Blue supplies the green that will lead to better rural health care

We are thrilled that our Rural Health Summit is one of 31 projects selected for funding by the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas this year. Established by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield in 2001, the Foundation is a separate nonprofit with the sole mission of funding projects in Arkansas that will improve health care in the state. The funding support from Blue & You allows us to keep participant costs low and bring in outside experts to make the most of our time with our participants. 

The initial planning for the Summit began with discussions about rural health care needs in Arkansas with Dr. Mark T. Jansen, director of regional programming at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and invested chair for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, George K. Mitchell, M.D., Endowed Chair in Primary Care. That conversation expanded to include other health care leaders who have a stake in raising the quality and availability of health care in rural areas. These leaders all supported creating a network of cross-collaboration among the many efforts currently operating in rural Arkansas and looking at manageable, short-term goals to address during the next year to two years. It is our belief that establishing such a network will be an important step toward creating a rural health care environment that will be more attractive to new physicians and foster an increase in quality care.

Near the end of March we will host the first Summit meeting to begin building that collaborative network of healthcare professionals and organizations. We’ll be joined by representatives of some of the state’s leading health groups and professional organizations for a facilitated two-day session to start the process, followed by regional visits and a larger Summit meeting later in the year. Our hope is to foster increased collaboration and resource sharing so that innovative health care solutions can be shared more readily in the state and incoming physicians will have established allies at all points of rural healthcare. 

We are extremely grateful to the Blue & You Foundation for their support. Above and beyond the monetary contribution, their backing of our effort and the 30 other recipients this year represents a belief that we will all be able to make a tangible difference in the state. Carrying that charge and that belief into our working sessions will further underscore the importance of coming together and empower our group to start tackling the challenges facing rural health.


Art in its Natural State

To know why Arkansas is the Natural State, all one needs to do is take a short trip to Petit Jean Mountain. From impressive views of the Arkansas River Valley, to lakes and rivers, and wide fields and towering pines, Petit Jean offers a wonderful snapshot of Arkansas’ natural beauty. It’s no wonder that Petit Jean has also called to artists throughout the years, from Native American cave art all the way to modern day painters, sculptors and writers.

To celebrate that rich history and add to the artistic legacy of Petit Jean, we here at the Institute are partnering with Petit Jean State Park to host the first Art in its Natural State competition. We have worked with the Park to identify serval sites on our respective campuses that not only exemplify Petit Jean’s varied landscapes, but would also be a great spot for public art. Our contest challenges artists to design temporary, site-specific outdoor works for those areas. The best fit for the competition will likely be structural, sculptural or landscape art, but all designed public art will be considered. You can see all of the sites up for design here.

The artwork will be displayed in its outdoor site for up to one year, then taken down by the artist. The focus for the competition is a balance between the visual appeal of the created artwork and the natural beauty of the space it is designed for. The works must also have neutral impact to the site in which they are installed, meaning that after the works are removed and the area is allowed time to recover, it will be as if there was never any art installed at all.

The temporary nature of the installations is both respectful to Petit Jean’s environment and allows for artists to use creative materials that they might not otherwise work with. A bronze statue will withstand many decades of display, but our more ephemeral artworks needn’t be quite that durable. Though the works that are designed need to stand up to a year of seasonal weather, we hope that artists will incorporate recycled or recyclable materials for their work.  

We will take applications until September of this year, after which point all of the submitted designs will be considered by our judging and advisory panel. Made up of representatives from the Arkansas Arts Council; Arkansas Arts Center; Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; University of Arkansas at Fort Smith; University of Arkansas at Little Rock; the Park; and the Institute, our panel will select 10 winning designs. Those designs will be funded by a $5,000-per-artist stipend to cover the creation of the artwork and its transportation and installation on Petit Jean in March of 2018.

