More than three decades ago, the first of four Pine Bluff High School graduates received a Rotary International Scholarship.
All applied for their scholarships through the Rotary Club of Pine Bluff. Two went to the British Isles to study and two to the Far East. The scholarships paid tuition, room and board, travel and a stipend.
Each was charged with not only completing an advanced degree, but also furthering international understanding and friendly relations among people of different countries. They were goodwill ambassadors to the people of the host country and gave presentations about their homelands, studies and projects.
After they arrived home, they shared with Rotarians and others the experiences that led to a greater understanding of their host countries.
Here are their stories:
Rosalind M. Mouser
Rosalind M. Mouser described her time as a Rotary Scholar as a “magical year.” Even though she lived in a one-room attic apartment, ate lots of canned soup and was considered the resident expert on who shot J.R. on the television show, “Dallas.”
At 26, with a recently earned law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law, she sold her car, and the remainder of her meager belongings, she said, would have fit into a container 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. She set off for Bristol, England. She had no thought as to how she would get from the airport to the university until she landed on British soil. She found a solution to her transportation problem by hitching a ride with the university’s soccer team.
Mouser is a 1976 graduate of Pine Bluff High School and a 1980 graduate of Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia. She had a double major in English and history and a double minor in French and speech pathology. She knew, she said, that she was going to graduate school. Her father, the late Dr. John H. McClanahan, pastor of the First Baptist Church at Pine Bluff at the time he retired, had a PhD (doctor of philosophy degree), and her mother, Rosalind Owen McClanahan of Birmingham, Ala., has a master’s degree in piano performance. For her, Mouser said, it was all about the GPA (grade-point average). She graduated with a 4.98.
When she was an undergraduate, she applied for a Rotary Scholarship, but did not receive it. While in law school, at the encouragement of Rotarian Bill Little, she applied again, and this time was successful.
She had thought early on that she wanted to be a lawyer, but her mother told her that she could not be a lawyer, wife and mother. She dismissed the idea until she went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to pursue a master’s degree in speech pathology. All it took was six hours for her to realize she was pursuing the wrong career path. Because of an obligation to a friend, Mouser said, she felt it necessary to stay in Waco for the remainder of the school year, so she got a job.
After a year in Waco, she came to Little Rock, got a full-time job and enrolled in night law school.
As a lawyer she is challenged intellectually. She said that she realized that she needed that her sophomore year in college. She was interested in politics from an early age, and her parents taught her to be to be concerned about issues.
“I have never been shy, they tell me,” Mouser said, and she thought she could handle the oral part, but she knew no lawyers. “Maybe it was all those TV shows. And if you believe there is a spirit that leads you – that’s the answer.”
She left for England in the fall of 1984 to study for a master’s degree in international law at the University of Bristol, which is perceived to be the “Stanford of England.” She stayed in the Methodist International Student House, the second American to reside there. There were five floors of rooms, topped with attic apartments. She was the only Caucasian; the other residents were mostly from Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. There was one dining area and one kitchen. Some of the residents did lots of cooking. She on the other hand ate lots of canned soup. And there was one television. J.R. on the television program, “Dallas,” had been shot that spring. People wanted to know if she lived in a house like J.R.’s and if she knew who shot J.R. She watched “Dallas” with people from all over the world.
She described the experience as an “eye-opener.” She took the obligation to speak at Rotary clubs there seriously. She is a proponent of paying back and paying forward. During her speaking engagements, she was asked questions about Senators David Pryor and Dale Bumpers, the Central High School integration crisis and “American cowboys and Indians. Do you know an American Indian?” was a frequent question.
“How do you feel to be the recipient of a Rotary Scholarship when no women are in Rotary?” was also frequently asked. Her answer, she said, “When I go home, I will volunteer. If Rotarians don’t want me to volunteer for them, I will volunteer for somebody else.” Her answer usually ended the question, she said.
The Rotary Club of Pine Bluff did want her because she became the first female member in the late 1980s, a membership she continued until the mid-1990s. She was the second female Rotarian in Arkansas.
After she returned home, she spent a lot of time speaking to the clubs in Rotary International District 6170. She said she felt it her duty to express her gratitude for the opportunity they provided her.
