Whither Honors?

For seven years, I have worked on building the Lane Honors Program. In order to help build and coordinate this program, I have drawn on my experience teaching at the Clark Honors College, my participation at National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) conferences and on NCHC committees, and the extremely valuable input and engagement from Lane students, faculty, and management. In particular, the Honors Leadership Team has guided this work with dedication and wisdom.

The program has faced challenges from its inception. These challenges included faculty resistance to a program initiated by the administration, a misperception that honors education is elitist, a misunderstanding among some advisors and faculty that the honors classes did not count toward transfer requirements, and an ever-changing combination of managers and faculty on the program’s core team.

We overcame these challenges and provided an exceptional honors educational opportunity to Lane’s students based on best practices and the needs of our student population. Our students have presented their research at symposia and conferences, and they have published their work. We have seen students go on to become McNair Scholars, Ford Scholars, complete undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, and law degrees. We have heard from former students that their honors experience changed their lives.

In the current climate of declining enrollment and substantial budget deficit, however, the college has recommended to the Board of Education that the Lane Honors Program be cut.

Eliminating the Honors Program is not the answer.

The second of the college’s core themes is Accessible and Equitable Learning Opportunities. Honors directly supports this core theme. If our students were beginning at their educations at four-year colleges or universities, they would have access to honors education. Experiencing honors at Lane allows them to develop their identities as scholars, honors students, and transfer students who can and should pursue higher educational goals.

From my experience in the NCHC, I know there are many formats a two-year college honors program can take. I also know that central to any of these formats is an agility that lets the program be responsive to changing budgetary and enrollment situations. Our program has that agility. We can capable of restructuring the program to have a minimal impact on the budget while continuing to offer honors education to our students. This restructuring allows us to use our existing infrastructure and to keep an honors program in place that can be scaled back up in the future.

Most importantly, restructuring rather than eliminating the Lane Honors Program allows the college to offer students the honors opportunities they so rightly deserve.

Several students and I will be speaking at an open comment session at the Board of Education meeting this evening. I will continue posting about the future of the Lane Honors Program and the efforts to save it.

Students Present at Regional Honors Conference

Last weekend, two honors students presented at the Western Regional Honors Council’s (WRHC) conference in Ashland, Oregon at Southern Oregon University (SOU). The following members of SOU’s Honors College organized the event: Ken Mulliken, Executive Director; Liesa Morrow-Bratcher, Office Specialist; Prakash Chenjeri, Faculty. SOU Honors WRHC Interns Lauren Aldana, Riley Evetts, Briana Morgan, and Micaela Saling also worked on the conference.

The WRHC is our regional chapter of the National Collegiate Honors Council, and I attend the chapters meetings each year at the national conference. I’ve been waiting for a conference to be held near enough to our college that we could afford to send students.

Tonyae Meeks presented, “Human and Environmental Health vs. The Waste Management System,” based on the research she conducted in Eileen Thompson’s honors WR 121 class.

Gus Smith’s presentation, “Production, Adaptation and Iconography of the Oresteia and Greek Theatre,” shared his research findings from Aryn Bartley’s honors Introduction to Drama class.

His historical research was also shared with the college drama department to inform this year’s production of the The Oresteia Project.

Poster for The Oresteia Project

Honors faculty member, Aryn Bartley, accompanied the students to the conference. The Honors Program provided tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s (OSF) production of Julius Caesar on Friday night.

The OSF’s director, Cynthia Rider, gave the conference’s keynote speech on Saturday evening.

Gus is currently enrolled in the Honors Capstone Seminar. I’m sure his experience this weekend will inform his group research project and the symposium he will help organize later this term, and I’m also sure that Tonyae’s experience will impact her work in the seminar next year.

Honors and Phi Theta Kappa

The Sigma Zeta Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) has been shut down this past year after some challenges with particular students. Having served briefly as the advisor for PTK, I remember that depending on the students involved, there can certainly be challenges. In fact, last fall at the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference, I asked other honors directors who were also their campus’s PTK advisor about the drama that often seemed to be part of the chapter’s history. One advisor said, “There is always drama with PTK.” The others just nodded.