Although focused on the natural beauty of Petit Jean Mountain, the Art in its Natural State competition is open to all Southern and Arkansas regional artists. That includes artists from Arkansas, Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Virginia. If you or someone you know is interested in entering the competition, the official rules and application guidelines for the competition can be found here

As we select winners and install the art, we’ll have plenty of updates here and on the Art in its Natural State page. Look for profiles of the winning artists, sneak peeks of the artwork and plenty of photos of the opening event on Saturday, March 10, 2018. Even better than seeing the art online, of course, will be to visit the art in person. We’ll have eight installed pieces at the Institute through March 2019, and the Park will host two installed works through July of 2018. We hope you’ll join us as we celebrate Arkansas’ beauty and the talents of Southern artists with the first Art in its Natural State competition.


Landowners workshop to highlight income diversity potential for timber producers

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (Dec. 13, 2016) — A one-day workshop for timber producers and other landowners will be held at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute atop Petit Jean Mountain on Thursday, March 9. The workshop will cover a variety of topics, all related to helping landowners diversify their land’s income potential.

The workshop represents a partnership between the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Natural Resource Enterprise program at Mississippi State University and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service. Supporting the workshop are the Arkansas Forestry Association, the Arkansas Forestry Commission and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.

“This will be the third time we’ve partnered with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service and Mississippi State’s NRE program to hold one of these workshops,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Rockefeller Institute. “Our past participants came away from the workshops equipped with fresh ideas about how their land can do more for them. We are excited to partner with these great organizations again.”

Among the scheduled speakers are area landowner Henry Jones; Adam Tullos and Daryl Jones of the Mississippi State University NRE program; Clint Johnson of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission; Becky McPeake and Kyle Cunningham of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service; Matthew Vandiver of JWB Company Inc.; and Nick Livers of Hyden, Miron & Foster, PLLC.

Topics to be covered at the workshop include outdoor business revenue potential and considerations; premises liability and legal considerations; forest management; estate planning; wildlife habitat management; and opportunities to see management prescriptions on a field tour.

“The field tour is always a highlight of these workshops,” Tullos said. “Nothing beats being able to get outdoors and seeing the concepts being discussed applied to real situations.”

This workshop’s focus on timber-producing land is a new angle for workshops held at the Institute.

“Our state is rich with timber land, and many farms that have grazing land or row-crop operations also produce timber,” McPeake said. “This workshop will be a great opportunity for many farmers to learn about things like wildlife management, restoration of native plant communities, estate planning and even the Farm Bill.”

To find more information or to register, go to or contact Program Officer Samantha Evans at 501-727-6257 or

About Natural Resource Enterprises

The Natural Resource Enterprises program at Mississippi State University is a research and outreach program of the MSU Extension Service, MSU Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

About the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture makes a positive impact for that key industry through the research done by the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and the teaching done by the Cooperative Extension Service. Its mission is to advance the stewardship of natural resources and the environment, cultivate the improvement of agriculture and agribusiness, develop leadership skills and productive citizenship among youth and adults, enhance economic security and financial responsibility among the citizens of the state, ensure a safe, nutritious food supply, improve the quality of life in communities across Arkansas, and strengthen Arkansas families. You'll find the Division in all 75 Arkansas counties, on five university campuses, at five research and extension centers and at eight branch experiment stations.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.


Entrepreneurship expert to speak at Uncommon Communities

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (Oct. 21, 2016) — The keynote address for the November session of Uncommon Communities will be delivered by Steve Radley, president and CEO of NetWork Kansas.

Radley’s presentation, “The Entrepreneurship Edge: Creating a More Entrepreneurial Community,” will take place from noon to 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute atop Petit Jean Mountain.

Radley’s address is open to the public and free of charge, though advance registration is required. Lunch can be purchased during registration.

Radley began his career in the private sector as the 28th employee of technology startup Brite Voice Systems, which grew from a worth of $6 million to more than $175 million. Since then, Radley has co-owned two businesses and serves on boards and advisory councils for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and various centers for entrepreneurship at higher education universities across the Midwest. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Wichita State University and a Master of Arts in Christian ministry from Friends University.

“Too often we get locked in to thinking about economic development as trying to attract the next super project,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “Steve Radley will bring a refreshing perspective and key insight into the concept of ‘economic gardening,’ or how we grow our own success through entrepreneurialism.”

According to its website, “NetWork Kansas is devoted to the growth of entrepreneurship and small businesses throughout the state of Kansas. Our mission is to promote an entrepreneurial environment by providing a central portal that connects entrepreneurs and small business owners with the right resources—Expertise, Education and Economic Resources—when they are needed most. In pursuit of this mission, we partner with well-respected business development organizations and educational institutions that work with entrepreneurs and small business owners who have the vision and potential to succeed. The result is a seamless system that accelerates economic and community development in Kansas.”

To register or to learn more, go to or contact Program Officer Cary Tyson at

Uncommon Communities is a community and economic development initiative that provides participants, chosen by their respective communities, the opportunity to attend five carefully crafted sessions at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute over the course of a year. Each of the five counties in the pilot group – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – is invited to send six participants to the sessions, which are held for a day and a half, every other month. The sessions were designed based on feedback from the counties when asked what skills and resources they needed to accomplish their goals and include: community leadership development, economic development in the new economy; tourism, marketing and branding; quality of place and placemaking; and exemplary communities moving forward. Each session brings renowned speakers from across the United States plus throughout Arkansas. In addition, many of the sessions are interactive and give participants the opportunity to work in groups and learn from other participating counties.

Uncommon Communities marries the wisdom and proven methodology of Dr. Vaughn Grisham, a celebrated community development expert and professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi, with the award-winning Breakthrough Solutions partnership – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and the expertise of Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.


Outside the box and into the mud

Pulling up to Tommy and Susan Conder’s farm just outside Judsonia, there’s little at first glance that makes it stand out from the countless other farms that dot Arkansas’ landscape.

But not far beyond the pastures where the Conders’ cattle grazes is a challenge waiting to be conquered.

A few years back, Tommy and Susan attended a Natural Resource Enterprise workshop in Stuttgart. Put on by the NRE program at Mississippi State University, the workshop was designed to spark the imaginations of farmers and landowners as to how their land could do more to make money than simply produce livestock, row crops or timber.

The wheels began turning for Tommy and Susan, who quickly recognized that there was a lot more they could do with the 800 acres of land in White County that they and one of Tommy’s sons own.

“Some people at that workshop,” Tommy said, “they were doing corn mazes and things like that on their land. We thought, ‘We’ve got other stuff we could do.’”

That “other stuff” eventually became an 8-kilometer obstacle course that spans a large portion of the Conders’ farm – most of it land not suitable for grazing, but perfect for mud pits, climbing walls, hay bale obstacles and water slides, just to name a few of the course’s features.

The Beast

Tommy and Susan recently took me and Program Officer Samantha Evans on a tour of the course, and although the temperatures were a fair bit cooler than they are in May when they hold their big annual competition – Mud Mayhem – it was easy to get a sense of the type of atmosphere that exists on race day.

“We really love people laughing and having a good time,” Tommy said.

But all the fun and laughter requires quite a bit of careful planning. It takes a staff of 20-30 to make the race happen, and they are trained for several weeks leading up to the event. Susan takes care of the planning and logistics - hiring and training folks from the surrounding area - while Tommy focuses on building and managing the course itself.

“I’m not a businessman,” Tommy said. “I’m a worker.”

Susan agreed and praised Tommy for his resourcefulness in constructing the course.

“If I can describe it to Tommy, he can build it,” she said.

The finish

Eight hundred acres is no small piece of property, and the Conders have imaginations big enough to fill it all and then some. Tommy admitted that in the five years they’ve held Mud Mayhem, they have yet to break even. But that’s only because they keep building and adding onto the course.

“We’ve sunk quite a bit of money into it,” Tommy said. “Would I go back and change that? No. We can still see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

And they’re finding new and creative ways to diversify the potential of what they’ve already built. Tommy explained that most of the obstacles on the course are mobile. They plan to load a number of them up on trailers next year and set up a course at Portfest in Jacksonport. They’re looking at other opportunities to take their obstacles on the road, too.

But more important to the Conders than finding ways to make money off their land is the way they’ve been able to give back.

A few years ago, Tommy’s son Sean returned home after serving a tour in Afghanistan as part of the Air Force. Tommy explained how Sean’s unit was involved in combat and survived life-threatening situations.

“They came back pretty spooked,” Tommy said. “We wanted to find a way to help them feel normal again.”

So Tommy and Susan organized their first Heroes R&R, an experience they have since expanded to include members of the military, firefighters, law enforcement officers and health care workers – all those who serve on the front lines of emergency situations. The Conders organize excursions for these groups, which may involve camping, fishing, trap shooting or the obstacle course. They utilize the eight-bedroom lodge they’ve built for these experiences, and the results have been amazing.

After that first experience with Sean’s Air Force unit, Sean’s squadron commander told Tommy, “This has brought our squadron back together.”

Tommy and Susan are exploring grant money that is available to support the excursions, hoping that it will help them expand what they offer.


For what looks like a standard 350-head cattle operation from a distance, Tommy and Susan Conder have built something spectacular. And it all started with the spark of an idea at a workshop for landowners.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute is partnering with Mississippi State University and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service to present a similar workshop here at the Institute on Thursday, March 9. The workshop, which is supported by the Arkansas Forestry Association, the Arkansas Forestry Commission and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, will be geared toward landowners who produce timber, but all landowners are welcome and stand to gain some knowledge about income diversification, land management, the Farm Bill, legal issues and more.

Learn more about the Landowners Workshop by clicking here.

You can learn more about Mud Mayhem here or on the race’s Facebook page here.


Rural Health Day highlights state's needs, those working to meet them

Happy National Rural Health Day! Today, November 17, 2016, is the first official Rural Health Day in Arkansas, recognized by a recent proclamation from Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Organized nationally by the National Organization of State Rural Health Offices, the third Thursday of every November is set aside to recognize the work done in rural communities by health officials across the nation.

With countless acres of farmland, the Delta, friendly small towns and close-knit communities, Arkansas knows rural. In fact, while the national average for rural populations was 19% in 2010, Arkansas averaged 44%, according to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Rural Profile of Arkansas - 2015. And while rural communities are great places to live and work, they present unique challenges for health care. Both rural and urban care centers in the state look to improve the quality and access of care for the people they serve, but in rural areas that often extends to transportation concerns, telecommunications support and a dearth of physical spaces to receive care. According to the Rural Profile, there are an average of 64.5 primary care physicians per 100,000 people in rural Arkansas compared to 139 physicians per 100,000 people in urban areas.   

Recognizing those challenges to rural health care is an important part of Rural Health Day, especially in our state where if you don’t personally live in a rural area, odds are that a family member or loved one does. Equally important, however, is to recognize and appreciate the continued efforts to improve rural health care in the state and address those challenges head on. In Arkansas, that includes the Arkansas Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health and Primary Care. Beyond leading the charge to officially recognize Rural Health Day in the state, the ORHPC is involved with administering state health care grant programs to rural areas in need, developing training programs for continuing education specific to rural areas, supporting  the development of community-based health centers and much more.

The Arkansas Department of Health and the ORHPC share the goal of improved rural health care with many organizations across the state, including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Hospital Association, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Arkansas Minority Health Commission, Community Health Centers of Arkansas, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, multiple faith-based groups and countless other organizations. So while the challenges are many, so are the helping hands.

We look forward to working with these and other organizations on a Rural Health Summit in 2017. We’ll have more to share about the summit in this space as it draws closer.

In the meantime, to learn more about Rural Health Day and national rural health concerns and efforts, you can visit this page on the National Organization of State Rural Health Offices site. To learn more about what is going on locally, the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care-produced State Rural Health Plan 2015-2020 is a good place to start. Above all else, take a moment to recognize the many health care issues faced by rural communities, celebrate the progress made so far and appreciate the tireless efforts by so many groups to make sure our rural neighbors receive the health care and support they deserve.      


Annual meeting highlights opportunities and emerging trends in forestry

I attended the Arkansas Forestry Association’s (AFA) annual meeting held earlier this month in Fayetteville. Since 1945, the annual meeting has brought together professional foresters, private landowners, educators and forest researchers to exchange information on best practices and learn about the latest research and new trends in the industry. This year’s meeting unveiled growing opportunities for Arkansas’ economy and identified issues and trends affecting our greatest resources: forest and water.

Through a series of panel discussions and a riveting keynote from Tom Martin of the American Forest Foundation, participants engaged deeply in discussing the successes and challenges that affect our forest and timber industry. 

Tom Martin, executive director of the American Forest Foundation, formally kicked off the meeting by leading a call-to-action to educate the next generation by continuing to invest and collaborate in developing powerful stories that illustrate the social, economic and environmental benefits of using wood products. Martin highlighted a few policy initiatives his foundation is advocating, including the Timber Innovation Act and increased funding for wildlife management practices. Martin encouraged participants to actively engage in legislative outreach in order to educate their local officials on the significant contributions and strides the forest industry has made.

While we know forests play a critical role in both our economy and environment, did you know that for every dollar invested in forest management, $27 is saved to treat drinking water? Catherine Weisman with the U.S. Endowment for Forests and Communities showcased that through the Southeastern Partnership for Forestry and Water Quality. Arkansas is playing a critical role in creating clean, well-managed, healthy forests to benefit drinking water and local economies. The Southeastern Partnership is an innovative partnership among several states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas. These states forestry sector leaders and water utilities work together to answer the call to address various threats, such as population growth, climate change, timber markets and invasive species.

At standing room only, representatives from Canfor, Interfor and West Fraser joined a panel discussion to discuss why international companies are choosing Arkansas to invest. Due to the mountain pine beetle infestation and other factors, these three Canadian companies were attracted to Arkansas for its Southern Yellow Pine and workforce. As the housing sector continues to grow in the United States, these companies expressed an interest in expansion over the next few years in the South. Arkansas and these companies will need to prepare its workforce to meet these demands.

The meeting concluded with a unique showcase of AFA award winners and their contributions to the state. The awards ceremony was an illustration of the many impressive on-the-ground impacts that are a result of strong partnerships, innovation and thoughtful leadership from private owners and volunteers. It was remarkable to witness the Earl T. Smith family representing three generations accept their award for Tree Farmer of the Year and Lee Anne Fitzgerald discuss how she works with hundreds of volunteers in the Central Arkansas Log A Load For Kids program to raise more than $8 million for Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

The family legacies represented in the room were powerful, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute is excited to begin working with leaders to focus on advances in the forestry sector as well as challenging issues facing the industry. As such, we will offer a landowners business workshop Thursday, March 9, 2017. The workshop, representing a partnership with Mississippi State University’s Natural Resource Enterprise program and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, will inform owners of timber land about various income diversification opportunities. For more information, follow the link or contact me at


Asking the big questions

“Are you sure this is going to mean something to them?” The question from my boss, Dr. Marta Loyd, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s executive director, was a search for reassurance more than it was an invitation for me to offer an opinion. She asked after showing me a final draft of a speech she was preparing to deliver last week.

“Absolutely,” I say, smiling.

She, like other humble people, has a hard time seeing herself as inspiring. We who have worked with and for her know better, and now a number of central Arkansas businesswomen know, too.

