Honors Course Contracts provide students who are pursuing an Honors graduation distinction the opportunity to earn Honors credit for courses that are not already being offered as Honors. The Honors Course Contract experience varies depending on the discipline, course material, and instructor. No matter what the expectation, though, students can expect an Honors Course Contract to ask for higher-level thinking and reflection.
The following post from Madyson Smith ’16, a senior communication major and Honors in Communication student describes the project she undertook and what she learned from the experience.
By Madyson Smith ’16
For my Honors project for ENGL 403: Language and Gender course at Texas A&M, I wanted to write a creative work of fiction. I felt that learning through creative writing would enable me to: 1) think critically to portray another’s thoughts and feeling regarding gender and 2) broaden my own perspective on the topic.
Working on this Honors project, I met these goals. Throughout the semester, I enjoyed working slowly, taking my time with the process of familiarizing myself with gender concepts. I took inspiration from class readings, movie clips, discussions, and real-life applications of concepts. I met regularly with the professor of my class to brainstorm ideas and discuss my progress on the project. Mainly, my professor kept me on track and provided suggestions and encouragement regarding my project.
When I finished my project about a week before finals, I emailed a PDF copy to my professor and also turned in a printed out copy in a report cover. My work of fiction ended up being 26 pages in total, and my story adopted five different points of view.
When I started my project, I knew that my literary piece would discuss gender issues and would incorporate what I learned in the class, especially the psychological implications of societal gender construction. What I didn’t know was what direction my creative story would take and how much I would enjoy the opportunity to apply what I learned in class through this Honors project.
Below is an excerpt from one of Smith’s stories, “Kevin”:
Why did we have to pack up and move here? Was there honestly anything appealing about this place? The humidity? I can’t even breathe here.
I glanced around at the lunchroom… These high-schoolers were actually dressed up like they were going to the rodeo or farm after class: light jeans and boots and shiny belt buckles and stupid pearl snapped shirts.
I lowered my eyes to my ensemble: my black jeans and tailored, striped sweater. These clothes fit me… and my spirit. Already, I missed home. Home, where it was cold and rainy. Home, where I had all my friends. I looked up. This place was not home.
“Hey!” a perky voice squeaked. The source was blonde, bouncy, beaming. Her smile was as wide as the dumb cowboy hats the guys wore outside in the parking lot. “You’re new here, aren’t you?” she asked.
She sat down next to me and pushed my tray to make room for hers.
“My name is Amanda,” she smiled.
I fidgeted with my fork, pushing my canary-yellow macaroni around on my tray. Mental note: bring lunch tomorrow. This crap is a joke.
Loud laughter erupted behind me. I whipped my head back and saw the source of all the ruckus: a group of white, well mostly white, guys. Most of them were wearing letterman jackets with jeans and their annoying cowboy boots. And they seemed to be
interested in my table… or maybe just Amanda. She looked like a Mandy to me. I’ll call her Mandy.
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!
Adelia Humme ’15 is the newest addition to Honors and Undergraduate Research, joining the office as the interim coordinator for University Scholars and National Fellowships. Humme was herself a University Scholar, as well as a student worker in the HUR office, during her undergraduate career at Texas A&M University.
Humme graduated summa cum laude with a major in English and a minor in business administration in May 2015. She spent two years on the team of The Eckleburg Project, Texas A&M’s undergraduate literary magazine, serving as Prose Editor in her final semester. Humme’s interest in editing was spurred by her undergraduate internship with Texas A&M University Press, and she will begin graduate study in the Publishing & Creative Writing program at Emerson College, in Boston, in the fall of 2016.
While a student at A&M, Humme was involved in many Honors activities. Her favorite extracurricular activity was mentoring freshmen in her role as a Sophomore Advisor for the Honors Housing Community. She also had the opportunity to attend the Champe Fitzhugh International Honors Leadership Seminar in Italy twice, once as a freshman participant and once as a student leader. Humme chose to complete her capstone project in the Undergraduate Teacher Scholars program, researching Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series for her course, “Heroes, Heroines, and Their Animal Companions.” During a summer internship at Cushing Memorial Library & Archives in 2013, Humme was able to work with McCaffrey’s personal collection of science-fiction and fantasy novels. She hopes to pursue a career within those genres.
