Tag Archives: Undergraduate Teacher Scholar

Undergraduate Teacher Scholars: A Transformative Learning Experience

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.

First iteration of the AKS logo.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.

Second iteration of the AKS logo.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.

For more information about the Undergraduate Teacher Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact capstones@tamu.edu.


Former student connects University Honors to graduate school plans

Adelia Humme ’15 is a graduate of the University Honors program and served LAUNCH as an Honors advisor in the 2015-2016 year. She is now pursuing a master’s in Publishing & Writing at Emerson College. She hopes to demonstrate to new Honors students how their involvement in University Honors can help them achieve their post-graduation goals.

One of the frequent questions that I hear from prospective students who are considering University Honors is What’s the benefit of joining Honors? Students facing the options of various academic programs, as well as more than 800 student organizations at Texas A&M, are right to wonder how their time commitments contribute to their end goals of pursuing further schooling or a career. One way I respond to this question is by emphasizing that any Honors program is what you make of it. LAUNCH provides opportunities and encourages students to reflect on them, but how much you engage is up to you. The second half of my response is more concrete because hearing examples of how I drew connections between my Honors experience and my graduate school plans may help students better visualize how they can benefit from University Honors too.

Firstly, Honors courses gave me the opportunity to focus on the subjects that interest me most and to tailor my coursework to my career plans. Projects in my Honors classes often allowed me to choose a topic to research throughout the semester. One such course was introductory marketing for business minors, which I course contracted for Honors credit. My professor and I designed an independent study project in which I assessed the impacts of digitalization on the book publishing industry, the field I planned to enter after graduation. When I applied for a master’s in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College a year later, I referenced the report and annotated bibliography I created in that marketing class in my application essay.

I was also able to link my mentorship involvement in Honors to my graduate school plans. In the application essay, I described how serving as a Sophomore Advisor (SA) taught me how to exercise judgement, to be patient, and to be open to new perspectives, all skills that will serve me well in my next degree. Since being an SA was so impactful to my college experience, I also learned that finding success in graduate school will greatly depend on how I invest my time outside of the classroom. I will have to intentionally seek opportunities for professional development and not rely only on my coursework.

My capstone, too, was instrumental in shaping my college learning. As an Undergraduate Teacher Scholar, I was surprised to discover how much behind-the-scenes effort goes into planning a class. My faculty mentor and I were responsible for creating a course webpage, selecting specific editions of texts for our class, arranging classroom space, and calculating grade averages, all work that I never saw as a student. I realized that every career involves much more than meets the eye and that I need firsthand experience in the publishing industry to understand the challenges of that field.

Another influential aspect of my Honors involvement was University Scholars, a personal development program with a rigorous selection process. The program developed my skills in interviewing, respectful debate, and public speaking to both small groups and large audiences. I anticipate using all of these qualities during my master’s degree and especially in my dream job as a book editor. The flexibility and creativity of University Scholars built my confidence in my career plans and in my ability to share those plans with professors, classmates, and potential employers.

As incoming freshmen, you may not yet be able to see how all the puzzle pieces of your college activities fit together – and that’s okay! One purpose of the first-year seminar for University Honors freshmen is to help you begin connecting those dots. Four years from now, when you prepare to graduate, you may be as surprised as I was to see how much each of your experiences contributed to “the big picture.”

University Scholars Exploration Series – Influential Equations

Each semester, the University Scholars enroll in small-group, discussion-based seminars. In Spring 2016, Scholar Chloe Dixon ’17 taught the seminar “Exploring Influential Equations” as her Undergraduate Teacher Scholars capstone project. One of her students, computer science major Steven Leal ’18, reflects on the class and a few lessons learned.

University Scholar Steven Leal '18
University Scholar Steven Leal ’18

By Steven Leal

“What” is a simple question. It’s typical that the majority of modern society is equipped to handle this inquiry. Simple requests for knowledge are normally met with programmed responses.

Take for instance, “What’s the distance from London to Paris?” Instinctively, many of us reach into our pockets and answer, “I don’t know, let me ask google…”

What’s the best series on Netflix to binge?” We’d follow with an opinion from Rotten Tomatoes.

What’s the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

As a collective, humanity has painstakingly timed the migrations of most birds species and rattled off about their favorite shows long enough to prepare a safety net of information we can rely on for our most common shared experiences.

But how about “why?” It’s a simple word, one less letter than “what,” but the syllable requires so many words in return. “Why do we fall back down when we jump? Why is the sky blue? Why is there an unexpected item in the bagging area?” Throughout history, we have always struggled to tie our simple experiences of the past together to explain the present and even predict the future.

Thankfully, there are and have been a few among us with crazy hair, crazy ideas, and that are crazy enough themselves to become offerings to the epiphany gods in our stead. They get these notions in their heads that wonderful phenomena are reproducible, that our natural world is governed by a set of rules we can understand and that answering tiresome questions like “why” can help widen the safety net for the rest of us common folk.