One reason for the drama, I believe, is that PTK gathers together very bright, very creative students who may or may not have experience with leadership, organizing events, managing funds, and running a chapter. That’s part of the purpose of PTK – building those skills. Some students definitely do show up with one or more of those skills and can help a chapter succeed, or they may be up against a larger group that doesn’t want to follow their lead.

I respect the decision of Kristina Holton, the chapter advisor, to close down the chapter to let things settle out. I especially respect her decision not to push recruitment when there weren’t any activities or opportunities for new members to participate in.

Regardless of the challenges that can beset a chapter, the benefits in terms of scholarship, leadership, and service make PTK an excellent learning opportunity for students. PTK also provides a competitive edge for scholarships (and offers some scholarships available only to its members), college applications, and job applications.

The Lane Honors Program offers these opportunities, too, so what is the ideal relationship between an honors program and PTK?

Kristina and I have been working on the answer to this question specifically as it relates to Lane Community College. For now, we see the two honors groups supporting each other and are encouraging students to join both. In fact, we are now rebuilding the chapter with students from the Honors Program as the active members and leaders.

This week, we held an information session to learn what students wanted from the chapter. Ten students attended the meeting, asking questions and offering suggestions.

We will meet again during Final Exam Week to plan the next steps for spring. Having met with nine of these ten students when they first joined the Honors Program, I can attest to the intelligence, character, and enthusiasm of this group and I’m optimistic that Lane may soon have a vibrant Sigma Zeta Chapter that works hand-in-hand with our honors program.

Freedom and Dialogue in a Polarized World

Yesterday, the Honors Program played host to a special event: Sharon Schuman speaking about her book, Freedom and Dialogue in a Polarized World.

Sharon Schuman

Schuman’s work is interdisciplinary and drew support from across the campus. The event was co-sponsored by the Library; the departments of Communication, English, and Philosophy; and Student Life and Leadership Development.

Schuman uses Mikhail Bakhtin’s work on the dialogic nature of language and extends it to the concept of freedom. She argues that freedom is also dialogic and that the more perspectives one can see from, the freer one will be.

Mikhail Bakhtin

During the talk, Schuman used excerpts from great works of literature to illustrate her points, suggesting both that polarization is not new and that solutions are possible. Among the works she referenced was Homer’s Ancient Greek epic, Iliad.

Image from Home’s Iliad

The event was well-attended with approximately sixty people in the audience, including students, faculty, and staff as well as members of the community.

At the end of the event, we raffled off eight free copies of the book. One copy was for non-students and the remaining seven copies were for students. Everyone who received a copy stayed to have it signed and to talk with Schuman.

Sharon Schuman is updating her blog to add a post about this event. I’ll link to it once she has it up. More information about Schuman and her book can be found on her website, Dialogic Freedom.

Honors Students and the UO Special Collections Library

Every winter, the students in the Invitation to Inquiry Seminar visit the University of Oregon’s Special Collections Library. Manuscripts Librarian, Linda Long, teaches an instructive and engaging class on archival research, introducing students to the concepts of scholarly archives, special collections, finding aids, etc.

Examining Japanese lantern slides from the Gertrude Bass Warner Collection.

The Special Collections Library Reading Room

The last part of the class is open for the students to walk around the room examining the various rare books and manuscripts that Linda has brought out for them to see.

Original manuscript for Ken Kesey’s novel, Sometimes a Great Notion.

A signed first edition of Sometimes a Great Notion is currently valued at $2000.

This class session is one of my favorites each year because it is such a pivotal moment for the students. For instance, most students have not been to the University of Oregon’s campus before. Although many of them will transfer to UO, at this point the campus is a large, unfamiliar, and confusing space.

University of Oregon

After the special collections class, students have a point of reference on the campus. They also begin to realize that the library resources at UO are available to them now and they are welcome to use them at any time.