Marta (to her staff she is always Marta … Dr. Loyd is a title she’s proud of but not one she expects people close to her to use)  was the keynote speaker at last week’s Women in Business luncheon, hosted annually by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. She was asked to speak when Chamber officials learned about her story and recognized the power behind it.

Marta has accomplished a lot in her life, both personally and professionally. For 17 years, she was instrumental in the growth of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, helping the school blossom from a solid community college to, arguably, western Arkansas’ greatest educational resource. She served 12 of those years as vice chancellor for university advancement, raising tens of millions of dollars that served to fund the university’s expansion and helped hundreds of students have opportunities in higher education that would not otherwise be available to them.

That part about the students, that’s where Marta really lights up.

“Back when I was at the University, every time we’d go out to eat in Fort Smith, I’d ask our waiter or waitress what their plans were for their education,” she says. “A number of times, they’d tell me, ‘I’d like to go to school, but I just can’t afford it.’ And I’d give them my business card and tell them to come see me and I’d help them figure out how to make it work.

“It embarrassed the heck out of my kids when I’d do that, but it was always uplifting when those young people would call for an appointment and enroll in college.”

I’ve heard that story from Marta a number of times now, and it doesn’t get old. It’s a microcosm of who she is.

That desire to help people has always been there, but her career goals shifted pretty distinctly in her mid-30s.

“I put very little serious thought into my future when I was young,” she told the packed house at the Women in Business luncheon last week. “I wanted to be a dental hygienist because I could work part-time, make a good wage, and be a wife and mother. I accomplished all of that by the age of 26.”

She realized that while dental hygiene is a fine career path, she was meant for something else.

Her opportunity to step into higher education came when Westark College (now UA-Fort Smith) was hiring a part-time continuing education program coordinator. The job requirements were a bachelor’s degree and “organizational experience.”

Citing her organizational experience from church committees and the school PTA, Marta got the job. Not too long after, she was approached about helping to start a dental hygiene school at the college. She took that on for no extra pay, but proved herself and made connections with key people in the college’s administration.

Along the way, the University earned her loyalty by giving her an opportunity to stay home and care for her son after he was involved in an accident that almost claimed one of his eyes. Marta had to take off two weeks to care for him, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. It fell right when she was supposed to finish and submit a key application for the new dental hygiene school, and her taking off the two weeks meant a six-month delay in the project.

But the college’s president at the time, Joel Stubblefield, didn’t hesitate in telling Marta to take the time off.

“You do what you need to do for your son and don’t worry about this until you’re ready to come back,” he told her.

She’s never forgotten that. In her own words, Marta determined then “that if I ever became a leader, I would do all I could to make sure people didn’t have to choose between work and family.”

After returning to work and successfully starting the dental hygiene school, Marta was hired to work in development. The university’s vice chancellor for university advancement at the time, Dr. Carolyn Moore, brought Marta under her wing, promising her she would teach her everything she knew about development and that someday Marta could take her job. Dr. Moore also encouraged Marta to pursue advanced degrees, first her master’s in educational leadership and then her doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis.

Dr. Moore made good on her promise. When she left to pursue another opportunity, Marta was named as her replacement. She was Marta’s first true mentor, and their relationship framed how Marta has approached her work ever since.

“I have always looked for opportunities both to be mentored by others and to mentor other people myself,” Marta says.

I am among a long list of people who have benefited from Marta’s mentoring. It’s not just a sentiment with her, an abstract concept in which she expects people to learn by her example from afar. It’s a muscle she actively exercises. She builds time into her schedule for it and expects her mentees to do the same.

What that has done is create a unique kind of culture, first among her staff at UAFS and, for the past 2 ½ years, here at the Institute. It’s a culture where people aren’t afraid to make mistakes, so long as they learn from them. Where it’s understood that the good of the team always comes before the good of the individual. Where we all believe in the concept that Marta used to close her speech last week, which was a quote attributed to Frances Moore Lappé:

“If you expect to see the final results of your work, you simply have not asked a big enough question.”

