Brainy Break: The Highlights

As our trip draws to a close, I can’t help but reflect on the past week and feel incredibly grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of the first Brainy Break. This week was full of irreplaceable experiences; for me, a few of the highlights were dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill, The Pentagon tour, and the tour of the West Wing of the White House.

The dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill was with very distinguished A-State alumni, and I was thinking what in the world can I say to them that they will be interested in and want to talk about. Well, I was worried for absolutely no reason. I had dinner with Lieutenant Colonel Joel Garrison and Mrs. Jennifer Cole, both of whom work at the Pentagon, and they were just wonderful. Here, I fully realized the power of networking; after talking with Jennifer and Joel for just thirty minutes they were ready to help all of us in any way they could.

Old Ebbit Grill dinner

The day next day, a small group of us went on a tour of The Pentagon lead by Joel and Jennifer. This was such a cool experience because they could tell us personal stories about certain aspects of The Pentagon, which made the tour very unique. Although we spent almost an hour and a half in The Pentagon, we didn’t see close to even a fourth of it. We did see the 9/11 memorial, which is actually in the same spot the plane hit The Pentagon so that added a greater weight to an already somber memorial. We also went into the Hall of Heros which is a room dedicated to more than 3,460 recipients of the Medal of Honor and can be used for promotions, retirements, and other types of award ceremonies. A huge thank you must be given to Jennifer and Joel for giving us a personalized tour of The Pentagon!

9:11 memorialIMG_5555

A-State alumni Courtney Rowe, serves as special assistant to President Barack Obama for message planning and was able to give us a tour of the West Wing of the White House. We went through security at the front gate, and she then led us into the Roosevelt Room, which is routinely used by President Obama for meetings with his staff. As we were leaving the Roosevelt Room, Courtney opened the door to the Oval Office and we each had a chance to see inside. Next, she took us into the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, where White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest gives daily briefings and President Obama occasionally addresses the press. This was an extremely cool “behind the scenes” tour, and we are very grateful to Courtney for taking time out of her schedule to show us around!

press briefing roomwhite house group

The most thanks, of course, goes to Chad, Rebecca, and Jennifer without whom this trip would have never happened! Thank you for an unforgettable experience on Brainy Break 2016!


My First Trip to Washigton

Sadly, the Honors College trip to Washignton, DC is over,

and what a wonderful time it was. I want to thank the many people that contributed to making this trip one of the best I have taken.    First of all, Rebecca Oliver, Chad Whatley, and Jennifer Salo did an amazing job of catering to a group of 27 college students in the nation’s capital. From the extensive planning, that the trip required to actually having the guts to go along with 27 kids from Arkansas to Washington, DC, they did everything possible to make the trip great for us. 

   Multiple alumni of Arkansas State who have transplanted to Washington also made our trip worthwhile. Our dinner guests, including Lieutenant Colonel Andy Thum and Mrs. Stephanie Thum (the dinner guests at my table), took time out of their busy lives in DC to eat dinner and talk with curious college students about our country, life in DC, and the countless opportunities that it holds. My dinner table had an awesome time with the Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Thum. They were very open and informative about anything that we wanted to talk about. The conversation that we had was very entertaining and valuable to all of our futures. We all hope to keep in close touch with the Thums. 

   Courtney Rowe, another alumni of Arkansas State, gave us a tour of the West Wing of the White House, and I am sure that it will be an experience that none of us forget. The West Wing is the heart of the decisions that are made in this country, and for us to tour that is an incredible memory. 

   All of those individuals, and many more, contributed to my first trip to DC and I cannot express how thankful I am for them giving me a great experience. I was able to make new friends, see the sights of DC, and witness how our country how our country is run. I saw firsthand two Supreme Court arguments, two Congressional votes, the Oval Office, and the Roosevelt Room of the White House all in one day. Those are experiences that I will never forget or be able to express how much the mean to me. I will definitely come back to see more of Washington, DC, and I owe that to the people who made this trip possible.  