A second moment of awareness that occurs on this trip is just how extensive academic research can be, how many sources of information are out there, and that there is no end to what can be researched. Viewing 13th and 14th century manuscripts emphasizes the long research history they are now a part of while the online research opportunities including access to Archives West reveals how contemporary research benefits from an ever-expanding access to materials.

Linda Long and I plan to meet to find ways to incorporate archival research into the Honors Program.

Invitation to Inquiry Seminar 2017

This year, Stacey Kiser and I are making some changes to the Honors Invitation to Inquiry seminar to better support the course goals of engaging in undergraduate research and thinking critically about the research process.

Winter has two official holidays, and each year we miss two days of class. Since the seminar only meets twice a week, those missed days impact the students’ research projects and our focused discussions on critical thinking. This year, we are experimenting with a Wednesday/Friday seminar so that we can have the maximum amount of time working face to face with the students in class.

We’ve also asked the students to do some reading prior to the first class meeting. In addition to reading the first two chapters in the textbook, The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams,

we also assigned a chapter from Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions by Stephen Brookfield.

In the past, the class read an excerpt from the first chapter of this book. While this book was written for instructors, the students have done well understanding and applying the portions of the chapter they have read. It seemed reasonable to ask them to read the complete chapter and apply all of that material to their interrogation of academic research.

Finally, we have made the ePortfolio work more central to in-class activities as well as work assigned outside of class time. In addition to building and developing ePortfolios, students will be doing more processing and reflecting within their ePortfolios during class. ePortfolios can have an important impact on equity and student success, as addressed in the latest issue of the AAC&U’s publication, Peer Review.

These elements align with the college’s strategic directions and with the college’s and the Honors Program’s recognition of the importance of adopting an equity lens and always striving to support student success.

Check back for future posts about how these changes worked, student responses, and/or what additional modifications we made to the seminar once we were into the term!

Honors and OSU’s Beaver Hangouts

This afternoon, Executive Dean of Student Affairs Kerry Levett organized a conference call with Phil Rowkoski at Oregon State University (OSU) to discuss OSU’s Beaver Hangouts Program. The Honors Program, the Counseling Department, First Year Experience, the Library, the Math Resource Center, Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), and Student Life and Leadership Development all participated.

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Beaver Hangouts were initially a K-12 program, but the university is expanding the program to two-year colleges. Student coaches from OSU would be available to Lane students to answer questions and provide information about transferring to OSU. The initial contacts would be a series of Skype sessions followed by one-on-one visits. It sounds like the coaches could come to the Lane campus to meet with students.

Honors has a wonderful working relationship with OSU already, especially through the Transfer Services Manager Kayleen Salchenberg Steeves and through Gildha Cumming at OSU’s University Honors College. Kayleen has presented in the honors seminar and sent information to our program, and we take the students each spring to the University Honors College Thesis Fair and an honors information session. The student coaches could potentially provide more contact around these presentations and campus visits.

I can see having Skype sessions and/or meetings with coaches attached to the honors seminars. Combined honors and PTK events could also involve these sessions and meetings.

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When we visit the OSU campus, the students could meet in person with their coaches as part of the trip. Alternately, if Lane decides to hold larger Skype sessions or to video a Beaver Hangout presentation and make it available via Moodle, the honors students would benefit from those resources, as well.

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OSU is still in the early stages of developing the two-year college component of their Beaver Hangouts Program, but I see a lot of potential for our honors students and would like to see us be part of the pilot.

Honors and the Writing Center

This morning, I had a great conversation with Casey Reid, the Writing Center Coordinator. We explored ways in which the Honors Program and the Writing Center could support one another. Casey had some exciting ideas that I think will be beneficial to students.

Honors students could be course-embedded tutors for other classes. This option will take some time, as embedded tutors work best when the student and faculty member have already met in a class and established a relationship. There are also scheduling issues to consider, especially given that our students often have jobs and families in addition to taking a full load of classes. Nevertheless, it would be an excellent way for students to engage in experiential learning. I look forward to talking with our coordinator for honors experiential learning and honors cooperative education, Gerry Meenaghan.