Marta’s story is indeed inspiring, not simply because she has found success, not even simply because she proved that you can change directions in your career mid-stream and still accomplish a lot. Her story is most inspiring, to me, because of how she’s gone about her career. She is the type of Level 5 Leader that Jim Collins writes about. She leads with humility and by sticking to her values. It’s refreshing to see that a person like that can find such success, and it’s a privilege to be part of that story.


Cuba's contradictions

Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Executive Director Dr. Marta Loyd and Director of Programs Janet Harris traveled to Havana in late June as part of an educational and trade mission organized by the Arkansas World Trade Center. Their purpose in visiting Cuba was to learn more about educational partnerships with the Cuban people as the U.S. continues to normalize relations with the island country. This is one of a series of articles reflecting on their visit. 

The plane ride from Miami to Havana only takes 45 minutes. In fact, Cuba’s capital city is a mere 106 miles from Key West, making it one of our closest neighbors. Yet Cuba remains a mystery to most Americans who have been restricted from regular travel to the island for more than 50 years. What we imagined we knew came mostly from books, movies and legend.

Antique cars like this one were the rule, not the exception, in Havana

Stepping onto Cuban soil for the first time, legend comes to life. Antique cars, men in straw fedoras, Che Guevara iconography, salsa music and buildings neglected since the revolution confirm popular stereotypes of a country “frozen in time.” But Cuba’s challenges and obstacles have prepared the country to leapfrog into the 21st century in ways we never expected, and there is much more to their story than stereotype.

While some buildings in Cuba have white-washed facades, many show decades of wear and repair

Partly, Cuba is defined by its contradictions. There’s the island nation neighbor to the south, and the communist country that might as well be on the other side of the world, separated by years of political distrust and broken promises. There’s a whitewashed façade that welcomes tourists, and there’s the broken buildings and machines that Cubans are forced to repair over and over in ingenious ways because they can’t buy anything new. There is the Cuba Fidel Castro dreamed of, and the stark reality that has emerged after 57 years of communist rule. There’s the Cuba we can help, and the one from which we can learn.

Cuba’s energy sector is a good example. We visited the Cuban Ministry of Energy and Mines to learn how they planned to meet the island’s rapidly increasing energy demands. Cuba currently burns crude oil and disperses energy through a system of generators. Through its trading relationship with Russia and more recently, Venezuela, oil has been an abundant and cheap energy source for many years.

Ministry officials recognize that their oil-powered generation system is dirty and inefficient. It also makes Cuba dangerously dependent on its trading partners, as Venezuela’s recent collapse proves.  

So the government’s energy plan calls for a 20 percent increase in renewable energy sources by 2030. Ministry officials are promoting opportunities for foreign investment in wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power, keenly aware that its wise use of natural resources is key to the country’s energy security. Combined with an increased focus on natural gas production, Cuba is paving the way for a cleaner and more efficient system of energy production. Because it is not forced to wean itself from coal, the country is leapfrogging from crude oil to clean energy.

Increasing power plant efficiency, whatever the energy source, will be a priority for the ministry in coming years, a potential opportunity for schools like the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope offering a degree program in power plant technology.

The Cuban agriculture sector is prepared to leapfrog, too, albeit accidentally. The vast majority of Cuba’s farmland is still state-run, but farming cooperatives are on the rise.  Since the Soviet collapse of the 1990s, Cuban farmers have had no access to modern equipment, fertilizers or pesticides. The organic movement in the United States represented a return to natural farming practices by choice. In Cuba, organic farming was born out of necessity. 

Now Cuba’s plant scientists are embracing the organic movement, looking for ways to continue sustainable farming practices and increase yield. If they are successful in improving mechanization, Cuban farmers could be in a position to export organic food to the U.S., provided trade barriers are removed.

