In the post below, Randal McDonald ’15 describes how his Undergraduate Teacher Scholar (UTS) experience led to the formation of Aggie Kolbitar Society. This is an excellent example of how “high-impact experiences” can truly transform the educational experience, not only for the students that experience them, but for others they are in contact with, too!
by Randal McDonald-
The Aggie Kolbitar Society is a student-led exploration of what we call the classical liberal arts. We’re a collection of the curious, of those who want to understand the fields of literature, music, and art (just to name a few), regardless of our ultimate career goals. But the society wasn’t born from a single cohesive idea. Rather, it began as an assortment of eclectic interests, and an extraordinary opportunity through the Teacher Scholar capstone.
The first part of the society manifested with my friend Laura, with her love of anime, visual art, and writing. For my own part, a love for literature and writing were coupled with my growing up in a family of classical pianists. Neither of us had time for more than one club, but the desire remained for a club that could be about more than one interest exclusively.
The difficulty that Laura and I both recognized was the challenge of fitting so many interests into a single student organization. And, for a long time, our focus remained on starting a club focused on just creative writing. We would periodically talk about this idea, but things never progressed far beyond that point.
At the same time, I was moving forward through the University Honors program. I became increasingly interested in the program after learning about the Teacher Scholar Capstone. I loved the idea of developing a one-hour seminar course alongside a faculty mentor. It was the perfect excuse to research two of my favorite authors, and the teaching side of the capstone allowed me to explore collegiate pedagogy.
It wasn’t until my last semester of undergrad that I connected this piece with the earlier desires for a liberal arts club. The capstone thoroughly changed my perspective on the classroom dynamic between instructor and students, and I repeatedly wished that all students had the opportunity to go through the process of research, content development, and presentation. And that was where the Kolbitars began. What if a club could give students the opportunity to stand up in front of their peers and talk about their personal interests and passions?
The club’s first meeting was four students in an apartment off campus. Aside from a semi-regular rotation of who acted as the ‘host’ (presenter), the society was fairly informal with no logo, no dues, and no concrete structure. These more visible facets of our society developed later, when AKS moved onto campus as a recognized student organization.
The Kolbitar crest was a design that Laura and I worked on extensively, but it serves as a symbol of the society as a whole. The logo consists of four icons in a diamond shape: the open book, the artist’s palette, the lyre, and the closed book.
Each icon not only represents a fundamental value of the society, but also a part of its founding. AKS members are driven by a desire to learn (the open book), by a sense of wonder and awe at the world we inhabit (the palette), guided by a precise and well-executed form (lyre), with the realization that the absolute is unattainable (the closed book).
AKS constantly works toward self-improvement, and the entire executive committee is thrilled by the coming school year. We hope to continue encouraging student exploration of the liberal arts, and are always excited to meet new people and hear about their interests.
AKS will meet weekly during the fall semester on Thursday at 7 PM in the Liberal Arts and Humanities Building (LAAH), room 504.
On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, the University Honors Program celebrated Back to the Future Day with a special Brown-bag discussion, a costume contest, and free tickets to a screening of the trilogy.
Our activities were part of a worldwide celebration marking the date in which Doc Brown and Marty McFly arrive in the future in the second film.
Our brown-bag discussion was kicked off by Dr. Rich Cooper, a science fiction scholar and Lecturer in the Department of English, who described how the Back to the Future films relate to established sci-fi themes such as the promise of technological innovation for progress. Dr. Cooper posed the question: will we lose interest in the film now that we’ve arrived in “the future” and seen some of the predictions come true while others have not? He also described how film and books can help drive technological development by providing a vision for the future, as was the case with William Gibson’s Neuromancer and its influence on the development of the Internet. The conclusion of Dr. Cooper’s discussion was that films like Back to the Future retain interest because of what we can learn about ourselves and the milieu that produced them.
Dr. Nick Suntzeff, Mitchell/Munnerlyn/Heep Professor of Observational Astronomy
Astronomy – Astrophysics, provided a scientific perspective on time travel to complement the cultural perspective presented by Dr. Cooper. Dr. Suntzeff began by responding to the discussion about the proliferation of technology with a caution that it will only be a matter of time before an electromagnetic pulse from the sun would wipe out most electronics. “Nature always wins,” he said.