Humme credits her participation in several student organizations for developing her love of Texas A&M’s history and culture and her passion for guiding students through their academic and personal challenges. She has volunteered at New Student Conferences and led campus tours through the Aggie Orientation Leader Program, met with prospective students through National Aggie Scholar Ambassadors, and arranged catering and other services for performers in Rudder Auditorium as a manager in MSC OPAS. In 2013, Humme was awarded the Buck Weirus Spirit Award for her extracurricular involvement, and she received recognition as one of the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges in 2015.
Humme loves a good cup of coffee, misses having cats in her home, enjoys reading without interruptions, and sings frequently. Although raised in Sugar Land, she can proudly claim herself as a native Houstonian. She is also a third-generation Aggie, following her mother, Ava King Humme ’80, and her grandfather, H. Verne King ’44.
Senior English student Julia Garcia traveled to the Canadian Sociological Association Conference in Victoria, Canada in June 2013. She was a member of a team, along with students Devita Gunawan and Vennessa Jreij, studying the effects of education on economic development in primary, secondary, and university education systems.
Although her teammates were unable to make the summer trip, Garcia traveled to Victoria along with the team’s advisor, professor of sociology Dr. Samuel Cohn. Dr. Cohn had been working on a project in research towards eradicating poverty, and needed a team of research assistants. The previous summer, Garcia traveled to Austin, Texas to gather census data at the University Library at the University of Texas in correlation with Dr. Cohn’s research efforts. Her team would ultimately gather census data for over 40 countries, including The United States, Canada, and England. Garcia’s background as an English major influenced her role as writer and large concept framer for Dr. Cohn’s research.
After Garcia completed the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program with teammates Gunawan and Jreij, Dr. Cohn encouraged the team to apply for the Canadian Sociological Association Conference, and the team was accepted. Garcia applied for and was awarded with an Undergraduate Research Travel Award, giving her the privilege to spend nine days in Victoria, four of which she would spend at the conference.
Garcia expressed her appreciation for the beautiful sites she saw on her trip, beginning with a ferry ride from Seattle to Victoria. She was impressed by the progressive nature and awareness level at the University of Victoria. She said, “It’s interesting because at the University of Victoria, global warming IS a thing. It is not a debate, but instead an issue to which people are working to make a change.”
At the conference, Garcia heard presentations which were mostly political discussions dealing with poverty, sanitation, and water. She said it was a great learning experience to be in the same room with incredibly successful professors from all over the United States and Canada. Her favorite presentation was made by a man who purchased a golf membership in India in order to observe class differences between elite members, caddies, and staff. He lived in India for six months, attending the golf course each day, interviewing and observing these individuals.
Also at the conference, Garcia presented the team’s thesis “The Influence of Education on Economic Development,” along with Dr. Cohn. She said this was her first opportunity to fully experience the research process. Garcia said the statistical analysis segment of the project was time consuming and somewhat frustrating, but overall she wouldn’t have changed much that the team did throughout their work. She encouraged students to take part in undergraduate research and to create relationships with professors. Garcia said, “Why wouldn’t you be a part of a great experience with the opportunity to take a fully paid trip to Canada?”
The senior will be graduating in May 2014, and hopes to travel as a part of her many post-graduate aspirations. She is considering law school or a graduate degree in public policy or comparative literature, but intends to take a year off of school to live in Washington, D.C. or Austin, or to travel the world. Through research, Garcia saw many inevitable problems in society which tied into her already present humanitarian interests. She said should would definitely consider living in another country where she would find a humbling experience.
Honors and Undergraduate Research is very proud of Julia Garcia, along with her research teammates Devita Gunawan and Vennessa Jreij. Congratulations to the team and Dr. Cohn in all of their research accomplishments and their acceptance to travel to the Canadian Sociological Association Conference in Victoria!
In August, HUR’s Cecilia Morales was announced as a 2013 National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) Portz Scholar. The NCHC Portz Scholars Program began in 1990 to enable NCHC to acknowledge John and Edythe Portz’s many contributions to honors education. The NCHC continues to honor their memory by selecting the top research/creative papers by undergraduate honors students who have been nominated by their institutions for their outstanding work.