She never planned to return to Pine Bluff after her year abroad. She interviewed in Little Rock, but when she interviewed with the Ramsay Law Firm here in Pine Bluff, she knew it was right. She spent 30 years in private practice with the firm.
Shortly after returning to Pine Bluff, she met another lawyer, William Kirby Mouser, whom she married. They have one son, Owen, who received a degree in economics and finance from Hendrix College at Conway in May. Kirby Mouser is also the father of two other sons, Martin and Austin, both deceased.
In the fall of 2015, Mouser made a career move, becoming the assistant general council and senior vice president of Simmons Bank.
“Rotary wanted you to be an ambassador for Arkansas and America,” Mouser said. Her biggest surprise was never saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America during her year abroad.
Her view of the world had also been shaped by her parents and the experiences they provided.
Her mother was born in Jerusalem to parents who were missionaries to Palestine. Because of this, her father led tours every other year to the area. She got to take trips and she knew that she wanted to live abroad. Her family also adopted a child from Korea.
In her master’s class, she was the only American. There were two Brits, one Jordanian woman, two men from Lebanon, one or two from Thailand and a women from India or Pakistan. It was a very small and very diverse group.
“You can’t befriend and live with people of different skin colors and cultures and befriend them and come to love them and then have the same attitude before you left,” Mouser said. “One of the goals is for you to take what you are experiencing – what it’s like to live in another country – and you bring that back.”
Phoebe Yang Watkin
Phoebe Yank Watkin’s year in Singapore was the first time she had lived overseas, and she found it an eye-opening experience for her as an American, as she described “a momentous year in my life”:
“The Rodney King riots in Los Angeles happened while I was there, and I recall watching the footage on television in the dormitory (called ‘hostels’) with some of my dorm-mates, and one of them looking at me and saying, ‘So this is your idea of ‘rights’?’
“I remember eating fruits whose names I’d never heard before (durians and rambutans), ordering midnight roti prata instead of pizza, and having my closest friends be Japanese, French, British and Singaporean students who wanted to know what a ‘grit’ was and asked what language ‘ya’ll’ came from.
“I remember over 100-degree temperatures and tropical humidity and living in dorms with no air conditioning, so that I learned to take cold showers three times per day to cool off and welcomed the lizards that would grace my bedroom walls, as they ate the mosquitoes in our open air rooms.
“I remember proudly donning my Razorback hat and teaching Rotarians in Asia to ‘call the hogs’ – if you are not prone to laugh, this would have had you howling!
“Most of all, I remember the adventures I took on school breaks with my French, British, Japanese and German friends in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and realizing that people from all places – regardless of their cultural, language, ethnic differences – seek community, shelter, food, health, safety and meaning – that is, to know and to be known by others around them. I remember being amazed by how wide and deep and broad God’s love is for the only creatures He claimed were made in His image and having a great sense of that love as I partook in the adventure that was my year as a Rotary Scholar.”
Yang Watkin learned about the Rotary Scholarship from her friend and Rotary Scholar, Rosalind McClanahan Mouser. Before applying, she was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, receiving a bachelor of arts degree with honors in government and foreign affairs. She said that she had read so much about other parts of the world, and she had a sense of adventure and wanted to see, taste and experience for herself beyond the words on the pages she had read.
“I had a particular interest in places where East and West had met and perhaps found the best of both cultures and worlds – like former British colonies in Asia,” Yang Watkin said. “Perhaps that was a bit of my own story, even thought I was totally American – and not just American, Arkansan – and not just Arkansan, Pine Bluffian.”
She grew up in a single-parent family, headed by her father, the late Dr. David Wei-hsein Yang, who was a long-time professor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and died 21 years ago. “He was the single parent of three independent daughters and his parenting style was to model an unrebuttable expectation of excellence, while challenging our assumption of what we wanted or what we claimed was our best. Not unlike many traditional immigrant parents, he rarely gave explicit praise, but I recall him being quietly very proud of my decision to accept the Rotary Scholarship and to go to Singapore, which was the farthest away from Arkansas as one could go on plane Earth. In some ways, although geographically farther apart than we ever had been or ever would be thereafter, we became very close during that year – by long weekly letters across the Pacific, 10-minute calls from my dormitory pay phone and occasional correspondence through a new, fledgling technology called ‘email’.”