The Journey Home

Yesterday, 30 A-State Honor’s Students made their way home from the Nation’s Capitol (after eating at one of the BEST restaurants in D.C., Founding Farmers). During the train ride and flight, I reflected on my time in Washigton D.C. How many people can say they toured the West Wing of the White House? Got to see Congress vote? Ate dinner with a former U.S Ambassador?  These are just a few of the amazing experiences we had. At the beginning of the trip, I knew very few of my fellow Brainy Breakers.  This trip gave me the opportunity to branch out from my normal group and meet new people.  I gained new friends, new experiences, and new memories that will last forever.  Being back in Arkansas makes me miss “standing to the right” every time we get on the metro,  the delicious donuts, the crazy things we got to see, the amount of culture we were exposed to, and mostly the group pictures. I am very thankful for The Honors College for selecting me to be a part of this once in a lifetime opportunity! 


Day Six: From Metro to Memphis

Hey all!

I’m Thomas J. Hamaker. I am a Freshman, double-majoring in Business Management and Global Supply Chain Management, and I’m from Hampton, Arkansas. This week, I had the remarkable opportunity to travel to my nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. During the trip, I was able to explore the city, meet with distinguished Arkansas State alumni, and see landmarks, museums, and famous government buildings. As someone who had never been outside of the midsouth, the experience was breathtaking. Today, we returned home safely from D.C.


We began the day by eating brunch at Founding Farmers, a popular restaurant that brands itself as fresh, food-to-table, “true food and drink”. This meal was free to the students on the trip. Personally, I ordered chicken and waffles, and it was incredible. The orange juice was easily the best I’ve had in my entire life. Even the bathroom was filled with hilarious witticisms, including lines like, “We don’t serve women here; you must bring your own.”

Founding Farmers

After Founding Farmers, we traveled back to our hotel one last time to gather our luggage. It was bittersweet, leaving a hotel where I had spent an outstanding week, but at the same time returning home. We boarded the Amtrak train to Baltimore, then a shuttle bus to the airport, and finally, our flight back to Memphis. For me, this was a large change of pace. After all, a day of travel, filled with its fair share of waiting times and lines, is very different from the speed of a big city and the excitement of visiting attractions like the White House or Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space. However, this was still only my second time flying, and that was an amazing memory for me.


In summary, today was a day of reflection on the first ever Brainy Break. It was a day of travel for the Honors Students, myself including. Maybe most of all, it was a day of appreciation for the staff that put the event together and for my fellow students that were with me for the week. I know that there is no way to thank Rebecca Oliver, Chad Whatley, and Jennifer Salo enough for the work they did this week.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed following the events of this week, and I know that I’ve enjoyed being a part of it.

All the best,

Thomas J. Hamaker

The final day: the Holocaust museum and Arlington National cemetery

While we visited more than a few sites over the course of today, the two scheduled visits at the Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery had the largest impact on me. 

The Holocaust Museum was, in a word, sobering. While I had a knack for learning about World War II while I was in middle school, I had never realized the full depravity experienced by all those affected by this tragic part of history. Before getting the experience of the museum, I noticed a quote from a former president that stuck with me until the end of the tour, where I would be reminded of it again, so I took a picture.   

Quote from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, approximately eight years before taking office as President of the United States.


 I thought this quote was weighty when I first read it, but reading it after getting the experience of the Holocaust Museum had a much more profound effect on me than what I had imagined it would. In the museum, the different aspects of the Holocaust were divided into three sections, each taking up a complete floor of the museum: the first, labeled “Nazi Assault” depicted the events that happened from 1933 to 1939, the second, labeled “The Final Solution” included the time period between 1940-1945 and the final section documented the Allied victory and the end of the Holocaust. 

In Arlington national cemetery, there were many graves but a few memorials stuck out in particular to me; those of Audie Murphy, former U.S. President William Howard Taft and the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown solider. Of those, I was most inspired by the changing of the guard. The ceremony is incredibly intricate, every aspect is precise and purposeful, even down to the number of seconds taken with each march in from of the tomb by the sentinel guard on duty. This amount of detail, along with the reverence shown by the other viewers was absolutely awe-inspiring. 

A section of Arlington National Cemetery, where over 417,000 of our nation’s deceased from various conflicts are buried and honored.

