Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On Honors

While visiting my alma mater these past few days, I was asked to step into a class and speak briefly to some of the Franklin Pierce Honors Program students. Reflecting on that experience, I realized there was more to say, and surely there were more coherent ways to say it. Here's take two:

To the Students in the Franklin Pierce Honors Program,

Congratulations are in order--you've embarked on a challenging program, and by making that decision have altered the course of your education. Honors education at the undergraduate level is designed as a launchpad for impressive work, and also as a training ground for the people who will take leadership roles in society.

Dream Big. The Honors Program is one of many experiences at Pierce that can make you stand apart from the multitude. Each of you can leverage Honors education (and the concomitant feather-in-your-cap) into graduate school or jobs as you wish. Expect great things, and Honors will help you make them happen.

Collaborate. Though Honors may seem like a personal journey--especially if you choose to Honor-ize classes in your major instead of taking the core with Honors--never forget that you have a cohort. Speaking from personal experience, the other Honors students are a phenomenal asset to your education; take advantage of the opportunity to work with students outside of your field(s) of study, as they provide perspective that you can't find elsewhere. Also, faculty may make time for you because of your Honors designation. See what projects of theirs you can join, explore mutual interests with them, or even just stop by their offices--they may have ideas for you, so don't be shy.

Similarly, don't hesitate to get in touch with the Honors alums--we're a small-enough group, still, that finding virtually all of us is fairly easy. We're all happy to network with Honors Program students, and having been through it, we know what it means. If you need advice, or have a project you'd like to share, or want some support for the Honors Program or another proposal, reach out.

Work Publicly. Academe is not a vacuum. Find ways to share what you're working on, whether that's a blog, a newsletter, a website for the Honors Program (which has been sorely needed for years now), the Academic Showcase, or conference presentations. Start building your public face now, and you'll be well on your way to getting the support you need for future endeavors.

Lead. Franklin Pierce is to this day a grand environment to work in--it's possible to know all of the faculty and most of the students on sight. Honors students can easily position themselves to make a difference in this environment, and can see concrete changes happen. Be clear on what differences you want to see, and lead the way to make it happen. Talk to your administration, your faculty, your staff, and your fellow students--be vocal, and don't give up easily. The Honors Program can be an incubator for great ideas, so use it as one.

Finally, don't be afraid to take risks. Your education will be radically different from a non-Honors-Program degree, and you should take advantage of that. Explore classes that take you out of your comfort zone, design workshops and lectures you want to take, and (respectfully) fight for what you believe in. A former provost at Franklin Pierce once exhorted that, "Honors students should be able to write their own syllabi, for life!" and it's fantastic advice. Know where you're going, know who to ask for help along the way, and make the journey your own.

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