SAU Partnership Offers Homecoming For Pope

Anna-Claire Pope headshotLike many college students, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it caused significant hurdles in many learning plans. For Garland County native, Anna-Claire Pope, it was the perfect opportunity to slow down and reassess her career goals.

“While at home in quarantine, a family friend told me about National Park College (NPC) starting a four-year bachelor’s degree partnership with Southern Arkansas University (SAU),” Pope said. “At the time, I was enrolled in another university in Conway and driving back home to Hot Springs each weekend to work. It was a pretty extreme lifestyle. Having the opportunity to go back to earn a bachelor’s degree in a familiar setting where I had already established a network and had a job was awesome.”

Not only did enrolling in National Park College feel like a homecoming for Pope, it also helped her discover a new career path.

“When I was a student at Fountain Lake High School, I did the high school vocational program and later received my associate degree from NPC,” Pope said. “It felt good to be home again. Once I was back in the classroom, I learned of some other career options in the medical field outside of nursing and fell in love with them. I initially pursued anesthesia and medical school. In that course, I learned about the option of becoming a physician assistant, which is what I am pursuing now.”

As one of the pioneers for the four-year program at NPC, Pope felt at home quickly.

“The first couple of semesters were chill and easy,” Pope said. “There were easy semesters where I could multitask by working a lot, saving money and getting to know my classmates. For the final three-to-four semesters, things got a little more intense. I had to buckle down and put elbow grease into it."

With smaller class sizes and more opportunities for team learning, Pope forged close bonds with each her professors, as wellAnna-Claire Pope in cap and gown. as her classmates.

“One of my favorite projects was collecting samples of eastern white oak trees with John Striednig and Darbie McKnight,” Pope said. “We sent the samples out for genetic testing to develop genetic markers to help prevent illegal poaching of an endangered tree species.”

On May 13, Pope graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology — Pre-Health and is proud of taking the leap to try something new.

“Hard work pays off in the end,” Pope said. "My classmates and I went through some trials together and grew closer because of it. Seeing each of the paths they are going on served as inspiration for me to keep going as well. We all stuck it through and it definitely paid off.”

With commencement in the rearview mirror, Pope is already hard at work planning her next adventure.

“I’m working on building physician assistant school applications right now,” Pope said. “I’m doing a lot of shadowing at the hospital with internal medicine residence. I will be working on that through the rest of May. Over the next year, I plan to take the Graduate Record Examinations, get a lot of volunteer hours and return to school next May.”