Dr. Suntzeff went on to describe the relative freedom we have to move in three dimensions (up/down, forward/backward, left/right) but that we are not free to move the same way in time. Referencing the concept of time as an illusion, Dr. Suntzeff described that if a clock were to fall into a black hole, someone from the outside would perceive that the ticking of the clock slowed to a standstill, while from the perspective of the clock, the entire history of the universe would be visible at once. Dr. Suntzeff briefly discussed wormholes and how they might operate, noting that mathematics says they should be possible, but we don’t have any way to build the structures that would be required to make them work.
Dr. Suntzeff closed his discussion by noting that much of theoretical math and physics operates this way, but occasionally the theories produce practical technologies, such as how wi-fi was developed from Stephen Hawking’s development of radio telescopes. In in this way, theory and fiction seem to be operating in similar ways to prompt humankind to dream of new possibilities.
Later in the day, students had the opportunity to win tickets to a marathon screening of the Back to the Future films by dressing in a costume inspired by the film. There was even a DeLorean at the theatre for a great photo-op!
The University Honors Program is fortunate to have the support of the Association of Former Students to provide culturally-engaging and intellectually-enriching experiences like Back to the Future day!
The 2015 Sigma Xi Undergraduate Research Expo held on Wednesday, September 30 was a huge success. Over 300 undergraduates across all colleges visited the expo and learned about research opportunities available in the 30+ programs represented.
LAUNCH: Undergraduate Research is grateful to all of the faculty, staff, and students that made this event a success! If you have comments, suggestions for next year’s expo, or want to share a great story about getting connected to research, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Texas A&M is fortunate to announce the designation of two 2015 Astronaut Scholars, Kirstin Maulding ‘16 and Will Linz ‘16. This is the second time that two of our nominees have been selected to receive this prestigious award from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which seeks to recognize outstanding undergraduates working in STEM fields who will have the potential to be next-generation leaders.
Maulding is an Honors Student from Spring Branch, Texas majoring in molecular and cell biology with minors in genetics and neuroscience. She has been working in biological research since high school and has continued her commitment to research as an undergraduate, both in the lab of Dr. Bruce Riley and as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador. Maulding’s combination of ability, creativity, and work ethic resulted in her publishing a paper in a peer-reviewed journal by her sophomore year. Her career goals include pursuing research related to neurological diseases such as Alzheimers. Read Maulding’s nomination profile here.
Linz is an Honors Student from Temple, Texas majoring in mathematics with a minor in German. When he graduates in May 2016, he will have completed both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics. Linz got involved in undergraduate research as a first-semester freshman, completed his undergraduate thesis as a sophomore, and continues to do research with Dr. Catherine Yan in combinatorics. He has presented his research at professional meetings and campus research expos, and has submitted his work for publication in a top mathematics journal. Linz currently serves on the Executive Board for Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal and is also an Undergraduate Research Ambassador. He is planning a career in mathematical discovery and serving as a liaison to help mathematicians and computer scientists develop mathematical tools for practical use in computer science and technology. Read Linz’s nomination profile here.
The campus community is invited to a public lecture and award presentation on Tuesday, October 6 at 10:30 AM with Former Astronaut Charlie Duke (Brigadier General, USAF, Retired) to honor Maulding and Linz and present each of them with a $10,000 scholarship. Following the award presentation, Mr. Duke will give a lecture about his experiences as an astronaut on the Apollo 16 mission and as Capcom on the Apollo 11 mission.
Each fall, just before the start of classes, the Texas A&M University Honors Program welcomes our incoming freshmen students and recognizes the newly-selected University Scholars at an event called the Honors Welcome. This event provides an opportunity to communicate our high expectations for our first-year students and provide them with good examples to follow in the persons of the new University Scholars.
The invited speaker for the 2015 Honors Welcome was Dr. Mary Ann O’Farrell. Dr. O’Farrell is an Associate Professor of English who has taught at Texas A&M since 1990. She has been recognized with the Texas A&M Distinguished Achievement Award for Teaching, the Honors Teacher-Scholar Award, and a Teaching Excellence award. Her research interests include nineteenth-century literature and culture, the novel, history and discourses of the body, literary and cultural theory, and contemporary popular culture. Below is the text of Dr. O’Farrell’s address to the incoming Honors Students.
In teaching and writing, as I do, on nineteenth-century novels about manners and on more contemporary popular culture (things, especially, about gangsters and their manners), I find myself thinking often about the ways our minds work as we come to know the things we know. And, in doing that, I’ve noticed that one of my favorite cognitive processes (one of my favorite ways of knowing things) is frequently maligned in our public conversation. When we talk about politics, for example, we tend to call the thing I have in mind “flip-flopping,” and we set it against consistency for comparison, beside which it presumably looks bad. I’m sure we all have some sense of what a genuine failure of integrity might look like in a politician or in any human being, but it seems to me a serious error to confuse that failure with the active and profound, sometimes shattering and sometimes liberating process that, for me, is the thing I’m talking about: changing your mind.
Changing your mind has an unfortunate history in our rhetoric and discourse. My grandmother and her generation used to refer to it laughingly and dismissively as “a woman’s prerogative.” Members of that generation used the phrase when they were talking about promises to marry, and what they knew when they said it was that their world offered to men opportunities to make material successes of themselves that it did not offer to women: a man changing his mind about marriage would be materially endangering and jeopardizing a woman he jilted, while a woman changing her mind–though she might well be making him quite sad–would not be endangering a man financially, socially, and circumstantially in the same way. That’s why changing your mind about marriage was a woman’s prerogative and not a man’s. Somehow that old phrase—“woman’s prerogative”—(along with the way of thinking about changing your mind that it implies) has persisted outside its earlier marital and frankly sexist contexts to retain an unfortunate connotation of flightiness, duplicity, girliness (as if that had to be a bad thing), and a lack of moral seriousness.
But sometimes the most responsible thing to do in all the world is to perform the work of changing your mind. And it’s also sometimes pretty fun. So if our clichés somehow give only women the prerogative to do this thing freely, then let us all be women for a while. Because the truth is: college is for changing your mind.
It’s for changing your mind and your self in small ways: it’s for new haircuts, new hair colors, and new shoes, new smart phone covers and new fandoms; it’s for ridding yourself of old nicknames and old identities–you don’t have to be the geek or the bro (perhaps “brah”) or the good girl or the hacktivist anymore unless you want to be—and in truth you can decide to embrace these and other identities, too, once you’ve tried them on, if it was only locker room and lunchroom anxiety that kept you from them. But thinking of college as for changing your mind also means something bigger than these small pleasures: it means learning that everything in the world is to be thought about, and it means acting on that knowledge by thinking really hard. Nothing is self-evident, and those things that pretend to be so turn out to be the things that you need most to subject to examination.
This—the moment of college—is the moment that you’ll have the space and the time and the help you need to take out of your pocket all the ideas that you’ve been carrying around in it like stones or coins or marbles, so that you can look at them all closely. Keep some of those ideas; throw others away; pick up some new ones; notice how the ideas you’re hanging onto change their shape and weight and value as you add to your thought-store. But be sure you do engage in this process; be sure you let college change your shape and weight and value, too; be sure you recognize and reject consistency when it is foolish rather than integral and when it weighs you down.
There are people here to help you deal with the practicalities and the consequences of using ideas to change your mind. They call us faculty and staff. An important part of my job and a really joyful part of my life involves not merely doing what my job title says I do—professing—but talking to and with students and also shutting up sometimes and listening to you guys, too. And I know that the faculty and staff in the Honors program office are every day enormously helpful to students in ways that involve the great questions of living an ethical life as well as the smaller but no less crucial questions about the quotidian (the dailiness) of life in the university: they’re there to advise on courses and programs of study, on scholarships and careers, on the mind-stretching activity of developing a research project or writing a thesis, and on finding your way to the people and things that will encourage, nourish, challenge, and stimulate you.
There is so much here on offer at Texas A&M: find it, watch it, listen to it, talk back to it, dance with it, buy it a coffee; head on over to Aggie Horticulture and even smell it: engage with it all and let it change you the way you are changed by the things you eat and breathe. Make friends with the university’s events calendars. They are festivals of new things to do, to hear, to watch, to think.
