Final preparations for the presentation of Senior Honors Projects are wrapping up for the Honors Conference held in April. The conference will showcase seniors from nearly every department who have worked for the past year on various research projects.
Honors scholars are students with a 3.5 or higher GPA and senior standing who are invited to participate in the Honors Program. Roughly 32 students accept the invitation and complete their projects each year. These students pick a faculty member as a mentor and develop a topic to research for the majority of their senior year.
Writing major Callie Radke is one of this year’s honors scholars. Her project is writing the stories of three women from marginalized groups of society: the homeless, the disabled and the immigrant. Besides the time commitment and responsibility to be self-motivated, Radke also acknowledges the challenges of taking on this particular project.
“The fact that I’m writing someone else’s life alone is a challenge,” said Radke via email. “I legitimately wanted to transfer people from life to the page and try to illuminate what isn’t in the spotlight. That’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.”
According to Mark Mann, director of the Honors Program, the benefits are well worth the cost for those who can handle the workload.
“For many students, their honors projects will build their resumes, can help them land jobs, and will prepare them for the next step as a sort of capstone to their education,” said Mann.
Participating in an honors project does more than boost a student’s resume; the journey teaches students to develop skills needed in the professional field.
“Students are entering into the world of scholarship and learning to communicate their ideas,” said Mann. “We invite them to contribute to what we call the greater ‘conversation of knowledge’ in a particular field.”
These honors scholars are the only students formally acknowledged by the university at graduation; all other honors are through the individual departments.
“I would consider this the highest honor a student can attain, to have worked on something so significant,” Mann said. “For a lot of students, finishing their honors project is a bigger celebration than graduation itself.”
David Liestman’s project is to write a children’s advent musical based on the work of St. Francis of Assisi. St Francis’ play (taken from Luke) is responsible for the popular nativity scene of Christ’s birth. For Liestman, his research into the life of St. Francis for his project has led to his own personal growth.
“The amount you learn and grow from it is very humbling,” said Liestman. “Learning the joys of St. Francis in the humility of Christ and His birth made me look at what it really means to be a Christian.”
Students work closely alongside mentors who help them develop the focus of their projects and guide them as they research.
“Michael Clark and I have been talking about this project for about a year, and he’s helped me form and shape both the writing and research,” said Radke. “I also am working with a committee that includes Clark, Dean Nelson, and Melissa Tucker. It’s a huge benefit to work closely with professors and challenge yourself.”
New developments are ahead for the Honors Program. Mann is currently structuring a humanities-focused, four-year program that would start a cohort of students on an honors pathway from their freshmen year and would send them abroad together as a group.
“We are setting up a track for these students to get an honors experience, an enhanced learning experience,” said Mann. “Once they were seniors, their involvement in the Honors Program would be the same as it is now.”
Mann hopes to launch the program next year. This year’s Senior Honors Conference will be held Saturday April 12 in Fermanian and will consist of a combination of oral and poster presentations.