Lyon art department helps Batesville’s Main Street blossom

The Lyon College Art Program has completed a new mural in downtown Batesville.

The new mural, Blossoming Main Street, depicts an apple blossom on Main Street to represent the recent growth of Batesville’s beautiful downtown. The art department worked with Main Street Batesville and the Batesville Area Arts Council (BAAC) to finish the project.

The design was a collaboration between Professor of Art Dustyn Bork and Carly Dahl, BAAC director. Mandi Curtwright and Main Street Batesville applied for grant funding through the Arkansas Department of Heritage to complete the mural. Dahl and the BAAC provided logistical and operational support.

A woman paints a mural on a brick wall
Lyon alumna Victoria Hutcheson works on the Blossoming Main Street mural.

In addition to himself and his wife, Dahl, Bork said two current students, seniors Brianna Sanchez and Samantha Long, and an alumna, Victoria Hutcheson, helped him paint the new mural. 

Hutcheson was back in Batesville due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Bork reached out to ask if she would like to help.

“It felt great to be back painting murals in Batesville again,” she said. “The murals class at Lyon and Batesville shaped me so much in my life and career.”

Hutcheson continued, “It was also wonderful to talk to some current students to see how they enjoy learning about the murals and being able to give them some advice on what it’s like after Lyon and doing murals of your own.”

Long, of Cave City, felt like part of the community while working on the mural.

“The process was actually kind of stressful. Once you start painting and see the finished project, though, it’s really rewarding.”

Sanchez, of Paragould, drove all the way to Batesville to help for a week.

“Working on this project, I learned that if you step out of your comfort zone, you will earn even more opportunities,” she said. “I have already been spoken to about two potential murals of my own in Corning, Ark.”

Bork said the goal with the Blossoming Main Street mural is to inspire.

“We want to encourage visitors to see their surroundings in a new light and to encourage more foot traffic to the beautiful area of downtown Batesville.”

In the art department’s experience, he said, large colorful compositions garner great attention and are perfect for community engagement. He said this type of mural has the potential to be quite visible and be shared through social media and photography.

“We selected the apple blossom as it is the state flower. We wanted a subject matter that had local recognition and significance.”

Bork loved providing students and alumni the opportunity to get involved and help shape the community.

“They are awesome in their skills, so I know I can count on them,” he said. “This mural was a very complex painting with 22 unique colors and complex design, the most advanced we have taken on.”

The alumni and students have executed a few murals before, so Bork knew they would step up to the challenge.

“Having Victoria working with the current students was also a great teaching opportunity. Since she has executed a couple of large scale commissioned murals on her own, she was able to give them real world pointers on how to get started in their art.”

Seeing the impact of the Coke mural, the solo murals completed by students and the new Blossoming Main Street mural has been a rewarding experience for Bork.

“I am very proud of the role that Lyon and my students have played in adding to the vibrancy of our community,” he said.

Bork continued, “The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Murals are tangible and visible products of artists’ creativity and talents.” 

“All of the support from the community makes all the hard work so much more worth it,” Sanchez said. “I’m thankful to call Batesville my home away from home.”

“No matter where you’re from, art can be a really nice way to connect to your community,” said Long. 

Both seniors would love to be involved in more community art projects in the future.

“I think every town deserves some color,” Sanchez said.

Lyon’s Mortar Board chapter wins national honors

Lyon College’s chapter of Mortar Board received five national honors from the Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society.

The Order of the Tartan Chapter won the Gold Torch Award for the third straight year and three Project Excellence awards. Mortar Board advisor, Dr. Irosha Nawarathne, also received an Excellence in Advising award.

Madison Grant, ’20, the outgoing president of Mortar Board, said the Golden Torch Award is presented to chapters that go above and beyond. To be eligible, chapters must complete all their paperwork, have all of their membership dues paid, and perform service projects on campus.

“It was inspiring to see how the chapter came together when our whole year changed,” Grant said. 