Although, Yang Watkin has no biological parents in Pine Buff, she does have those she describes as “parents-of-the-heart,” Peter and Sylvia Smykla and Dr. Horace and Bonnie Green.
Yang Watkin studied at the National University of Singapore from 1991 to 1992. She went there to study Southeast Asian politics and history, but spent the most time in the university’s Center for Chinese Language, where she took intensive Chinese and became fluent and for the first time was able to read and write in Chinese.
After she returned from Singapore, she attended Stanford (Calif.) Law School, where she was president and editor-in-chief of the Stanford Law Review.
Yang Watkin said that her experience as a Rotary Scholar has had a tremendous impact in shaping who she is both professionally and personally. She went on to practice international law at a major Washington, D.C.-based law firm, served as a diplomat in the Clinton Administration on China issues and helped lead China policy work for AOL Time Warner, the world’s largest media company. At present, she co-leads the international division for Ascension, which is the largest Catholic healthcare organization in the world. She recently returned from a business trip to Singapore, where she has been spending a lot of time in the last year.
Speaking to Rotary clubs also gave her an early comfort with connecting with large groups of people from different backgrounds and walks of life and has carried her through many encounters with people from all walks of life, whether new immigrants, the homeless, heads of state, members of Congress and prominent celebrities.
“We are all people, each with our own story of life, struggle and hopefully redemption, and my year as a Rotary Scholar enhanced my genuine interest in hearing the stories of other people, especially those different than me. I am so grateful to Rotary for that opportunity, and wherever I travel in the world if I see a Rotary club sign, I smile and pray blessings on its members,” Yang Watkin said. “
Since her year in Singapore, she has been able to go back to Taiwan and China multiple times to research her family history. Both of her children, a son, 5, and a daughter, 2, are fluent in Chinese, which is her primary language of communication with them, she said. And it was also in Singapore, a former British colony, that she first walked into an Anglican church, which was walking distance from the university.
“Many years later,” she said, “notwithstanding my Baptist roots in Pine Bluff and brief time in Catholic school, I am happily married to an Anglican priest, the Rev. Robert Watkin.” She and her family live in the Washington, D.C., area.
And in addition to her many other professional and personal accomplishments, Yang Watkin is a New York City marathoner, successfully climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and was a reforestation volunteer in Ecuadorian Quechua Village.
David Alan Boling
“Receiving the Japan Rotary Scholarship was a key turning point in my life. It gave me the opportunity to vastly improve my Japanese language skills and my knowledge of the Japanese legal system. It set my professional life on a course to always work in some way with Japan,” according to David Alan Boling of Arlington, Va.
The former Pine Bluff resident, received a bachelor of arts degree in history in 1987 and a juris doctor
degree in 1991, both from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and a master of laws degree in 1994 from Columbia University in New York City.
Boling took a year off from law school (1988-89) to go to Japan to teach English in junior high schools. When he returned to complete law school he wanted to go back to Japan after law school to study the Japanese language intensively and also to study Japan’s legal system. The Japan Program Scholarship seemed like the ideal opportunity, he said.
“I still have the letter of December 6, 1990, from the Rotary Foundation telling me that I was selected.” Boling said. I will always be grateful to the Pine Bluff Rotary Club for sponsoring my application.”
Boling said that he was generally aware that the Rotary Foundation offered scholarships for study abroad, usually for one year. He contacted the Rotary Club and asked for information because he wanted to study in Japan. In that way he found out about the Rotary Foundation Japan Program Scholarship. Paul Orton from the Rotary club helped him. The Japan Program Scholarship was for study only in Japan for 21 months and included nine months of intensive Japanese language preparation, in addition to one year of independent research in Japan. The Rotary Foundation selected 15 students each year from all over the world as Japan Program Scholars. In Boling’s group, there were students from Australia, India, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Thailand and the United States.
He was a Japan Program Scholar from July 1991 to April 1993. All 15 scholars studied for nine months at International Christian University in Tokyo in an intensive Japanese language program. This is a small, liberal arts university that is well-known in Japan for excellence in teaching foreign students the Japanese language. After completing the language program, each scholar moved to a university outside of Tokyo to pursue his or her own independent research.