Additionally, tutors could be embedded in honors classes, offering a resource to the students in the class and also helping the tutors further develop their skills. I can see this working well in several honors classes, including the seminars.

Our initial steps will be to check in with the current honors writing instructors, Amy Beasley, Anne McGrail, and Eileen Thompson, about these possibilities and to see if there is interest in pursuing them this year. I will also talk with my co-instructor in the seminars, Stacey Kiser, about ways that an embedded tutor could work, especially as the enrollments this year are growing.

Honors and International Students

One of my constant concerns is making sure that as many students as possible are aware of the honors opportunities at Lane. I know, from conversations with honors directors at other colleges, that this is a shared concern.

Yesterday, I met with three colleagues in our International Programs: Jennifer Falzerano, the director; and two advisors, Tomomi Kurosaki and Tia Gomez Zeller. Both Tomomi and Tia have been encouraging students to consider the Honors Program and we have had some wonderful international students join the program.

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This year, we are making the program even more accessible. Any student who completes the three, level F ESL classes with a 3.25 or higher GPA in those classes, will be given conditional acceptance into the program. The students will receive a letter from Honors congratulating them on their achievement. Once they complete WR 115 and are eligible for WR 121, they will be automatically accepted into the Honors Program.

Beginning in Spring 2017, we are giving conditional acceptance to international students who test into WR 93 or WR 115, and we are automatically accepting international students who test into WR 121.

These changes will provide honors opportunities to many more students at Lane and will support these students on their way to transferring to four-year schools.

NCHC Conference 2016 Recap

Last month, I attended the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference (NCHC) for the sixth year in a row. This year, the event took place in Seattle, and once again, it was filled with committee meetings and panels that provided helpful information for coordinating the Lane Honors Program.

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The conference always begins for me on Wednesday evening when the Assessment and Evaluation Committee (A&E) meets. I’m just beginning my second three-year service commitment with A&E. While our meeting this year focused largely on the summer training sessions for new honors directors and for program reviewers that take place during the summer, as well as approving new program reviewers, past work has also involved drafting the rubric schools can choose to incorporate into an NCHC review of their honors program. Our program has modified the rubric and intends to use it when we go through the college’s program review process.

Other meetings during the conference that were especially helpful were the Beginning in Honors and the Developing in Honor sessions that I helped run. Newer directors attend these sessions to ask questions and get advice. The conversations focus on issues that we all face in our own programs, and so they offer great opportunities to help other directors and to think about ways to improve the Lane Honors Program, as well.

These conversations continue in the Two-Year College Issues meeting and the Two-Year College Committee meeting. More seasoned directors attend these two gatherings, and a lot of useful advice gets shared. For instance, my leadership team suggested I check in with other directors about adding a link on the college application that goes directly to the honors application. We’ve had very little success with the check box that allows students to request honors information when they apply to the college, even though dozens of people request that information each week. My peers were unanimous in their support of the direct link to the honors application, and we’re currently looking into setting that up.

One panel session that I found especially helpful was on the visibility, growth, and control of an honors program. Karen Kortz and Lynne Andreozzi from the  Community College of Rhode Island and Jeremy Trucker from the Community College of Baltimore County presented.

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They emphasized that there is a roughly ten-year arc for programs during which the first few years focus on visibility, the next few years address growth, and the final years improve quality control. Based on this timeline, our program’s current emphasis on growth is right on target, which was good to learn.

I also presented at a session undergraduate research.

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This topic is receiving increasing attention and support at our college right now, and it has been a focus of our program since the program began six years ago. I learned a lot from my co-presenter, Rochelle Gregory, including the idea of offering a scholarship prize to the best poster at the undergraduate research fair.

I’m looking forward to implementing much of what I learned in Seattle. Next year, Boston!