“Our Mortar Board chapter has a history of high standards,” said Melanie Beehler, ’20, “so it felt good to continue that legacy amidst what was happening outside of campus.”

Lyon received Project Excellence awards for the LEAD Conference, the virtual Student Creative Arts and Research Forum (SCARF) and the new Humanities, Arts, Sciences and Technology (HATS) event. 

The LEAD Conference is held in the fall and teaches high schoolers how to be successful leaders. SCARF is held in the spring and gives Lyon students the chance to share the work they have pursued both in and outside of the classroom with their peers. HATS is a new companion event for SCARF that gives Lyon freshmen the chance to showcase the original research they have worked on during their first semester.

Nawarathne said SCARF was originally planned to be an in-person event, but Lyon students were dismissed from campus a week before it was scheduled to take place because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was really rough. We had worked so hard on SCARF, and we had it all ready to go. The students were upset, and I was upset.”

Fortunately, she said, Mortar Board and the SCARF committee worked with the Office of Strategic Marketing and Communication to hold the event virtually. The executive committee of Madison Grant, Kendra Kelley, Navy Griffin, Melanie Beehler, Daniel Armstrong, Sean O’Leary and Christen Johnson helped organize the virtual SCARF.

“We had an excellent executive committee this year,” Nawarathne said. “Everybody was well involved and ready to take on leadership roles.”

“It was heartbreaking that SCARF had to be cancelled in real-time because so many people put a lot of work into various aspects of the conference,” Grant said. “However, we did get to host it virtually, which gave the participants their chance to show off their hard work.”

Beehler and Grant said seeing Nawarathne recognized for Excellence in Advising by the national Mortar Board organization felt great.

“Dr. Irosha was a great help in moving SCARF to a virtual platform!” said Beehler. “She dedicates a lot of time to helping us with events and encouraging us to take the lead.” 

She continued, “In regards to Mortar Board, she is a perfect example of what an advisor ought to be.”

Grant submitted the nomination for Nawarathne and was “so honored to then see her receive the award.”

“We held a personal award ceremony virtually for her, and it was so difficult to surprise her.”

The executive committee organized a Zoom call with Nationals to present the award to Nawarathne, along with flowers and a framed photo of this year’s members.

“She always goes above and beyond to help us be the best chapter we can be,” Grant said. “She was beyond deserving of such an incredible award.”

Nawarathne felt “truly honored and humbled” to receive the award from the national organization.

“The opportunity to work with an exemplary group of students like Lyon’s Mortar Board members is a gift I value more than any special award,” she said.

Nawarathne concluded with some advice from her personal experience being a first-generation college student in Sri Lanka more than a decade and a half ago. As much as she was supported by her loved ones, she said there was enough negativity to discourage her from reaching her dreams.

“Don’t let society define who you are or decide what you should be,” Nawarathne said. “Embrace who you are and dream big!”

She encouraged students to not only live their dreams but to also help others achieve their dreams.

“Serve more, judge less! Be the difference!”

Lyon alum named executive director of Black Outside

Angelica Holmes, ’15, is the new executive director of Black Outside, Inc. says the nonprofit organization was founded with the mission of expanding outdoor “access, programming and relevancy to both Black and Brown communities across Texas.”

Woman poses for a photo while standing in a garden
Angelica Holmes, Lyon College Class of 2015, is the new Executive Director of Black Outside

Holmes was already working with Black Outside as the director of the relaunched Camp Founder Girls, one of the first summer camps for Black girls founded in 1924. Alex Bailey, the founder and former executive director of Black Outside, recently started a new job, and the nonprofit was looking for someone to take over his role.

“I was one of the first people mentioned because I’m so familiar with the organization,” Holmes said. “I’ve always been on the board for Black Outside, and its mission has been close to my heart since the very beginning.”

She had to work through some “imposter syndrome” internally while preparing to take on the new leadership role.

“I’m an introvert, and I never imagined this would be my role. It’s been kind of crazy and still a lot to process.”

Holmes continued, “I’m so excited about it, though!”

She will continue serving as the director of Camp Founder Girls and working hand-in-hand with Bailey, but she will be taking the lead on programs now.

“Instead of spending all my time and attention on Camp Founders Girls stuff, I’ll be looking at the bigger picture of Black Outside’s mission.”

Holmes will help manage Black Outside’s other programs, such as the Brotherhood Summit and the Charles Roundtree Bloom Project.

The Brotherhood Summit, she said, is an annual outdoor retreat for Black male high school students. A collective of Black male teachers and mentors convene with students from across San Antonio, Texas, for mentorship, community-building and leadership development.

The Charles Roundtree Bloom Project aims to create a space of communal healing for youth impacted by incarceration and over-policing in their communities.

“It was started by my esteemed colleague Ki’Amber Thompson,” Holmes said. “Her cousin, Charles Roundtree, was 18 in 2018 when he was killed by the San Antonio Police Department.”

She continued, “[Ki’Amber] has a lot of experience dealing with over-policing in San Antonio. She wanted to give her family members and members of the community who had similar upbringings what she would have wanted when she was their age.”

Holmes said the Bloom Project facilitates healing-centered outdoor experiences and culturally relevant environmental education that helps young people “envision new possibilities for their lives, for their communities and for our world.”

She is also excited to continue working with Camp Founder Girls, which just finished its second year. The camp had to pivot to a hybrid model this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, hosting day camps with three small groups of 10 girls instead of the typical overnight model.

“With everything going on in the world, we recognized the importance of our girls having a chance to get together and convene, even if it was on a much smaller scale.”

The camp featured some “social distancing-friendly” day activities. Some were in person, and some were virtual, Holmes said.

“We just wanted to give them a little taste of camp and that sense of community.” 

She continued, “It’s been really hard trying to figure out how to be as safe as possible, but I think we did a good job of making sure we were overly cautious when it came to preventing transmission of the virus or any health issues.”

Holmes is looking forward to being more involved in all of Black Outside’s programming and seeing its mission expand. 

One lesson she has learned through Camp Founder Girls is the importance of giving the kids time to breathe.

“As a former teacher working with a lot of former teachers, we wanted to have every single minute planned,” she said, laughing. 

Holmes said giving kids time to discover and explore on their own is important.

“As we plan for the future, we have to give the kids some time to just be outside and be able to discover, walk around and inhale and exhale outside. It’s such a blessing. We’re finding ways to work that into the schedule.”

To donate to Black Outside and its programs, visit Donors can select which program they want to support or let their donation go to the area of most need.

Lyon esports player wins first championship

Jordan “Dewy413” Deuley hasn’t started playing for the Lyon College Esports team yet, but he has already won his first championship.

Deuley, of Van Buren, won an Arkansas State Championship for the game Rocket League on May 28. The Van Buren Pointers won against Bryant High School in a close match with an ending set score of 4 to 2.

Deuley was overjoyed to win the first championship in his esports career.

“I wasn’t really nervous, but that always changes once you get into the lobby.”

He continued, “I knew that we were going to do good, but I also knew that if I didn’t play smart we could easily lose.”

Deuley prepared for the match the same ways he always does, going to bed early and warming up beforehand.

“I will make sure that I have a good mind going into it by reminding myself that it is just a game for fun.”

To stay focused on the game, he tries to slow his pace down.

“With Rocket League being such a fast-paced game, it is really hard to jump straight back into that speed. You normally have to work your way back into it, so I just take a few deep breaths, think about the series and then I go back to it.”

His team had lost to Bryant in the semi-finals in 2019, so Deuley was excited for the rematch.

“[That loss] was good for me, though, because it gave me the motivation to really improve so I could finally win and become a state champion.”

Deuley enjoyed seeing his team improve with each season. They were one of the top four teams in their first season and qualified for the finals the next season.

“We made it to finals and got swept. It really wasn’t the best feeling in the world, but I am happy that we even made it to finals.”