Over the spring semester, our Influential Equations seminar took it upon ourselves to find those with the craziest hair, the craziest ideas, and who were just crazy enough themselves to examine how reasoned insight can change our understanding of the world around us. From the simplicity of the Pythagorean Theorem to the echelons of Schrodinger’s wave equation, we discussed the derivation of these famous formulas, their widespread applications in today’s society, and how many women you must court before you can develop general relativity (and it was quite a few to say the least).

Toward the beginning of the semester, our class tackled our heroes of the past that developed the building blocks of calculation using, for example, the quadratic formula and the fundamental theorem of calculus. With more advanced methods of calculation, mathematicians such as Leonhard Euler could find common relationships in geometry that would later lead to uses in advanced computer rendering algorithms and applications far beyond expectations of the past.

Complex numbers, thermodynamics, and Maxwell’s equations all found their way into our discussions nearing the end of the school year. The applications of magnetism with bullet trains, rail guns, MRI machines, and many other advancements were among the multitude of other formulas we examined to understand just what became of us as a society after a few eureka moments.

The summation of our experience participating in this seminar boils down to a few important points. Firstly, if you are ever recognized for your profound contribution to aiding in the comprehension of the known universe, make sure you get your portrait painted with either an impressive hairdo or a towel on your head to compensate for your lack thereof (we’re looking at you, Euler). Secondly, you can make wonderful discoveries for humanity after coming from any background, as long as you have an obsession for knowledge or a personal rivalry you take a bit too far. It seems historically proven that a little bit of crazy can get you a little closer to answering “why” if you mix in a pen, paper and a little math.

Freshmen are recruited each spring to join the University Scholars program. To learn more, please see: http://honors.tamu.edu/Honors/University-Scholars.

A class activity had Augustus Ellis ’17, Garrett Goble ’16, and James Felderhoff ’17 smash cups to demonstrate the second law of thermodynamics, that entropy always increases.
A class activity had Augustus Ellis ’17, Garrett Goble ’16, and James Felderhoff ’17 smash cups to demonstrate the second law of thermodynamics, that entropy always increases.

HUR Staff Spotlight: Adelia Humme

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.

A woman with long blond hair in a bright pink blazer stands with her arms folded in front of a tree.
Adelia Humme ’15, interim coordinator for University Scholars and National Fellowships

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.


Undergraduate Teacher Scholars, learning through teaching

The Undergraduate Teacher Scholar(UTS) Program currently consists of several pilot mechanisms which the student may choose between.  Each mechanism requires the Undergraduate Teacher Scholar (UTS) to identify a faculty mentor who agrees to work with the UTS to prepare educational material the first semester and will be the instructor of record the second semester.

UTS students teach a one-credit hour course on topics chosen with their faculty mentor.  This spring two UTS students taught courses, one in international politics and the science of dieting. Students in this course learned through UTS presentations, peer discussions and class projects.

Chris Cliver, senior international studies – politics and diplomacy major, is guiding his students through world politics by discussing current world events.  His UTS course focuses on student presentations of current world issues.  Cliver hopes his students gain an international perspective of America through his course.

“My hope for the students is that they can become more aware of what is happening outside the United States that affects us. It is my opinion that Americans are less exposed to international news and issues than people from other parts of the world. We live in a globalizing world where many developing countries that have drastically different values and customs will soon be just as well educated and economically stable as the traditional world powers.  I feel it is important for the students to realize this and gain an understanding for the other perspectives, cultures, and issues that our generation will have to deal with,” said Cliver.

Through the UTS program Cliver wants to be a mentor to younger Aggies, “hopefully the students in this class can see me not only as a teacher, but also as an older Aggie who can help them with anything outside of class as well, or simply be a friend, because in the end we all bleed maroon.”

Cliver plans to attend graduate school next fall and pursue a degree in international affairs.  After school Cliver hopes to have a career in Foreign Service with a governmental agency.

Jacob Hammond, senior Biomedical Sciences major, leads a UTS seminar on the scientific perspective of dieting.   Students in his course learn about current fad diets, health diet programs, dietary supplements, and the processes behind human metabolism.  By the end of his course he hopes students will not only be able to look at food and dieting scientifically, but also how to facilitate discussion and hone their ability to make presentations vibrant and exciting for their audiences.

In Hammond’s course students will read scientific articles about diets and dietary supplements, discuss the effects of these diets and make presentations about healthy and dangerous dieting.  Hammond is excited to continue using his knack for teaching and tutoring to help others learn science and apply it to their daily lives. “As a freshman I absolutely loved tutoring my peers in general chemistry and biology. When they came to me with problems, I loved being able to walk them through to the solution. Science is complicated, but if you are great at it, it can be even more complicated explaining science to those who are not as accustomed to it.  By teaching this class, I want to further shape my ability to present scientific material in an understandable manner,” said Hammond.

Hammond plans to attend medical school in the future.  He would like to practice family or internal medicine.  “With U.S. healthcare moving the way it is, there is going to be a huge need for primary care physicians in the next decade. While I won’t be making as much money as more sought-after specialties, I love the patient interaction that both of these specialties receive. Just like a lawyer is there to navigate you through our legal system, physicians are there to navigate you through the complicated mechanisms that make up your body. My dream is to guide people, and teach them about the multiple spectrums of health,” said Hammond.


Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu