Hendrix College Junior Competes on ‘Jeopardy!’A Q&A with Joe Coker

Hendrix College Junior Competes on ‘Jeopardy!’
A Q&A with Joe Coker

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

In early April, one of Arkansas’ own got the opportunity to compete on the popular TV trivia show “Jeopardy!”

Joe Coker, a junior studying physics at Hendrix College in Conway and son of the Rev. Keith Coker, made it to the 2020 Jeopardy! College Championship, competing against college-age peers from across the U.S.

Coker, who graduated from Conway High School in 2017, made it to the semi-finals in the tournament and won the semi-final prize of $10,000.

We were recently given the opportunity to glimpse into the world of TV game shows and asked Coker a few questions about his once-in-a-lifetime stint on the legendary game show.


How did you make it on to Jeopardy? What was the process behind getting on the show?

Back in October, I saw that Jeopardy was offering an online test to appear on the College Championship and decided to take it just for fun. I was pretty surprised, but very excited a couple of weeks later when I got an email that I was invited to Austin over a weekend in November to audition in person. For that audition, I was in a group of about twenty students, mostly from universities in the South. They had us take a written test, then called us up three at a time to play a practice game and to conduct personality interviews, similar to the interview portion of the show. I did okay on the test, but I thought I did pretty badly in the practice game. They told us they would call around the first of the year if we were going to be on the show, but that we wouldn’t hear anything if not. The New Year came and went, and I had pretty much written it off until January 15, when I got a call from Culver City, CA (where the Sony studio is), and it was Glenn Kagan, Jeopardy’s contestant coordinator, telling me that I had been chosen for the College Championship. I was beyond excited; I couldn’t believe it when he gave me the travel information. I’m not sure I really believed it had happened until I got an email later in the week with contracts to sign and flight information to fill out.


Growing up, did you ever have dreams of being on a game show?

I watched Jeopardy a lot when I was younger, but I stopped watching regularly around when I was in middle school. But I remember being a kid when Ken Jennings made his legendary run on the show, and I was totally enraptured by his performance. He was so smart and seemed like such a warm, friendly guy. I think that was the peak of my Jeopardy dreams. As I got older, the odds of getting on just seemed so low that I didn’t get my hopes up. Getting to be on the show was a childhood dream come true.

The show was obviously filmed quite a few months before it aired and before COVID-19 pretty much shut down the world. How long ago did you film for the show and did they ask you to keep the results of your time on the show secret from everyone until it aired?

We filmed the entire tournament in two days in early February. All the contestants had to sign non-disclosure agreements, and everyone who attended was asked not to reveal any information about the clues or the results of the games. It’s been very difficult to keep everything a secret, mostly because I’ve been wanting to tell people all about the experience but I’ve had to be careful not to let anything slip.


What was your strategy for the show? Did you spend lots of late nights studying as much trivia as you possibly could?

To prepare, I started by watching a College Championship from a few years ago and keeping track of what kind of questions were asked and, of each category, how many I knew. I found that my weakest area was geography, so after that, I spent a few days memorizing the world map until I could identify any country and could picture the map in my head well enough to know what was next to what. I also listened to the podcast co-hosted by Ken Jennings called The Omnibus, where he and his co-host talk about all sorts of topics, in hopes of picking up some trivia. I definitely got some responses right on the show that I wouldn’t have gotten just a few weeks prior.


Do you think your time at Hendrix helped you to prepare for Jeopardy?

My time at Hendrix has taught me more than anything else how to synthesize information from various disciplines. You have to be able to recall knowledge of history in a politics or religion class, you have to be able to recall aspects of math and chemistry in a physics class, and so on. College, especially a liberal arts college, has helped me learn how to quickly access information from completely different areas of my memory, which is a crucial part of Jeopardy.


Do you hope to go back on the show in the future, or maybe try to compete on another game show?

Unfortunately, barring a dramatic rule change, my performance on the 2020 College Championship will be the entirety of my Jeopardy career. Not only can contestants only appear once, but even immediate family members can never audition to be on Jeopardy. As far as other game shows go, I just can’t see myself appearing on any of them. Jeopardy is the one I loved as a kid, and it’s the only one I really identify with. But I’m not complaining; I’ve been insanely fortunate to have the experience I got to, and if it means I can never be on the show again, I consider it a small price to pay.


