It’s a new day in Honors. With a new director at the helm and another student cohort graduating, we brought together six individuals to reflect on the Honors College — now and in the future. Here’s what they had to say.
An abridged version of the following article appeared in the spring 2018 edition of Honors Today. See below for the complete dialogue.
WH: Busy. The students here are so busy. I could elaborate but I think that’s enough.
KSG: I would say dynamic. Always looking to change and improve. The students are dynamic in the program and the program itself is dynamic.
JY: Conduit, maybe. I think that the Honors College really has provided a framework for sort of channeling my undergraduate career, keeping me on track and on course to do what I want to do.
SD: Diverse, with a global slant. I’ve seen different bios in the magazine showing where people are going in the world and what they’re doing and I think the diversity component is really to be commended.
AR: I’d say evolving because when I first joined it was maybe three-fourths engineering majors. Now, I think there is a lot more diversity in terms of majors and where people are from.
DM: Excellence, because I think our students strive for it and achieve it in a variety of ways. Our incoming students have such incredibly expansive experiences. They are accomplished musicians, competitive athletes and they have diverse academic strengths and interests. We understand that they need to focus, but we try to encourage them to continue to be broad-minded and expansive, to become Renaissance men and women.
SD: I transferred into the Honors College at the time Dr. Josephine Capuana was the administrative director, and I met Jessica Seabury. They were both extremely helpful in helping me kind of assimilate into the big-school culture. Even when I was writing my medical school essay, they helped with proofreading and giving me another set of eyes, just for advice and counseling on how to better write it and how to be better prepared for medical school on the application process.
AR: The experiential learning component of the non-science program really helps me stand out, because I want to do clinical work. The fact that I did research in a mostly clinical program definitely gives me something to speak to during my interviews.
WH: I remember my first class here was the first trial run of a Freshman Seminar. The very first class I had a student who’s an aeronautical engineering major now. He said, “Are we allowed to use our own personal opinion in this class.” And I said, of course because I’m an English professor, right?! [laughter]. If not your opinion then how are you going to write. And he said, “Well why is my opinion more valid than anyone else’s?” That was an interesting question. He said, “Don’t we need to do some sort of survey if we’re going to use anyone’s opinion?” It was just awesome because I’ve never had a student ask that kind of question before. I could go on about that student who then went on to take a class on Islam with me in the spring semester in which he wrote his final paper about how to be a Muslim in outer space. You know when you’re on the International Space Station going around the Earth 22 times a day, which way is the sunrise? How do you measure time? How do you clean yourself? How do you maintain certain forms of ritual purity? Again it’s just a sort of paper that I would never expect to have a student write in a class like that. I just had a blast!
KSG: I’ve been here almost 20 years and as a staff member we get the unique opportunity to see students through their life cycle. We see them as they’re high school seniors looking for good fit for college and then we see them work their way through. Then it comes time for graduation and when we see them graduate it seems like they’ve just got here. But we can really see the change as we meet with them each semester or along the way. It’s really remarkable and I don't know that they often see it in themselves but we can really see it in them, the maturity and the risks they take and their accomplishments. It’s really rewarding to be a part of that with the students.
DM: In addition to directing the college, I’m teaching a seminar in my area of expertise. Angelique is my student, which is fantastic. Honors students are phenomenal, dynamic and they push me. My class is cross-listed as a graduate/undergraduate course. I am really proud because my students are keeping up with me in every single way, at every possible level, in terms of the sophistication of the questions they ask to the writing they produce to the level of discussion.
KSG: I completely forgot to mention that through the life cycle of a student we also get to see them as alumni which is really special, right? I’ve seen them as high school seniors and then they write and they tell us about their kids and their jobs and the wonderful work they're doing. I would be remiss if I didn’t add that in as well.
JY: When I came to college I was ready to be a hard-line engineer, You know, I came to the university, I was like, I’m going to do aerospace and I’m going to do it right and I’m going to go to industry and that’s what I’m going to do. Then in my first semester I took Colloquium and my Honors Seminar, which was actually a “Lord of the Rings” class, which was probably the most interesting class.
WH: Who taught it?
JY: Dr. Jim Atwood and it was easily the most interesting class. It was really unique and I got a lot out of it. Not only because as an engineer I don’t write and in that class I wrote seven essays and it was sort of harrowing, but also great and through that I kind of expanded my outlook on a lot of stuff, and through Colloquium. I had never done any real service. I’ve done some stuff in high school but through Colloquium I got a really good taste of it and it’s something that’s really stuck with me. So that’s sort of a lot of what I do now, working in the community with the Buffalo public schools and things like that. So that really made me evolve in that aspect and actually through spark and other programs that are available to us at the Honors College. I kind of changed my perspective and now I’m moving into grad school and academia so, no more hard line engineering. I’m going to become a professor, hopefully. So yeah, it really has been a dynamic experience.
