Let me tell you something that is awesome. Making an amazing event happen that will affect a lot of people in a very positive way.
A major part of my position in Honors is to be the point person for summer academic enrichment programs for pre-college students, and 2013 is the third year of our three-year rotation to run the Governor’s Honors Academy for our state: three weeks of programming for 200 really excellent rising seniors. While I am not “in charge” (I report to both the Dean of the HC and the state Governor’s school coordinator on this project), I have an active hand in assembling the calendar for the event. We have historical themes–in the past, The Gilded Age, and Between the Wars; this year, “From Ike to Nixon”–and we build as much programming around that as possible, fiction writers who have written on this period, a play that premiered in 1963, history faculty working on Civil Rights, a trip to the Andy Warhol museum, another to the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame.
A lot of work has gone into the previous 30 years of this program such that I have a fantastic base to work with–and I’m not being a pollyanna here. This year’s program will be actually packed with activities, and unless this year goes significantly worse that last year, the vast majority of these students will claim to have had a life-changing experience.
We’re at the stage where we’re putting together the events, recruiting guest speakers, and assembling the faculty whose classes will range from the rise of Science Fiction to the Story of DNA to the Red Power movement. It’s a moment full of the promise of summer, and minds expanding, and horizons with them. It’s one reason why I came here in the first place.
About a year ago, before I had secured a position in the Honors College, while I was just a professor doing too much service work while on sabbatical (more on that later), I was on a committee in the English department for International study. Our idea was to meet one of our university’s strategic goals (global engagement) with a series of initiatives designed to expose our students (often poorly traveled) to a much broader range of global culture: study abroad, curricular initiatives, faculty partnerships, etc. The results of that committee have been modestly positive in a year’s time, with potential for more robust results over a longer span.
The initiative I took on was one originally intended to be specific to the English department, but eventually became clearly better suited at the college level, at which point I became the point person for a Global Engagement certificate for the entire College of Arts and Sciences. Today I’m going to a committee meeting for the Office of International Programs to defend the proposal, the last line of approvals before the AVP for Undergraduate Studies.
What I like about this process is that while I was hardly the person most qualified to push this program through, it’s a good program, and it really only took a little extra work to get it up and running. The result, I think, will be an incentive and a credential for students who really build in a global component to a degree from an institution not typically regarded as particularly cosmopolitan.
The takeaway? You can get things done, people. Most of the coolest things that happen at a university happen because someone decided to do more than just say, someone should do that. They decided to be that someone. In this case, I decided to be (or really, was tasked with being) that someone, and soon the College will have a nifty little bell-and-whistle to add to its offerings.
The other takeaway? Students need to get abroad, yo. One of my tasks in honors is now to get students abroad as part of their honors curriculum, whether than be through full semesters, or short-term faculty-led initiatives. The studies really do show that studying abroad has positive effects on student performance, even when controlling for the fact that higher achieving students tend to self-select study abroad. More on that in the future of this blog, but suffice it to say that I’m pretty proud of the potential impact here.