Is there anyone else you want to acknowledge as a big source of inspiration and support for you, not just on the show, but in your everyday life?

I definitely want to thank my family for encouraging and supporting me on my path to becoming something of a know-it-all. They certainly help rein me in if it gets obnoxious, but they cultivated in me a love of knowledge and never made me feel embarrassed or silly for knowing obscure pieces of trivia. I also want to thank my girlfriend for helping me study and putting up with the endless stream of Jeopardy reruns I watched in the weeks leading up to the competition. And, of course, I owe at least a little bit to every teacher I’ve ever had, and they deserve my thanks too.

2020 Steel-Hendrix Awards, Willson Lecture, Gill Preaching Workshop Set for March 2 and 3 at Hendrix College

2020 Steel-Hendrix Awards, Willson Lecture, Gill Preaching Workshop Set for March 2 and 3 at Hendrix College

CONWAY, Ark. (January 15, 2020) — Three annual events that enrich and celebrate leadership in ministry have been set for March 2 and 3, 2020, at Hendrix College. This year’s Steel-Hendrix Awards honor three extraordinary church and community leaders, and the Willson Lecture and John and Marjem Gill Preaching Workshop features a seminary professor from United Methodist-related Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

The Marshall T. Steel Center for the Study of Religion and Philosophy will hold the 35th Annual Steel-Hendrix Awards Banquet at 5:30 p.m. in the Student life and Technology Center’s Worsham Student Performance Hall North. Tickets for the banquet cost $25 and are available through Monday, Feb. 24. Visit www.hendrix.edu/steelhendrixbanquet for details.

Following the banquet, Dr. Gregory C. Ellison II of Candler School of Theology, Emory University, will deliver the annual Willson Lecture as part of a worship service in Greene Chapel. The service begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.

Ellison holds degrees from Emory University and Princeton Theological Seminary, where he received his Master of Divinity degree and Ph.D. in Pastoral Theology. Ten years after graduating, he returned to Emory to join the faculty of Candler School of Theology. He is currently an associate professor of pastoral care and counseling. In his second year of teaching at Candler (2010-2011), he was awarded Faculty Person of the Year. Three years later, he received the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award, Emory University’s most prestigious faculty teaching honor. He is author of Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men and Fearless Dialogues: A New Movement for Justice. He is an ordained Baptist minister who has served on the ministerial staffs at both Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

The Steel-Hendrix Award recipients for 2020 are:

Mable Donaldson

Mable Donaldson – The Mary and Ira Brumley Award for Religious Education

Mable Donaldson is a retired public educator with a passion for teaching and spending time with students. As a teacher and administrator in the Pulaski County Special School District (16 years) and the Little Rock School District (21 years), her roles included junior high school science teacher for both districts and supervisor for Gifted Education Programs for LRSD. She also has served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a scholastic auditor for the Arkansas Department of Education.

Donaldson received a Bachelor of Science degree from Philander Smith College (where she has since received a Living Legends Award) and a Master of Education degree and supervision certification from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Her honors as an educator include an LRSD Superintendent’s Citation; LRAEOP Administrator of the Year; College Board Southwest Region Award for Advanced Placement; Arkansas Association Gifted Education Administrator of the Year; and recognition by Governor Mike Huckabee as an Outstanding Arkansas Educator. In addition, the Charles W. Donaldson Scholars Academy has recognized her and her husband for visionary leadership in pipeline program development.

A lifelong Methodist, her activities in the church have included Sunday school teacher, financial steward, communion steward, United Methodist Women, pastor parish relations chair, nurture and membership committee, worship committee, and finance committee. Presently she serves on the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas Board of Directors, Arkansas Conference Episcopacy Committee, the Central District Superintendency Committee, alternate member to the Arkansas Annual Conference, and scholarship committee member for the Dollars for Scholars Program at Wesley UMC Little Rock.

Donaldson has served as president of the Arkansas Association for Gifted Education Administrators (AAGEA); on the board of directors for Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education (AGATE) and Arkansas Association Education Administrators (AAEA); and as a member of teachers associations for PCSSD and LRSD as well as the Arkansas Education Association. Donaldson enjoys participating in the Little Rock Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, which she has done for 16 years. She also serves as second vice president for the Alpha Mu Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma International Society.

Rev. Paul Atkins

The Rev. Paul Atkins – The Ethel K. Millar Award for Religion and Social Awareness

An ordained deacon serving CanvasCommunity United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Paul Atkins is the son and grandson of life-long Methodists. He grew up in Little Rock and Benton and participated in the life of his local church through youth group, mission trips, and church camp. In college, he studied bassoon performance at the University of Missouri-Columbia where he met his wife, Julie. They married in 1998, half-way through his masters in music at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. After two years in New Jersey as a freelance bassoonist, Atkins returned to Central Arkansas in 2001 to work as a church music director. When that position ended, he joined his father in the insurance business while continuing part-time in music ministry and exploring his call to ordained ministry. While attending Memphis Theological Seminary, his experience volunteering at a ministry with people experiencing homelessness knocked him off his intended path back to music ministry. His family (including daughter Elizabeth, born in 2008) moved to Little Rock to do church differently, where they connected with CanvasCommunity in 2011.

At Canvas, Atkins has developed relationships with his friends experiencing homelessness and tried to find ways to connect them with the rest of Canvas and the wider church. When his friends go to jail for various reasons, Paul visits them and has organized a monthly note-writing ministry. He has led Bible studies trying to draw together people from different backgrounds. This past April, Canvas and the City of Little Rock piloted a program called Bridge to Work, which offers people experiencing homelessness the opportunity to work picking up trash around the city as well as get connected with services to help them get to their next step. Hundreds have participated in the program and been able to earn a day’s pay, get identification documents, access to health insurance and health and job search services, and some have found permanent jobs. Overall, Paul believes God is calling rich people and poor people to know and care about each other and to live into God’s web of lovingkindness where all are family.

Virginia Brown

Virginia Brown – Hendrix College Youth Minister of the Year

A White County native, Virginia Brown is the current director of youth ministries at First United Methodist Church of Beebe, Ark. She has been a United Methodist her entire life, and graduated from Searcy High School while being an active youth group member at St. Paul United Methodist Church. St. Paul is also where she got her start in youth ministry, as an intern straight out of high school.

After interning for two years in Searcy, Brown began her first part-time youth ministry job at First United Methodist Church of Pocahontas. To finish her degree in Recreation and Parks Management, she transferred to Southeast Missouri State University; while completing her degree, she also interned for two years at Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau, Mo. During summers, she worked at Beartooth Christian Camp in Fishtail, Mont., first as a counselor and then as the assistant program director. While still in Montana, she accepted the position at First United Methodist Church of Beebe, where she has now been for 5 ½ years.

For the past year and a half, Brown also has attended seminary full-time at Memphis Theological Seminary. Her dreams include becoming an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. She enjoys spending time outdoors, and would like to use her passion for experiencing God through creation as a way to reach not only young people, but also entire families.

Preacher as Prophet

In addition to delivering the Willson Lecture on Monday evening, Ellison will lead the annual John and Marjem Gill Preaching Workshop from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, on the topic “Preacher as Prophet.” The cost for participants is $35 and includes lunch in the award-winning Hendrix Dining Hall. For details or to register, visit www.hendrix.edu/gillworkshop.

About the Steel-Hendrix Awards

In 1984, Hendrix College inaugurated the annual Steel-Hendrix Award Lectureship to celebrate 100 years of its official relationship with the United Methodist Church. The award was named in honor of Marshall T. Steel, a prominent minister and former president of the College.

About the Willson Lectures

The Willson Lectures were established at Hendrix in 1956 for the purpose of bringing outstanding speakers to discuss spiritual values, sound family relations, and vital issues confronting the world today. The Willson Lectures are made possible through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Jim Willson, who have established lectureships at 23 United Methodist colleges nationwide.

About the John and Marjem Gill Preaching Workshop

The John and Marjem Gill Preaching Workshop aims to strengthen the United Methodist Church by enhancing clergy’s ability to proclaim the gospel in ways that are relevant to the needs of our time, and to enhance dialogue and fellowship among clergy colleagues. Since 1984, Hendrix has helped facilitate this annual gathering, providing preachers throughout Arkansas with continuing education and training toward becoming more effective preachers.

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit www.hendrix.edu.

2020 Steel-Hendrix Awards, Willson Lecture, Gill Preaching Workshop Set for March 2 and 3 at Hendrix College

President Tsutsui to Retire, Ellis Arnold Elected 12th President of Hendrix College

W. Ellis Arnold III, the 12th President of Hendrix College

CONWAY, Ark. (November 21, 2019) — Hendrix College President and Professor of History Bill Tsutsui will retire in December and be on sabbatical this spring. The Hendrix Board of Trustees accepted Tsutsui’s retirement today and elected Senior Executive Vice President W. Ellis Arnold III the 12th President of Hendrix College.

Arnold will begin his tenure as the President of Hendrix College on December 31.

“I am honored and humbled for the opportunity to play a role in advancing the College as a national leader in engaged learning and the liberal arts,” said Arnold. “It is a privilege to work with the Hendrix community and alongside our dedicated faculty and staff and talented students. Together, we will lead the College confidently into the next decade, addressing our challenges, and seizing our opportunities with determination and optimism.”

A 1979 Hendrix graduate, Arnold received his juris doctorate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law and practiced law in Little Rock from 1982 to 1990. In 1990, he was approached by then-Hendrix President Dr. Joe B. Hatcher to serve as Vice President for Development and College Relations and lead the College’s church relations, communications, fundraising, and marketing, in addition to serving as General Counsel.

In November 1996, Arnold was named President of Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn., and later served as President and Head of School of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., from 2004 until 2008, when he returned to Hendrix. He served the College as Acting President on two occasions, in addition to his current role as Senior Executive Vice President, Dean of Advancement, and General Counsel. Under his leadership, the College’s current campaign has surpassed historic fundraising levels.

“Hendrix is very fortunate to have strong campus leaders who are committed to our students and to the College’s success. Ellis is a proven leader, and we are confident in his ability to lead a seamless transition and develop a comprehensive strategy to guide Hendrix moving forward,” said Albert Braunfisch, Chair of the Hendrix Board of Trustees. “Most importantly, we know that Ellis will inspire the Hendrix community and even further advance our well-earned reputation and historic traditions.”

“The Board is grateful to Bill for his leadership and the many milestones accomplished under the College’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan,” said Braunfisch. “These accomplishments will further distinguish Hendrix among the country’s leading liberal arts colleges in the years to come.”

During Tsutsui’s tenure, Hendrix was re-accredited by the Higher Learning Commission for 10 years; significantly increased access and affordability, as well as student diversity; launched the Hendrix Aspire and Murphy Scholars Programs, as well as innovative career preparation and campus well-being programs; completed the Dawkins Welcome Center; and will complete the Miller Creative Quad and Windgate Museum of Art in 2019-2020.

Before leading Hendrix, Tsutsui served as dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at Southern Methodist University from 2010 to 2014 and taught for 17 years at the University of Kansas.

“I am grateful to the Board of Trustees for the opportunity to serve this remarkable institution and special community,” said Tsutsui. “It has been an honor and a privilege to work alongside everyone, from the faculty members who challenge and inspire our students to the folks who keep our students fed, safe, and well-prepared for life after Hendrix.

“While we live in one of the most intensely competitive eras in American higher education, the broad, rigorous, hands-on liberal arts education we offer at Hendrix has never been more critical,” Tsutsui said. “I look forward to seeing its continued progress and, because of those who are deeply passionate about and fiercely loyal to Hendrix, all can be confident in its long-term success.”

Ellis Arnold ’79 will be the first Hendrix College alumnus elected to President since 1958.

Hendrix to Award Odyssey Medals to Clark, Miles, MillsNovember 14 ceremony and reception to celebrate achievements of three alumni

Hendrix to Award Odyssey Medals to Clark, Miles, Mills
November 14 ceremony and reception to celebrate achievements of three alumni

CONWAY, Ark. (October 18, 2019) – Hendrix College will award its 2019-2020 Odyssey Medals on Thursday, November 14, during a special reception in the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center. Alumni receiving this year’s honors are Patterson Clark ’77 for Artistic Creativity; Dr. Rebekah Miles ’82 for Research; and Mike Mills ’74 for Professional and Leadership Development. The reception begins at 5:30 p.m., with the presentation of medals at 6 p.m.

The Odyssey Medal is presented to alumni whose life achievements exemplify the ideals of the Hendrix Odyssey Program. Medalists are selected by the Hendrix Board of Trustees for their accomplishments in one of the six Odyssey categories: Artistic Creativity, Global Awareness, Professional and Leadership Development, Service to the World, Research, or Special Projects.