“I moved to Yokohama and studied at Yokohama National University’s Graduate School of International Economics and Law, where I focused on learning about the Japanese legal system. All the classes were in Japanese, and I was the only American in the entire university,” Boling said.
During his Rotary Scholar time in Japan, he was able to travel by ship to Japan’s northern-most island, Hokkaido, and participate in a 10-day homestay program with a farming family, which he described as a terrific experience. He helped them harvest their eggplant crop. He was also able to travel by train to
Japan’s southern-most main island, Kyushu, visiting the city of Kagoshima, where the nearby active volcano, Sakurajima, frequently spews ash. There is a daily forecast about where the ash is likely to fall, depending on the wind direction, and it is common to see people sweeping the ash off the sidewalks.
Japan has remained an important part of Boling’s professional and personal life. He returned to Japan from 2000-01 and worked in the Japanese government as a Mike Mansfield Fellow. His current job is in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. His work focuses on U.S.-Japan trade relations.
His wife, Mine Sasaguri,whom he married in 2001, is Japanese. She is a freelance writer and reporter and formerly was a reporter for the Fuju Television Network for 13 years. One of their goals is to raise their children, Christopher, 14, and Ellen, 12, so that they can speak both English and Japanese.
Boling’s parents, the late Don and Jo Ann Boling, were Pine Bluff residents at the time of their deaths. They both encouraged him and his three siblings to study hard, and they sacrificed a great deal to support them financially in college. His father was the first in his family to graduate from college. His mother went to college, but had to quit her studies due to the tuition cost.
Stuart Jones Jr.
“Following September 11, I wanted to study the phenomena of terrorism and political violence and Rotary provided a way for me to achieve this goal by helping me attend the University of St. Andrews at Fife, Scotland, Stuart Jones Jr. cited as his reason for applying for a Rotary International Scholarship. He studied at St. Andrews in 2003-04, receiving a master’s degree in international security studies.
It was while he was studying for a bachelor of arts degree from American University at Washington, D.C., that he learned about the scholarship from a friend who was applying in Kansas.
He described it as the most “profound year” of his life, and it launched his career in the U.S. Government as a counter terrorism official. After his year as a Rotary Scholar, he joined the U.S. Treasury Department, where he helped lead efforts to identify, track and disrupt terrorist financing and other illicit finance. During this time, he was detailed to the National Counterterrorism Center, where he led national planning efforts. After that, he served two year in Kabul, Afghanistan, and three in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, working on a number of national security objectives as the financial attaché and senior representative to the U.S. Treasury Secretary. After that, he joined Ernst & Young, a global professional services firm, serving as an executive across Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa.
At present, Jones is completing his master of business administration degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge. He is also launching a global rating agency of which he is the start-up founder and chief executive officer, called Sigma Ratings (www.sigmaratings.com), which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate dynamic, non-credit risk scores.
His parents, DiAnn Jones of Hot Springs, formerly of Pine Bluff, and the late Stuart Jones. Sr., “have been massively instrumental in my education choices. My mother and my later father always supported me, including my decision to serve my nation, work in war zones, join a global firm and ultimately come to MIT and bring forward a totally new start-up concert. Education is important and it certainly starts in the home,” Jones said.
“My year in St. Andrews defined me in so many ways. Beyond academics and lifelong friendships, the year gave a lot of perspective and put me in position to really do some great things going forward,” Jones said. “I also had some fun. For example, my Rotary host, Sandy, was a gem and someone that helped me rekindle my interest in golf. One afternoon a few months before graduation and my return home, I approached a par 3 with some classmates. After surveying the hole, I selected an eight iron and launched the ball forward (on what was not a very pretty shot), where it hit the front of the green and rolled perfectly in for a hole-in-one. This is an experience I will never forget – a story that is part of what was a tremendous journey, made possible by Rotary’s belief in me.”
Phoebe Yang Watkin, David Alan Boling and Stuart Jones, Jr., live some distance from Pine Bluff, making face-to-face interviews impossible. Their stories were prepared from their answers to questions submitted to them by the reporter.