He continued, “That also really fueled me to keep improving. I wanted to prove I was one of the best players in Arkansas. This season, I finally got to do so.”

Deuley has signed to play on the Lyon Esports team. He is looking forward to competing with the team while getting a good education.

“I really want to try to go pro. I have the motivation, and I know that all I am going to have to do is put in the time.”

Lyon signs first-ever Arkansas collegiate archers

Lyon College has signed its first three students for the new archery program, making Spencer Rhoden, Preston Linville and Havana Santis the first-ever Arkansas collegiate archers.

Head Coach Travis Linville, who is also the state coordinator for the USA Archery program, said Lyon is the first and only Arkansas college to offer archery as a sport and to provide scholarships for archery.

Linville said each Lyon Archery team member will have certifications to coach in both the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) and the USA Archery program.

“Along with competing against collegiate archers at the state and national levels, Lyon archers will host tournaments where they will officiate and train future archers,” he said. 

Linville has secured Lyon College as the 3-D Archery Host of the Arkansas State Competition.

Director of Affinity Mentoring Tommy Newton said Lyon researched archery programs and spoke with an array of local experts before officially forming a team. 

“When we met Travis, we knew we had the right person to help make Lyon College synonymous with archery in the state of Arkansas!”

Newton continued, “Linville is a U.S. Army veteran who combines archery know-how with an indefatigable work ethic.”

“Signing our first three student athletes means that these students will get a great education,” Newton said, “and bragging rights for being collegiate archers with scholarships.”

“We’re going to be competitive right out the gate because of the level of archers these three are,” Linville said. “It’s an excellent program.”

Rhoden said continuing archery in college has been a dream of his.

“To sign with a college team was just amazing for me!”

Rhoden, of Alexander, first got interested in archery at a summer camp in sixth grade, and the camp staff encouraged him to join a team. He couldn’t find one in his area, so he ended up starting an archery team at his middle school and later at his high school, too.

“That team grew from about 10 to 15 archers to having over 200 students try out over just four years,” Rhoden said. 

“I personally love archery because, for me, I fall into a zone of focus when I shoot that’s very relaxing and in general really fun!”

Preston Linville, of Bryant, got involved after attending an Arkansas Game and Fish archery event in sixth grade.

“I love how it’s competitive and you can have fun doing it.”

He is looking forward to continuing archery in college.

“It feels exhilarating to sign with Lyon. I was just doing archery for fun at first, but now it has helped me with college.”

Preston Linville continued, “I’m looking forward to having fun with my teammates, competing and seeing where it takes me.”

Santis, of Hensley, became involved with archery through Southwest Christian Academy. 

“Teachers and students there have a passion for pursuing success in archery tournaments,” she said. “My favorite thing about archery is that it gives me the ability to compete and make new relationships.”

Santis said signing to compete at a collegiate level made her feel “very accomplished.”

“I am excited to grow as a person and an archer. I am looking forward to having many learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom.”

She continued, “I feel very prepared to grow mentally and socially while at Lyon College. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have been presented with, and I will try my best to use them wisely.”

Rhoden agreed, saying he is looking forward to learning and growing at Lyon.

“I have already met some of the amazing people at Lyon and am really looking forward to meeting more amazing people over the next four years.”

Oliveira wins 2020 Lyon College Williamson Prize

Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Cassia Oliveira won the 2020 Lamar Williamson Prize for Excellence in Teaching.

The Williamson Prize is awarded annually to a Lyon faculty member whose accomplishments as a teacher and a scholar, personal character and service to church and community make him or her deserving of such an honor. Nominations are solicited from faculty and students, and a Williamson Prize Selection Committee recommends a recipient to the Board of Trustees for its approval at its spring meeting.

Oliveira will receive a silver cup and a personal stipend of $2,500. She will give the annual Williamson Prize lecture next spring. 

She said winning the Williamson Prize is an honor, especially considering how her academic journey began.