Artist and journalist Patterson Clark produces data visualizations and informational graphics related to energy and environmental policy for the news organization Politico. His journalism career began at The Arkansas Gazette in the 1980s and continued at The Miami Herald. For 20 years, Patterson served as science graphics editor for The Washington Post and highlighted unusual details about D.C.’s flora and fauna in Urban Jungle, a weekly natural history column he wrote and illustrated. As a National Park Service volunteer, he removes invasive vegetation from a park near his Washington, D.C. home and converts the harvest into art that spotlights the hidden value inherent in alien weeds.

Native Arkansan and sixth generation United Methodist Dr. Rebekah Miles is Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She teaches and writes in the areas of ethics and theology, shepherds students through their theological education, and works to strengthen ties between theological school and church. A moral theologian, she is an author, co-author, and editor of numerous articles, books, essays, and papers. Miles is currently working on a book on death and several essays on political theology. She and her husband, Len Delony ’81, are United Methodist clergy members of the Arkansas Conference where they once served as co-pastors for two rural churches.

For more than four decades, Mike Mills has been the Natural State’s foremost tourism ambassador and entrepreneur. In 1976, he founded Buffalo Outdoor Center on the Buffalo National River, and later developed the state’s first log cabin resort and first zip line canopy tour. He has served on numerous organizations devoted to conservation, economic development, hospitality, and outdoor recreation. A 2018 Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame inductee, Mills has appeared in National Geographic among many other state and national publications, and has received numerous awards and honors for his tireless advocacy of Arkansas’ outdoors and tourism.

Established in 2004, the Odyssey Program requires all Hendrix College students to complete three Odyssey experiences or projects during their undergraduate careers, in three of the six Odyssey categories. The program ensures that students look beyond the classroom to experience educational opportunities in the liberal arts and sciences.

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit www.hendrix.edu.

Hendrix to Award Odyssey Medals to Clark, Miles, MillsNovember 14 ceremony and reception to celebrate achievements of three alumni

Lilly Endowment Awards Grant for Hendrix Youth Institute
Sustainability funding to allow continuation of HYI’s programs for another five years

CONWAY, Ark. (October 7, 2019) — Hendrix College has received a $231,250 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to continue the Hendrix Youth Institute (HYI). The College operates HYI, which is geared toward teens discerning a call to ministry, under the direction of the Office of the Chaplain and through a grant made by the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas to the Center for Calling & Christian Leadership, part of the Office of Religious Life on campus.

The Lilly Endowment grant will ensure that Hendrix can continue providing the two-week HYI summer program for the next five years. HYI began in 2016 and was launched with initial funding from Lilly Endowment through its national initiative, High School Youth Theology Institutes at Colleges and Universities.

“We are grateful for this generous gift from Lilly Endowment to continue the Hendrix Youth Institute for high school students who are discerning a call to ministry and leadership in the United Methodist Church,” said Hendrix College Chaplain the Rev. J.J. Whitney, who also serves as director of HYI. “With our partners at the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas and the Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, we will continue to cultivate this culture of call in young adults throughout Arkansas.”

HYI invites rising juniors and seniors in high school to come to the Hendrix College campus to take religious studies classes with Hendrix professors and Arkansas United Methodist clergy, participate in an orientation to ministry with the Arkansas Annual Conference, plan and lead worship, explore their spiritual gifts through guided exercises, and engage in service-learning opportunities. The second week of HYI features a mission trip to a different location within the United States each year, where HYI participants work through local United Methodist congregations to meet needs in their surrounding communities.

“Having the opportunity to participate in the Hendrix Youth Institute for two weeks this summer was one of the most exciting, influential, and reassuring things I’ve ever done,” said Phoebe Sanders, a member of Pulaski Heights UMC in Little Rock and a participant in HYI 2019. “Whether it was allowing myself to be vulnerable within small groups about troubles or doubts with my faith, taking classes in the morning to learn about the historic importance of each aspect of worship, or visiting churches around Arkansas and learning from their purpose and mission, HYI quickly became a place where I was able to confidently explore my faith and discern my call to ministry.”

HYI 2020 will take place from June 14-27, with the first half on the campus of Hendrix College and the second week on a mission trip to Chicago, Illinois. Applications are due by Feb. 1, 2020. Learn more about the Hendrix Youth Institute at www.hendrix.edu/hyi.

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit www.hendrix.edu.

About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J. K. Lilly and his sons, Eli and J.K. Jr., through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education, and religion. Although it funds programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion, it maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.