By DONNIE SEWELL | Arkansas School for the Mathematics, Sciences & Arts
The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts welcomed three new additions to the faculty at the beginning of the 2022-23 academic year in August.
Joining the faculty were Dr. Zac Cowsert as a history instructor, Dr. Nathan Groot as a music instructor and chemistry instructor Dr. Burt Hollandsworth.
Dr. Zac Cowsert
It is a return home of sorts for Cowsert, who graduated from ASMSA in 2008. His wife, Jeridan, was a member of the Class of 2009. He completed his undergraduate studies in history and political science at Centenary College of Louisiana in 2012 and earned his both of his graduate degrees — a master’s and a Ph.D. in history — from West Virginia University. He completed his doctoral work in 2020.
Returning to teach at ASMSA has been “terribly wonderful and strange all at once!” he said.
“I hadn’t been back to ASMSA in over a decade,” Cowsert said. “I’ve been flooded with memories these first few weeks. I’m proud to see how much ASMSA has grown institutionally and physically, yet it’s clear the core ASMSA experience remains the same. I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with my former teachers and working alongside the great faculty and staff here. I look forward to helping ASMSA continue to build upon its already great legacy.”
Cowsert is a Civil War historian whose research interests explore Native American involvement in the conflict, the war west of the Mississippi, Southern Unionism and soldier newspapers. History has been a longtime interest.
“Frankly, I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not have a fascination with history,” Cowsert said. “As a kid, I dragged my family to every small battlefield in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, and my dad and I combined camping trips with Civil War reenactments. At ASMSA, I took numerous history courses that further deepened my interest in the past.”
Cowsert discovered his passion for teaching in graduate school. After earning his doctorate, he hoped to teach at a student-first institution that prioritized giving students a superb educational experience.
“When I learned about the open history position at ASMSA, I knew I had found just such a place,” he said. “For me, ASMSA proved to be a place that challenged me intellectually, matured me socially and emotionally, and prepared me for college and life beyond Hot Springs. I absolutely leaped at the chance to work with some of Arkansas’ brightest students and hopefully provide them with similarly meaningful educational and life experiences.”
Dr. Nathan Groot
Groot is a violist and music teacher originally from Pikeville, Tenn. A first-generation college student, he earned a bachelor’s degree in viola performance and pedagogy from Tennessee Technological University, a master’s in music performance, viola at Miami University in Ohio, and a Doctor of Musical Arts in music performance, viola from the University of Georgia.
An early childhood experience when he started learning the viola led him to following his passion in musical education. Groot began learning the viola when he was 7 years old, loving it almost immediately. Unfortunately, after a year of private lessons, his parents realized they could no longer afford to pay for his lessons.
“I was heartbroken,” Groot said. “When a retired violinist in our small, rural community heard about the situation, he offered to give me a few ‘pointers’ occasionally to help me keep playing. Those ‘pointers’ turned into multiple hour weekly lessons that lasted for over 10 years.
“He was my most important mentor, and his generosity allowed me to then get a music scholarship and be the first person in my family to attend a four-year university. Music in general has been a lifelong passion and pursuit, but I think that what has drawn me to music education (rather than strictly music performance) is what all of my mentors and teachers have done to support me. Their generosity is the only reason I’m here.”
Groot tried to give his first mentor some money he had earned from odd jobs to show his appreciation for the time he had given Groot, but the mentor didn’t accept the money.
“Instead, he told me to take what he gave me and pay it forward. That directive from my teacher at our final lesson has stuck with me and has been my guiding principle through my career so far. I hope to ‘pay it forward’ by being as generous and supportive to a new generation of students and musicians as my teachers were for me,” Groot said.
That has led Groot to start a private studio where he offers lessons and coaching for violists and violinists of all ages. He also served as a viola faculty member and chamber coach at the Tennessee Tech Summer Music Institute, and in 2020, he joined Lift Music Fund, a nonprofit organization focused on addressing the racial inequity in the field of music caused by financial barriers that can prevent aspiring musicians from taking the first steps toward a career in music.
Groot also has experience as an orchestral, chamber and solo performer. He especially enjoys collaborating directly with composers on new works as a soloist. In 2018, he was a guest soloist with the Sofia Sinfonietta for the Sofia Music Weeks Summer Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, for composer Yovcho Krushev. He also performed the world premiere of Emily Singleton’s “In Our Walk,” which earned a VIOLA2020 honorable mention. In 2022, he recorded an album of works for viola by under-represented composers.
At ASMSA, he directs the string ensemble, teaches music theory and world music classes, and co-teaches the music capstone program with Dr. Thomas Dempster, an associate dean for arts and humanities who also served as ASMSA’s first full-time music instructor.
Dr. Burt Hollandsworth
Hollandsworth was encouraged by early mentors in high school and college to pursue his interest in chemistry as a career. He’s thankful that they recognized in him some talent and curiosity for the subject.
“I was the kid in the chemistry class who couldn’t wait to turn the page and see what was next,” Hollandsworth said. “When you find a subject, topic or interest that grabs your attention this strongly, I believe that you’ve found your academic mission. At some point in my undergraduate career, I decided I would keep going until people told me to stop, so I’m still going!”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Roanoke College in Salem, Va., and followed that with a Ph.D. in chemistry from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He served as a lecturer at OSU’s Mansfield campus and did postdoctoral research at the University of South Carolina before arriving in Arkansas in 2006 when he served as an associate professor of chemistry at Harding University in Searcy. He also served as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Central Arkansas and most recently Lyon College before coming to ASMSA.
Hollandsworth is excited to have an opportunity to work with highly motivated and talented students who possess a desire to make the most out of their educational opportunities. He wants to positively impact the next generation of scientists and artists from Arkansas.
“My goal is to use my experience in research and teaching in higher education to prepare my students for the academic challenges they will face a the next level,” he said. “I believe the reason that I am still teaching chemistry is the joy that I see when students begin relating physical and chemical properties (things we can directly observe with our senses) back to the structure of particles like molecules, compounds and atoms (which we can’t directly observe with our senses).”
One of the ways Hollandsworth will likely attempt to do this is by having students work with colorful compounds.
“I fell in love with colors, specifically those of transition metal complexes,” he said. “The color of a compound can give a wealth of information about its electronic structure. Making novel compounds with intense colors still fascinates me after 20 years. In graduate school, I was introduced to group theory and molecular symmetry and my mind was blown by the connection between abstract algebra and chemistry. I think that sealed the deal, and I never looked back.
“One could say that this is the entire end goal of the discipline of chemistry, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to share this knowledge with the ASMSA community.”
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