“To someone who grew up on a chicken farm in Brazil, this award is proof that dreams come true.”

Oliveira continued, “Although I grew up poor, I had a very happy childhood and never lacked for love or emotional support. My parents recognized that college was my best ticket to a better life.”

She attributes her success not only to her dedication and hard work but also to the opportunities and mentorship she has received over the years. She is especially grateful to those who served as her mentors during her pre-tenure years: Dr. Mark Schram, Dr. Tim Lindblom, Dr. David Thomas, Dr. Anthony Grafton, Dr. Gloria Everson and Dr. Virginia Wray.

“To my students, I am grateful for the honor of participating in their educational journey.”

Oliveira continued, “I also want to thank my husband, Dr. Ehsan Shakiba, for his love and support and my son, Darius- the light of my life.”

She concluded by thanking the Williamson family for their generosity and support of Lyon faculty for the past 41 years.

“It is a privilege to live in such a wonderful and caring community and to work at an institution that values the professional, personal and spiritual growth of its members.”

Lyon plans for on-campus learning this fall

Lyon College announced that it intends to resume on-campus learning when the fall semester begins.

In the announcement shared on May 14, President Dr. W. Joseph King said the College’s “goal is to bring everyone back to a learning and living environment with safety measures in place, including continuing to sanitize residence halls and academic buildings.”

King also said while the College plans to be in residence this fall, the College is “actively developing a range of contingency plans.” 

He added, “We will follow the Arkansas Department of Health’s guidelines as they are developed.”

For more information, visit

Williamson family gives $25,000 gift to annual faculty prize at Lyon College

Jim and Carole Williamson have made a $25,000 gift to the Lamar Williamson Prize for Excellence in Teaching, increasing the annual award amount from $2,500 to $3,500.

This increase allows the award to now not only benefit the recipient but also Lyon students.

Man and woman pose together for a photograph
Jim and Carole Williamson

The recipient traditionally wins a silver cup and a personal stipend of $2,500. Now, he or she will also receive an additional $1,000 to conduct a creative project or activity with students, in addition to giving the annual Williamson Prize lecture in the spring. 

The Williamson Prize is awarded annually to a Lyon faculty member whose accomplishments as a teacher and a scholar, personal character and service to church and community make him or her deserving of such an honor. Nominations are solicited from faculty and students, and a Williamson Prize Selection Committee recommends a recipient to the Board of Trustees for its approval at its spring meeting.

Jim and Carole have added funds to the award over the years.

“We feel honored to be able to do so,” Jim said. 

“The Williamsons are a wonderful example of a greater community of people throughout the region who, over the years, have recognized the exceptional quality of the teaching and learning that takes place at Lyon College,” said Vice President for Advancement Dr. David Hutchison, “and committed to supporting ways in which we can both enhance and celebrate that.”

Carole is glad the award will directly benefit both faculty and students now. She looks forward to seeing the new student project component in action.

“It’s nice to see it go directly to the students because it will help their educational goals.”

“Through their generosity, Jim and Carole are providing resources for creativity between faculty and students for generations to come,” said Hutchison.

The Lamar Williamson Prize for Faculty Excellence was established in 1979 in memory of  Lamar Williamson of Monticello. Lamar was a distinguished lawyer, businessman, civic and Presbyterian Church leader and a lifelong friend and trustee of Lyon College, which he attended from 1901 to 1903. 

J. Gaston Williamson of Little Rock originally started the prize and named it for his father. Gaston was a prominent attorney and civic leader, a Rhodes Scholar, and — like his father — a great friend of the College. Gaston’s son, Jim, who lives in Van Buren, is a former member of the Board of Trustees.

Jim said his family has always thought highly of Lyon College.

“The education that Lyon gives is tremendous.”

“And the ultimate results are good,” Carole added. “The students get into where they want to go and what they want to do for the most part.”

“It’s the value of the education that we find so special,” Jim concluded.

