ch.E., ’13). An Honors College fellowship drew Brune to the U of A from her native St. Louis. She connected with chemical engineering professor Bob Beitle as an undergraduate and eventually developed a cheaper, faster way to manufacture protein-based pharmaceuticals. This new technology has resulted in three U.S. patents and six pending applications in the U.S., Europe and Canada. Ellen’s company Boston Mountain Biotech has received more than $1 million in grant support from the National Science Foundation and the Arkansas Biosciences Institute.

Photo: Russell Cothren


Whitney Gammill Holden (B.S. chemistry, summa cum laude, minor in gender studies,’09). A former Bodenhamer Fellow, Holden teaches some of the state’s brightest students at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs, where she codirects the AP Biology PLUS program that encompasses 25 Arkansas high schools and almost 600 students. Her impact is amplified by her “Biology Professor” channel on YouTube, which has received more than 1 million views and has 14,000+ subscribers from more than 180 countries.


C.W. Young (B.S. Cmp.E., with minor in mathematics, ’16), a former Bodenhamer Fellow, expanded his perspective with a gap year in China. Upon graduation, he headed home to Magnolia, Arkansas, to manage process controls at the Albemarle Corporation’s local chemical plant. In his spare time, he helps out on the family farm and recently started his own herd of cattle.


Rachel Fiori (B.A., classical studies, magna cum laude, ’04, M.D., UAMS, ’08), a former Bodenhamer Fellow, is helping to alleviate a critical shortage of mental health providers in the state. Currently she is the only staff psychiatrist among nearly 200 physicians practicing at Mercy Clinic Fort Smith. In addition to seeing patients, she teaches medical students from an osteopathic program and serves on various committees and boards. Fiori has also assisted in fundraising efforts for the University of Arkansas and led information/mentoring sessions with current honors students.

Photo: Shelby Gill


Stephen Ironside (B.S., biology and anthropology with minor in Spanish, cum laude, ’10) is a self-employed professional photographer shooting at home and around the world for clients such as Walmart, Chaco Footwear, Food Network, Osprey Packs, General Mills, Walton Arts Center, Saatchi & Saatchi, Sam’s Club, Tyson Foods, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. He also writes for the CreativeLive and Fstoppers photography websites, is a co-organizer for the Northwest Arkansas chapter of Help-Portrait, which provides free portraits to individuals and families who otherwise could not afford them, and serves on the board of the Himalayan Village Fund.

Photo: Brandon Otto


Stephen Coger (B.A., English with minors in Spanish and Latin American Studies, magna cum laude, ’09). Coger completed a law degree from the University of Washington Law School, paid in full by the Gates Public Service Law Scholarship. He then carried out human rights work in India funded by an American India Foundation William J. Clinton Fellowship. Now Coger has returned to Northwest Arkansas to serve as director at the Arkansas Justice Collective in Springdale, which works “to center the voices of marginalized people in our communities.” He also practices and teaches yoga, is the founding president of QLaw Arkansas, Arkansas’ LBGT+ Bar Association, and is creating a music and spoken word project for LBGT+ empowerment in the Ozarks.

Photo: Stephen Ironside