For now, though, Cuba faces immediate challenges in feeding its own people. The country’s infrastructure cannot adequately handle transportation of fruits, vegetables and frozen foods. Government farmland lies fallow in many places in the country, farmers lack the facilities and means to grow chickens, and Cubans must import most of their food. 

“Our people do not have enough animal protein in their diet,” said Dr. Yordan Martinez Aguilar of the University of Granma, who is working on a plant extract that could potentially replace antibiotics in poultry production. His hope is to provide a way to grow healthy broilers on the island without the use of antibiotics.

His work is significant and potentially groundbreaking. People like Yordan represent the best of all contradictions in Cuba. Cuban researchers are renowned in fields of medicine, animal science and biotechnology, and we can learn from them. Education is a public benefit free to all of its citizens, and the Cubans we met were very grateful for their educational opportunities and success. 

Still, the country’s challenges and limitations make the Cuban people somewhat isolated.

“We would like it very much if you would lift the blockade,” Yordan quietly remarked in one of our conversations, a stark reminder about his reality and the obstacles we face in engaging with one another. They are obstacles we must overcome if we are to know the Cuban people. They are worth knowing, worth helping and worth learning from.


Latriece Watkins, Rich Hillman join Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Board of Directors

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (Aug. 14, 2015) — The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute announces that Latriece Watkins, enterprise work stream leader at Walmart, and Rich Hillman, vice president of Arkansas Farm Bureau, were recently named to the Institute’s Board of Directors by University of Arkansas System President Dr. Donald Bobbitt.

Watkins started working at Walmart as an intern in 1997 and spent 10 years in the company’s real estate division before transitioning to work in merchandising for Sam’s Club in 2008. During her tenure in merchandising, Watkins rose to the level of senior vice president and led the company’s Cross-Functional Initiative to evaluate, develop and implement joint business planning and supplier collaboration tools and processes for the Sam’s Club organization. In January, Watkins was appointed by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon to lead the company’s Ways of Working work stream.

Hillman is serving his seventh term as vice president of Arkansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest agricultural advocacy organization. A sixth-generation farmer, Hillman raises rice, soybeans and wheat in Lonoke County. He is vice chairman of the Riceland Foods board of directors and serves as chairman of the Arkansas Foundation for Agriculture. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas.

“On behalf of the UA System, we welcome these extremely accomplished new members to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute team and value the expertise and experience they will bring to the table," Bobbitt said. "The Institute is a unique entity within the UA System, and thanks to the hard work of its staff and Board, it continues to be an integral piece to our overall mission of serving Arkansas and beyond."

Board chair Dr. Milo Shult expressed his enthusiasm for the appointments.

“It is truly a pleasure to welcome both Latriece and Rich to our board,” Shult said. “They each bring a wealth of experience and capabilities that will assure a strong and positive direction for the future of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.”

Hillman said he has long been an admirer of Winthrop Rockefeller and the legacy he and his family have left for the state of Arkansas, particularly in the area of farming.

“The Rockefeller family, from the governor to this generation, has had such a positive impact on agriculture in the state of Arkansas,” Hillman said. “To have some role in furthering that impact is an honor for me.”

Watkins said she feels a special connection to the Institute as a graduate of Spelman College, which is named for Laura Spelman Rockefeller, grandmother of Winthrop Rockefeller.

“As a graduate of Spelman College, anything I can do to perpetuate the Rockefeller legacy is worthwhile,” Watkins said. “I am pleased to have the opportunity to serve on the Institute Board because it is an organization focused on improving Arkansas. Also, I can connect the dots between the priorities of the Institute with those of Walmart, specifically economic development, agriculture and health and wellness.”

Dr. Marta Loyd, executive director of the Institute, described Watkins and Hillman as “stellar choices” to help guide the Institute forward.

“We are moving in a good direction,” Loyd said, “and adding these two individuals to our Board will only strengthen our positive momentum.”

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.