Lyon’s personal approach inspires lifelong love of alumnus

Photo of man with a beard
Dwayne Reliford, Lyon College Class of 1994

Dwayne Reliford, ‘94, never planned to attend Lyon College, but the school’s personal approach won him over, resulting in a lifelong love of his alma mater.

Reliford developed an aptitude for computers at an early age, putting him on track to be the first one in his family to attend college. His father was a factory worker, and his mother owned a cleaning business. 

“My parents stressed education to all of us. They didn’t care what we did. They just wanted us to go to school, be the best we could be, and be able to obtain more things than they had.”

While his father supported historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), he discouraged Reliford from attending one since he wanted to study computer science.

“When you think back 20 to 25 years ago, computers were just starting to break ground,” Reliford said, “and the people working on them were often from different countries.”

“My father said ‘If you’re going to be doing that, you can’t go to an HBCU, son.’ He wanted me to go to a school where I would learn to deal with and mingle with people of different races, cultures, and ethnicities because I was going to be sitting alongside people who didn’t look like me.”

He wanted Reliford to learn not only how to work with computers, but also how to work with people.

“That was one of the best decisions I have ever made.” 

Reliford began receiving application packets from colleges across the country his senior year of high school and planned on attending the University of Houston. One Thursday night while doing homework in his bedroom, he received a call from former Dean Jonathan Stroud of Lyon College, then Arkansas College.

“He talked to me about prospective student weekend and asked me why I hadn’t filled out an application. I said ‘I don’t know who y’all are. I’m going to be a Houston cougar.’ ”

After the call ended, Reliford found the application packet from Arkansas College. He saw Stroud’s face on the cover and was shocked to realize he had been speaking with the academic dean.

“Houston was so large that I would just be a number, and I was cool with that. It blew my mind that the dean of Arkansas College had personally called me. I figured I must be important.”

Reliford filled out the application that night and had his mom mail it the next morning when she went to work. Months later, he and his parents drove from Texas to Batesville for prospective students weekend.

“It was late February, so everything was covered in snow. It was beautiful,” he said.

“I remember getting in the car that Sunday to head home and saying ‘I think that’s where I want to go.’ I had a prospective student weekend for Houston the following weekend and told my dad I didn’t even want to go. I had fallen in love with Arkansas College.”

After majoring in mathematics with a minor in computer science, Reliford’s professional career spanned industries such as education, banking, finance, oil and gas, and telecommunications. He worked with AT&T as a Senior Database Marketing Manager for the last 14 years.

“The company moved me from Dallas to Houston, and we moved to Atlanta two years ago,” he said. “I had been with AT&T for such a long time that I was pretty much a subject matter expert.”

When, earlier this year, he learned that AT&T would be moving the entire department to California, Reliford began looking for opportunities in Atlanta and recently accepted the position of Senior Marketing Manager for TIAA, a retirement investment firm.

“The role is similar to my previous job, but it’s a totally different industry. For years, I’ve been in telecommunications, and now I’m in banking and finance. It’s a learning process.”

Fortunately, Reliford enjoys the challenge.

“With any change, there’s some apprehension and hesitation, but you’re getting to learn something new every day. I went from being a subject-matter expert to going to their experts with questions.”

“That’s the nature of the beast when you go somewhere new. You have to learn and go through the trenches. In time, I’ll be one of those subject matter experts here, too.”

He credits his adaptability to the well-rounded education he received at Lyon.

“Arkansas College definitely prepared me for my career. There were many times I thought about giving up because my professors were hard as hell.”

Dr. Doug Ponk, Reliford’s biggest mentor, taught him everything he knows about programming and math.

“In class, he would have you do exercises that made me think ‘I could do this so much easier.’ He was teaching you to think outside the box. I learned skills from him that I still use in my career today.”

Reliford concluded that, at Lyon, a liberal arts education meant “professors not only gave you what you needed for whatever field you were studying but also taught you so much about culture, differences, acceptance, and how to work with people. It was a well-rounded full-scale education from every aspect.”