Honors Program moving ahead

February 1 2008

Indiana State University honors students visited the United States Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. in fall 2007. ISU/Ann Rider Indiana State University’s Honors Program is moving in new directions that will provide talented students numerous opportunities to learn and grow.

Greg Bierly, associate professor of geography and director of ISU's Climatology Laboratory, serves as the director of the Honors Program. During his short tenure as director, he’s been busy enhancing the current program, expanding opportunities for the university's best and brightest, and recruiting new students into the program.

"We want to appeal to students' own sense of self worth, accomplishment and motivation," Bierly said.

A revised curriculum is central to the program's new direction.

The plan, currently under review by Academic Affairs, will create a common core of classes for honors students and a choice of three tracks.

“The tracks will be theme-based, but will have common elements of communication, writing and research,” Bierly said.

The tracks encompass three areas - Great Works, with roots in art, history and literature; Global Perspectives, with emphasis in international relations, language and study abroad; and Leadership and Civic Engagement, centered on application of theory to real problems and preparation of future leaders.

The curriculum will also help students fulfill general education or major requirements, Bierly added, an advantage retained from the current program.

The revised curriculum could be in place as early as fall 2008, although the Great Works track may not be available until 2009.

By offering "the very best education students can receive," classes that are "conducive to learning because of the size and composition" and a "dynamic and engaging" faculty, students will be stimulated and challenged in the Honors Program, he said.

The new director is working with others to achieve a sense of community among honors students and their faculty.

Together with John Beacon, vice president of enrollment, marketing and communications, Bierly is excited about the possibility of turning Rhoads Hall into a home base for the program, its students and faculty.

“It will be a one-stop shop for students,” Bierly said. “Rhoads Hall would house classrooms, meeting spaces, study/gathering space and office space for honors administration and the Honors Journal.”

The space also gives faculty added opportunity to interact with students, such as intimate locations for brown bag seminars and dinner with students in the residence dining hall.

Although the Rhoads Hall opportunity is still in its infancy, it has garnered excitement from those in the program.

“I’m really excited about it,” Bierly said. ‘The students who have been involved in the discussions are also excited about it.”

As a way to instill a bit of ownership in the program, Bierly began the peer advisor program. Each of the incoming first-year Honors students is assigned to a peer advisor. In addition, the group of eight student advisors plans social events, represents the program at resource fairs, high school visits and at ISU orientation while staying in contact with honors students. Five of the peer advisors live on honors floors in Rhoads Hall.

“The program has been very successful in its first year,” Bierly said.

Honors students have also been actively engaged in the community, through community service activities geared toward children by the Honors Student Association and the President’s Scholars Association.

“The honors student associations have demonstrated a lot of initiative in connecting their education to service,” Bierly added. “They are wonderful ambassadors out in the community.”

Students are also learning more about the community, thanks to a program put together by Marilyn Bisch, an ISU faculty member who teaches courses in classical cultures and Oscar Wilde for the Honors Program.

Second Saturday Strolls is a year-long program designed to enhance honors student knowledge and appreciation of local history and culture through walking tours of downtown Terre Haute.

Honors students gather monthly at Hulman Memorial Student Union for a three-hour guided walk to different Terre Haute attractions. The walks acquaint students with locales such as the Vigo County Historical Society, Clabber Girl, Children’s Science and Technology, and Eugene V. Debs House museums; the Wabash River; Farrington’s Grove; downtown churches; and Collett Park.

“The Second Saturday Strolls support our university goals of community engagement, collaborative learning, and fitness for life,” Bisch says. “Honors students are very focused on their studies and often simply don’t have the time to seek out off-campus cultural offerings on their own. These walks turn a study break into a chance to exercise their bodies and minds with other students in a meaningful and enjoyable exploration of the cultural heritage of our larger community.”

A Terre Haute native, Bisch credits local organizations for making the strolls possible.

“We’ve found tremendous support from the resources of the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Terre Haute Inc., local museums, the Vigo County Public Library, - you name it. I grew up here and I know Terre Haute has a lot to offer students within walking distance of campus, but I’d be lost without the help of those who really know our local heritage.”

ISU honors students, she adds, “come from all over Indiana, the United States and the world. Many are new to our city and I’m happy to be able to help introduce them to our local culture. Plus, I’m learning a lot by being a tourist in my own backyard.”

The program’s director is always on the lookout for new learning opportunities for his students.

One idea Bierly, a graduate of Indiana State, has worked to implement is more chances for honors students to meet with speakers and presenters in their fields of interest. Already, the University Speakers Series arranged for 20 honors students to have lunch and conversation with Jim Bittermann, CNN senior European correspondent, who was on campus in Fall 2006. Honors students have also been able to interact with other speakers such as CNN Legal Analyst Nancy Grace and former prosecutor and author Vincent Bugliosi.

Bierly, along with Honors faculty member Keri Berg, unveiled an outlet for students to express their creativity.

Work is currently underway to publish the first “After Images: The University Honors Journal for the Creative Arts” this spring.

“There is amazing work going on in honors classes. The journal is a way to get that creative work out there and celebrate it,” Berg said.

Undergraduate students throughout the university are able to contribute writings (poetry, fiction, non-fiction and plays) and images (photography, painting, graphic arts and sculpture).

Berg said the journal fits into the university’s commitment to experiential learning -- “whether it’s working as a staff member, getting published or encouraging students to seek creativity in their work.”

Fueling these changes is additional funding received through Lilly Endowment.

The University Honors Program has been designated one of Indiana State’s Programs of Promise, which enabled it to gain additional funding through the Lilly Endowment's Initiative to Recruit and Retain Intellectual Capital for Indiana Higher Education Institutions in conjunction with ISU's "Fulfilling the Promise" strategic plan.

Bierly said the Honors Program is geared to go beyond traditional learning. "It's the field experience," he said. "It's the laboratory experience. It's actually getting to participate in research with a faculty member or create a piece of artistic work; travel to see the place, the buildings and the cultures that the students are learning about in the classroom."

Field experiences have taken students a variety of places, including Indianapolis to catch the Louvre exhibit at the Art Museum, Washington D.C. to visit the Holocaust Memorial and to Rome, Italy this spring.

For more information on Indiana State’s Honors Program, go to www.indstate.edu/honors/ or call 812-237-3225.

Photo: Honors students in Washington Indiana State University honors students visited the United States Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. in fall 2007. ISU/Ann Rider

Contact: Greg Bierly, director of the Honors Program, 812-237-3225

Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications & Marketing, 812-237-3783 or pmeyer4@isugw.indstate.edu

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Indiana State University's Honors Program is moving in new directions that will provide talented students numerous opportunities to learn and grow.

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