Dr. Jason S. Ulsperger has been named this year’s Arkansas State University-Beebe Outstanding Alumni award recipient for the Arkansas Community Colleges Conference.
Ulsperger began attending ASU-Beebe in 1993. “I consider myself a first-generation college student,” said Ulsperger, who is a sociology professor at Arkansas Tech University. “I initially chose ASU-Beebe because I had heard good things from others who had started their studies at the college and I wanted to stay in the Beebe area to be near family and friends, making it a perfect fit.”
Ulsperger added that he struggled in school and drifted into delinquency during his teens. “Things turned around when I began dating my wife and we started attending ASU-Beebe together. My initial goal was to gather as many general education credits as possible. However, support and inspiration from faculty helped me hone in on potential careers. I soon realized I wanted to teach and write. My instructors told me an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts would provide solid footing, and they were right.”
Ulsperger and his wife Kristen both graduated from ASU-Beebe in 1995 with an Associate of Arts in liberal arts. As an H.L. Minton Scholar, he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Central Arkansas in 1997. Ulsperger then earned a Master of Arts in sociology from Arkansas State University in 1999. That same year, he received the Student Award of Excellence from the Southwest Society on Aging. Ulsperger completed his doctorate in sociology at Oklahoma State University in 2003, where he won the O.D. Duncan Award while studying social psychology and criminology.
Ulsperger said he has many fond memories of his time at ASU-Beebe. “One of the most important teachers in my life was English professor Sherry Organ, who submitted one of my short stories in a creative writing contest. She pulled me to the side after class and complemented my writing. Wanting to be an author someday, you cannot imagine the confidence she provided. My story placed. It was uplifting. She was uplifting. I will never forget her telling me I would be successful no matter my path. She said I was ‘a true Renaissance man.’ After looking up what that meant, a smile was on my face for days.”
Ulsperger said he was also challenged by several faculty. “Dr. Stephen Knapp pushed me beyond my limits as a writer in digesting constructive criticism and using it for improvement. I can still hear him critiquing my papers on Elvis Presley and Herman Melville’s Billy Bud, Sailor.”
Ulsperger also mentioned Phil Petray, for sparking his interest in social sciences, Dr. Dianne Tiner (Logan), who talked to him about understanding how environmental factors influenced behavior, and Teddy Davis, who helped him realize the importance of civic mindedness.
Ulsperger teaches psychosocial aspects of death and dying, social gerontology, and social deviance at ATU. “My first teaching job was at Southeastern Louisiana University. I knew it was a temporary stop. I wanted to get back to the natural state and give back as much to fellow Arkansans as possible. I had a stint at Southern Arkansas University and eventually landed at Arkansas Tech University teaching sociology. My classes revolve around social psychology, gerontology, crime, and deviance. My wife, Kristen, also teaches college courses and even had the opportunity to teach at ASU-Beebe not long ago. It was fantastic for her to come full circle.”
Ulsperger holds faculty excellence awards in both teaching and scholarship. In addition to co-authoring “Elder Care Catastrophe” (Routledge), and “The 53: Rituals, Grief, and a Titan II Missile Disaster” (Lexington Books), he is the primary author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters and encyclopedia entries. He has presented over 50 research papers at a variety of conferences, including international locales such as Naples, Italy. The International Organization of Social Science and Behavioral Research awarded a best paper designation on a co-authored piece on stalking victimization. The “Qualitative Report” highlighted two of Ulsperger’s projects: one on senior companion volunteers and another on the abuse of vulnerable populations. The Journal Sociological Spectrum designated his submissions on social dynamics of elder care as article of the year.
Additionally, Ulsperger finished a term as the president of the Mid-South Sociological Association and is a regional representative for Alpha Kappa Delta, a sociology honor society. He also sponsors a criminal justice club, which won the Alpha Phi Sigma national award for community service. ATU recognized him with the Mentoring Award for Distinguished Advising.
In his community, Ulsperger has provided training on a variety of topics to local organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, and Kiwanis Club, as well as local libraries, the River Valley Senior Networking Group, the Arkansas Juvenile Officer’s Association, Court Appointed Special Advocate groups, and the Arkansas Society of Certified Public Accountants. He also helped create the River Valley Purple Angels, which provides dementia awareness programs and information. Ulsperger also directs the Get Ready In Time (GRIT) at-risk youth program. This group connects disadvantaged kids to resources that help them get into college.
“I always wanted to do something for fellow Arkansans by way of teaching, writing, and service. With teaching, mentoring motivates me. I encourage young Arkansans to achieve more than imaginable,” Ulsperger said.
Ulsperger provided some advice for students: “Remember two things, especially if you are a first-generation college student. First, do not be intimidated by your professors. They will critique you, and it may occasionally seem like a personal attack. It is not. They are trying to socialize you to the world of higher education, build your ability to self-reflect, and prepare you for future opportunities. Second, be persistent. Higher education is about intellectual ability. However, it can be just as much about climbing over seemingly insurmountable obstacles with perseverance as a priority,” Ulsperger said.
Rose Mary Jackson, associate vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement, said “Our alumni are our strongest asset in communicating the value of ASU-Beebe. I am inspired by their stories,” said Rose Mary Jackson, Associate Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement. "We gladly share their stories of how ASU-Beebe has positively influenced them."
Arkansas State University-Beebe Alumni Stories is a project of the Alumni Association with the goal of sharing and preserving the ASU-Beebe historical and educational experiences of former students. If you are an alum and would like to share your story, contact Institutional Advancement at (501) 882-8855.