Cecilia Morales, a senior English student at Texas A&M University, was nominated by Honors Director Dr. Sumana Datta. Morales wrote a research paper entitled “Creating Mother: Mother’s Legacies in the Context of the Conduct of Literature of Seventeenth-Century England,” which had already been selected for the Best Thesis Award at Texas A&M. Each collegiate Honors department in the country is allowed to submit only one thesis to nominate its author for the Portz Scholarship (The University of Nevada at Reno and The University of Arkansas at Little Rock were also awarded with Portz Scholars).
In Morales’s words:
“This paper examines the genre of 17th-century Mothers’ Legacies in relation to the conduct literature written during the same period. It discusses the manner in which the women writers of Mothers’ Legacies both confirm and deny the ideal form of womanhood laid out by conduct writers. By writing from the place of the mother, these women were fulfilling a socially prescribed role, but by publishing for a wide audience, they stepped out of their traditional domestic domain. The paper ends by delineating and explaining the gap between what 17th-century women were told to do and what they actually did.”
The three NCHC Portz Scholars will present their papers at the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in New Orleans on Saturday, November 9th. Morales is excited to meet other undergraduate researchers from around the country, as well as to present her own research. She said, “I am extremely honored to receive this award and to have the opportunity to represent A&M at such a prestigious conference. I put a lot of time and energy into my research project, so it’s quite gratifying to have it recognized nationally.”
Post-undergrad, Morales plans to attend graduate school in order to receive a PhD in literature and hopes to become an English professor. She is grateful for the research experience she gained at Texas A&M because it will help her further down the road in her career pursuits.
Morales’s advice to her fellow students was to pursue undergraduate research, even if you do not plan on attending graduate school. She said it is “a great opportunity to make the most out of your college education.”
Honors and Undergraduate Research (HUR) would like to congratulate Cecilia Morales on becoming a Portz Scholar. We wish her luck at the NHCH conference in November! HUR is so proud of its students for the positive impact they make at Texas A&M University.
Many assume that research theses are milestones only tackled by graduate level students, but at Texas A&M University undergraduates are overcoming this assumption. Two Texas A&M students received the award for Best Thesis at the Honors and Undergraduate Research (HUR) recognition ceremony in May of 2013:
Austin Baty, a Physics and Mathematics major, received the prize for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
And English major Cecilia Morales received the prize for Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (AHSS).
Both Baty and Morales were 2013 Undergraduate Research Scholars, the program through which they won Best Thesis Awards. Over 150 undergraduates are involved in The Undergraduate Research Scholars Program at Texas A&M University.
Morales focused her thesis on a genre known as “Mother’s Legacies” which was very popular in 17th century England. This genre is defined by:
1) A mother-as-advice-giver perspective
2) A child-as-advice-receiver perspective
3) A backdrop of the mother’s deathbed
4) A religious discussion
Morales’s thesis “examines the mothers’ advice in the context of the advice written to women about how women should behave.” Women of this time period were supposed to remain out of the public eye, and therefore becoming a published author contradicted accepted social mores. On the other hand, writing in the motherhood role allowed these women to seem to fulfill the time’s standard for submissive and compliant behavior. Morales said, “The question I sought to answer was how these women managed to operate as both the woman writer and the mother simultaneously, what rhetorical strategies they used and what historical conditions aided their mission of providing advice for their children and future generations.”
The English major said she found it most complicated to juggle the literature from different religions, genders, education and economic levels. Placing all of these varying works into the same context was a challenge.
The Best Thesis Award winner’s advice to aspiring undergraduate researchers was to “put yourself out there and find a good professor to help.” She said, “I would not have gotten as far as I did without guidance and inspiration from my faculty advisor, Dr. Ezell.” Dr. Margaret Ezell is a Distinguished Professor in the English Department at Texas A&M.
Morales plans to graduate in December of 2013 and move on to graduate school. She will be applying to graduate programs during her summer and fall semesters.
Austin Baty’s thesis examined molecular dynamic simulations of ions in molten salts as part of the development of novel approaches to deal with radioactive waste. Working with Dr. Peter McIntyre, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy,Austin mastered complex computer code to perform a number of mathematical simulations to help optimize design for accelerator-driven destruction of radioactive elements in nuclear waste. Austin will enter MIT this fall on a full graduate fellowship to study particle physics.
The Department of Honors and Undergraduate Research would like to congratulate both Cecilia Morales and Austin Baty on their outstanding achievements in undergraduate research!