One of the most powerful forces on any campus is a group of focused, motivated students. This is, in part, because the university as a marketplace of ideas is intended to be a place where students have the opportunity to put learning into practice. Student passion for progress has contributed to all sorts of change throughout the history of higher education.
One person who was effected significant change for Honors at Texas A&M is Dr. Keri Stephens ’90 (née Keilberg), who graduated with a B.S. in biochemistry and received the Rudder Award. Dr. Stephens now serves as an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Texas, where she earned her M.A. And Ph.D. in organizational communication. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Stephens did technical sales, marketing, and corporate training for Hewlett Packard, Zymark Corporation, and EGI.
Dr. Stephens visited with University Honors Program staff on a recent campus visit and shared some of her experiences and contributions that have shaped the Honors experience at Texas A&M for over 25 years.
In 1989-90, as president of Honors Student Council, Stephens was part of the committee that established special housing for Honors students. Stephens recalled that she was concerned that an Honors residential community not become “isolated nerds.” This might have been a particular concern to Stephens, who was a role-model for involvement on campus, winning a Buck Weirus Spirit award her sophomore year.
Visiting with Honors staff, Stephens was glad to hear that the Honors Housing Community has built a strong reputation for being highly involved in campus traditions such as Silver Taps, Muster, and Midnight Yell, and regularly attends football games together.
Another way in which Stephens has bequeathed a legacy to Honors students is in providing graduation recognition. She recalls that up until her senior year there was strong opposition to any kind of special recognition at graduation. Stephens attended a national conference as president of the Mortar Board Society in December of 1989 at which she observed that Texas A&M was the only school represented that did not have some kind of regalia for exceptional graduates. Returning to campus, Stephens led the leadership of Mortar Board Society in drafting a proposal and creating a prototype stole to present to Dr. William Mobley, then president of the university. Stephens felt she could get an audience with President Mobley since she had made a positive impression on him while traveling together to recruit students to the university.
Stephens recalls that President Mobley didn’t let her get far into her proposal before interrupting to confirm that Texas A&M was the only school represented at the national meeting that did not present special regalia to Honors graduates. When Stephens confirmed this, he asked if she could make the stoles available for May graduations. A process that the Mortar Board officers imagined might take years was accomplished in just a few months. Now, close to 10,000 students each year receive that gold satin stole at graduation, recognizing their accomplishment as cum laude, manga cum laude, summa cum laude graduates.
In gratitude for her significant contributions to the culture of Honors at Texas A&M, Dr. Jonathan Kotinek, Associate Director for the University Honors Program presented Dr. Stephens with a gold stole and patches signifying Foundation Honors, University Honors, and University Undergraduate Research Scholars as well as a certificate of appreciation.
Dr. Stephens closed her visit by sharing that her undergraduate research experience was so formative (especially in helping her decide against a career in biochemistry research), that she now makes a point to guide students in research and has mentored 22 undergraduate projects.
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