Conway youth destined to build a better world

By Becky Bell

Imagination, creativity and intelligence were shown by two top prize-winning seventh-graders at a recent Architecture and Design summer camp sponsored by Alex Foundation, a Southeast Arkansas-based nonprofit organization.

Thirteen students took part in the July 25-29 camp, and the group was made up of 10 boys and three girls. The Conway camp was held at the Faulkner County Library.

Lucas McDaniel, a seventh-grader at Carl Stewart Middle School whose favorite subject is science, won a prize for his tree house design.

In his design, the ‘trunk’ of the home fit within a 10-by-20 footprint, while the different rooms of the home branched out in the sky, similar to branches of a tree.

“So, I mainly needed stability with it because we had the boundary set for the structure for 10-by-20,” he said. “I had to figure out a way to get as much space as possible for that size. It didn’t really intimidate me, but it was challenging for sure.”

Photo by Mike Kemp

Lucas said he enjoys math, but the reason his favorite subject is science is simple. “In science, we are actually learning new subjects,” he said.

When he is outside the classroom, Lucas enjoys MMA fighting and competing in Quiz Bowl for his school. He said the MMA fighting he is involved with is not like the kind you might see on TV.

“Normally, there are safer moves and less physical striking,” he said. “It includes karate, boxing and kick boxing. It covers anything that is normally used. I’ve been doing it for about two months.”

Lucas is the son of Jeff and Angi McDaniel. He has one brother, Jackson.

When Lucas was talking about other tough competitors he faced when creating his tree house, he talked about one of the other students who created a house shaped like a dragon.Lydia Darnell, a home-school student, was the runner-up in the tree-house challenge with her dragon design and was the winner of the structural design category, having the tallest and longest independently standing design.

With the structural design challenge, students learned basic structural concepts about rigidity, weight and density of materials and which shapes were more structurally sound than others.

Lydia said she is not a huge fan of school but loves reading Tui T. Sutherland’s children’s books. However, she said the structural design challenge was both enjoyable and tasty.

“I mean it was a fun competition,” Lydia said. “I had the tallest structure. We made these with toothpicks, marshmallows and gummies. I actually did eat some of the supplies. I mean, it was fun because I built it in 10 minutes, and me and my friend were only one-half inch apart.”

Perhaps Lydia is so clever with design work because she has been playing with LEGO as long as she can remember. She is so into the hobby that she wants to be a LEGO designer one day.

Lydia serves in her church’s younger ministry called Kid Life and does crafts with kids, reading to them or teaching them about earning and spending. Anna and Brian Darnell are Lydia’s parents, and she has one sister, Naomi.

Both Lucas and Lydia won a Wal-Mart gift card for their design prowess and were treated to lunch each day of camp. They also received certificates of completion and Alex Foundation T-shirts.

All participants received full scholarships, and supplies and materials were made possible with support from the Alex Foundation, Adcock Family Foundation, Garver USA, Nabholz Construction and Ray and Phyllis Simon. Charles Nabholz, chairman emeritus of the company, and Mr. and Mrs. Simon visited with students.

In addition to the lessons already mentioned, participants also were treated to flying drones at Laurel Park and learned just about everything there is to know when taking one into the air.

Also at camp, students sketched sections of the library and were introduced to woodworking and furniture design skills. Each student was asked to build their own bench. On the last day of summer camp, the 13 middle schoolers displayed all of their designs for their families.

The Alex Foundation’s mission is to engage students to consider careers and entrepreneurial opportunities in architecture and design. This mission is achieved through mentoring, strengthening students’ capacity, and supporting their educational attainment. The foundation was established in honor of Alex Courtney, who studied architecture as his major in college before his untimely passing. For more information or to donate, visit