DM: Honors has always been an incubator for innovation that fed and nourished the rest of the university so for me, as a new director, I think about how we can push the cutting edge pedagogically in terms of our curricular offering and our co-curricular programs.
SD: Honors has been a great recruiter. I’m part of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences admissions committee and we see some of the students from Honors. They just blow us away. It’s unbelievable how diverse, smart, well-rounded and well-spoken these students are. We’re looking for the smarts and the heart, you have to have both. From so many of the UB applicants we see the intellect but yet [Honors students] have the heart, the desire for being a good doctor, for having the compassion to deal with patients and difficult diagnoses.
DM: We’ve long been an institution committed to civic engagement, so the heart piece, right? The way in which colloquium can change students’ lives, I think there’s a relationship between those two.
AR: I’d say the Honors contract. It was a little daunting because of the extra work, and I never had to approach a professor in that way. It ended up being a really interesting project and being able to build that relationship was so important because once you foster [relationships] they can open so many doors for you that wouldn’t have been open otherwise.
KSG: I would never want to see our commitment to the community change. We’ve spent so many years fostering this relationship through Colloquium and we’ve sent so many students to do just thousands and thousands of hours of service in the community. I think it’s important for UB to have that connection with the community, and is one great way that it’s happening is through the Honors College.
WH: I don’t know if you found that the Honors contract was a worthwhile experience but I wish that every student at UB had to do something like that. So, the thing I would change is to get more people involved in the sorts of things that the Honors College is doing.
JY: I think one of the most important things about the Honors College is the Honors Lounge. Yeah, I’m a firm believer in it, not only because the free coffee saved me literally thousands of dollars, but because it represents the community. Some of my closest friends are people in other disciplines that I met through the Honors College colloquium in those early freshman classes. And that really has just made my experience at UB so much better because I interact with a broader range of people.
DM: I think a lot about what needs to change or stay the same, that’s my job. There are so many wonderful things about the college that absolutely need to stay and I could go on at length about those. Colloquium is one that I’m passionate about. It’s incredible that we pull off sending every single freshman into the community to do 20 hours of service. It’s a huge footprint for the university in the community and it’s a huge footprint for Honors.
WH: So many of our students at UB are not just here to study. I remember as an undergraduate I basically just lived in the library and read books. It’s just what I did, but most of our students have to work a couple of jobs and they are often left to fend for themselves. I think for so many students if you don’t have that structure and you have no one in your family who’s been in college, it’s really hard to know how to succeed here and there’s no culture to sort of tell them, “OK, you should just sit and read a book.” Just the ability to have that time — that’s what I would give if I could give a gift to any undergraduate. I just wish you had more time to not be so busy and the support of staff like Karen [Saint-George] and Jessica [Seabury] and others.
AR: Oh no, I definitely agree and at a research university, having like-minded peers to kind of push you is necessary. I know, for me, to have people who are sort of in the same boat as me and understand what I’m going through is helpful.
DM: I think in the ideal world we would lead the university in terms of diversity. And not just diversity, but inclusion, because we can’t really have one without the other. We can seek to shift the demographics of our population, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we achieve a community that is fully inclusive. I feel passionate about us having to really think about diversity, equity and inclusion together. I’m working tirelessly on this and we’re working together as a community to figure out how we can move the needle on diversity and on fostering an inclusive culture within Honors.
DM: We are working hard to increase faculty awareness, investment and engagement in the college. We have 12 or so faculty who teach with us each year and we have a robust Fellows Program, but I think we have some work to do in terms of continuing to get the word out there. We have the opportunity to really build, for our faculty, a sense of belonging to the Honors College.
SD: I want everyone to know how hard the people work behind the scenes. Jessica [Seabury] and everybody, it’s an incredible amount of work and, as an alum, I still feel included in the program because of them. It’s a lot of work and a huge amount of people to reach out to and coordinate and they still make us feel included.
AR: There are a lot of misconceptions about Honors. Like what the students are like and how they are socially and, the fact that they have no time and that they may be too academically driven. These are all false! I know now, since I am part of it. I think some of those misconceptions are part of the reason why we don’t have certain underrepresented groups.
JY: And the free coffee thing, I really can’t stress it enough.
DM: What about the tea and chocolate?
JY: That’s true, too.
Last updated: May 17, 2018 12:02 pm EST