Somber with a Bit of Miscellaneous

Today’s journey started with returning the shirt I had bought two days prior and exchanging it for a different size. I think the food here has enlarged my figure… After the quick exchange, Brett, Connor, and I headed to the United States Botanic Garden. Even though it is more Brett’s field of study than mine, I have to say that I enjoyed seeing all the plants. It almost made me want to become a plant scientist. (Keyword there is “almost.”) One of the many species on display was an Arabica coffee tree. Given my love for coffee and Brett’s expertise in growing plants, we came up with a plan. Brett and I will soon open a coffee shop in D.C. that does it all: grows, roasts, grinds, and brews. We’ll be starting from the ground up!…

Our next stop for the day was the Washington Monument. Due to poor planning, whoever built the thing only got 1/3 of the way finished before they ran out of money. That’s why you see two different colors of marble in the monument.

On the somber side of today’s tour, the Holocaust Museum was an eye-opening experience. I went to Washington D.C. in the seventh grade, and out of all the things we saw on that trip, I remember the Holocaust Museum the most. That’s just how powerful it is. Learning about the rise of Hitler was fascinating to me. It’s unbelievable that someone with such evil motivations persuaded a nation that he was the answer to solve Germany’s problems and then orchestrated a mass genocide of over six million people.

Today’s lunch consisted of three steak tacos with onions and peppers from a food truck. It was actually quite delectable. However, I did find a nice black hair, approximately one and a half inches in length, peeking out from within the steak. I removed the hair and continued eating nonetheless. Normally I would probably NOT continue eating, but due to my current appetite, the taste of the food, and the short-ish length of the hair, I decided the pros outweighed the cons in this particular case.

Arlington Cemetery was another moment of the trip that evoked somewhat somber emotions. Just seeing the vast amount of graves of those who have served this country in order to protect our freedom was amazing. It makes you appreciate them even more than we already do. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Changing of the Guard Ceremony also astonishing moments. The guards were rigid and the mood was serious.

After a quick bite to eat for dinner, Brett, Connor, and I headed to Verizon Center where we got tickets for a Washington Wizards game. I have little interest in basketball but agreed to attend the game if I could get in for $20 or less. We purchased tickets from a man on the street for $20, so I went. The Wizards lost to the Atlanta Hawks, as expected. And even though it’s not the biggest interest of mine, it was a cool way to end the day.

Somber and a bit of miscellaneous. That was the theme of today, the fifth day of Brainy Break 2016.


March 23, 2016

Hello my name is Miguel Castillo and I am a senior from Caddo Gap, AR. Today I had one of the most humbling and moving experiences with the Brainy Break. Today I had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum. It had always been a dream of mine to visit this extraordinary museum since as long as I can remember because of all the history that there is to experience at this place. The Holocaust is one of the darkest times of history when millions of peope were mistreated and descriminated. I knew this was not a day of surprises and excitement to experience something but it would be a day of remembrance and respect for all those lost during those horrific times. As soon as you stepped into the museum you could feel the ambience change. People know and have respect for all the victims that were persecuted back then. People come to this museum to pay their respects but they also come to learn. We learn from history in order to never make the same mistakes again and that is the beauty of such visits. I was deeply moved with every step in the Holocaust Museum becuase this time period in history is one the most interesting time periods to me personally. One of the most astonishing pieces in the museum to me was the piece where they show model of the gas chambers and how that process worked. It shows jewish prisioners from where they are led into chanbers where they have to undress and then led to gas chambers. Even though it is small model of these horrendous actions, it is just sad the way the artist has depicted mothers helping their children undress to their death. Husbands with their wifes and children. My mind simply cannot comprehend how a human being can do that to one another. After taking in extensive amounts of history at the Holocoust Memorial Museum we traveled the Metro to the food trucks where I had some amazing authentic tacos from a mexican food truck. After that we traveled to the Arlington Memorial. There we had the privilege to walk through the cemetary as we made our way to witness The Changing of the Guard. It was amazing to witness such a special ceremony for The Lost Unknown Soldier and all those lost in every war. After that we had the chance to experience Union Station once more and just take in D.C. culture once more. Our feet may be tired but the soul is rejuvinated with the rich history we experienced today.IMG_1183 IMG_1178 IMG_1180 IMG_1171 IMG_1170 IMG_1168 IMG_1166 IMG_1140