A warning, though: It is possible for us simply to attend such events and even to participate in them as unchanged and unchangeable scary monoliths, erecting and maintaining ourselves in rigidity, in a refusal to let ourselves be moved or touched. It’s possible simply to like yourself a little too much for being active, while remaining smugly unengaged. What it takes to go to class or to a party, to an online discussion, or to one of these events and to do so in a way that might let you change your mind is a quality of openness, of curiosity, of analysis, of interrogation, and, most importantly, of self-interrogation. Nurture this in yourself. It needs tending.
I think I’m one of those professors who has a little a reputation for being funny. You will not know that on the basis of today, and something about that has made me a little uncomfortable (as I wrote this and as I speak it) in the very ways I, too, have learned go along with changing one’s self and one’s mind. I’m being, this minute, somebody who is a little bit not the self I’m most accustomed to being. It’s just that I really mean this thing unironically, and so I’m saying it a bit uncharacteristically: letting yourself go a little in the service of changing your mind may be the truest to yourself you’ll ever be.
Congratulations, you guys, on the achievements that have brought you here today. And, as you get started, know that all of us in the university community are waiting to see what you look like next.
We are grateful to Dr. O’Farrell for sharing this important message about the important work of personal growth that takes place in undergraduate education. The Texas A&M University Honors Program depends on the dedication outstanding faculty like Dr. O’Farrell, as well as on the generous support of the Association of Former Students, to ensure we are providing support for our bright, motivated, and curious students to get the most out of the experience!
TAMUHack is a new student organization dedicated to bridging the gap between formal coding classes and innovative ideas by providing students with all levels of experience and ability the opportunity to work on real-world projects. TAMUHack will host the “Lone Star Hackathon” October 24-25.
“A hackathon is not about hacking,” the TAMUHack website (http://tamuhack.com) explains. “It is an event about bringing together software in a way that has never been seen or done before.” Eleni Mijalis ’16, Honors Student and co-founder of TAMUHack says that the new organization is “excited to make this the best hackathon in Texas.”
TAMUHack has certainly built a reputation of success. The organization, which was founded this year, has participated in a half dozen hacks. They were awarded the “Best Health Hack” and “Best Collaboration Hack” at the 10th Annual PennApps Hackathon last month for Idleguard, the app they developed to help patients keep up with important medical information and instructions.
The TAMUHack team also took first place at the Facebook Texas Regional Hackathon last spring for a web-based app that allows users to tag people before they join Facebook. When the person does create a Facebook account, the app helps consolidate tagged information into the new profile.
The “Lone Star Hackathon” scheduled later this month will bring together high school and college student competitors to learn, have fun, and win prizes. Registration is open at http://tamuhack.com/rsvp.
Volunteers are also needed for the event: http://tamuhack.com/help. Current TAMU Honors Students can receive Honors Student Council participation credit for volunteering.
The campus community is invited to a public lecture and award presentation with Former Astronaut Scott Parazynski, M.D. on Thursday, October 2, 2014 from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. in Rudder Theatre. Dr. Parazynski will present a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation to Amélie Berger, a Texas A&M senior majoring in environmental geosciences. Following the award presentation, Dr. Parazynski will give a lecture about his experiences as a NASA astronaut that included 5 Space Shuttle missions and 7 spacewalks. An avid mountaineer, he was the first astronaut to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in 2009. He is also a commercial, instrument, multiengine, and seaplane-rated pilot with over 2,500 flight hours.
A graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Medical School, Parazynski’s 17 years as a Shuttle astronaut included leadership of the first joint US-Russian spacewalk during STS-86 while docked to Space Station MIR; serving as John Glenn’s crewmate and “personal physician” during STS-95; and conducting EVA assembly of the Canadian-built Space Station arm during STS-100. Dr. Parazynski currently serves as Director and Chief Medical Officer for The University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Polar Medical Operations in Galveston. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. He is a frequent speaker for keynotes and lectures all over the world to audiences of all ages.
Attendance at the Oct. 2 program is free but tickets are required from the MSC Box Office. For questions, send email to email@example.com, or call (979)845-6366. View the evite for this program at http://bit.ly/1lI1RI5.