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Honors Takes D.C. by Storm

From October 28 through November 1, nine students and eight faculty and staff from The Honors College attended the 44th Annual Conference of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) in Washington, D.C. NCHC is the professional association of undergraduate honors programs and colleges; honors directors and deans; and honors faculty, staff, and students. As an organization that encourages undergraduates to present at its national convention, NCHC helps launch the careers of many students. With presentations on best practices and innovations in honors curricula, our representatives contributed to the growing national reputation of the University of Houston Honors College.

Among the presenters were Dr. John Harvey and Katelyn Halpern, a student who led a drama master class and, with senior Blair Ault, gave a presentation describing our Center for Creative Work. "NCHC was a great way of understanding more about the honors community on a national level," commented Ault. "It was encouraging to see other honors programs moving forward to engage their students in creative ways."

Other presenters included Assistant Dean Jodie Köszegi, who described the virtues of The Honors College's unique space in the MD Anderson Library, and sophomore Krystafer Redden, who gave a presentation on the Phronesis program. With Andy Little (Coordinator of Academic Services), students Peter Zachry, Janet Dowden, Angela Grasso, and David Tucker described The Honors College’s study abroad program. In the presentation, Dowden, a junior, shared her experiences in The Honors College Study Abroad program, which she recounts with passion: "I'm a kinesiology major! I would've never gotten the opportunity to go to Italy and Syracuse to study Thucydides anywhere except The Honors College." 

Tucker also sat on the standing Committee on Teaching and Learning, a group of honors deans from across the country. "It was really interesting to hear the plans that they had for their honors programs, because almost all the things they were discussing we already had here," he said. "The main thing that I took away from NCHC was how good our program is." 

Connecting with D.C.-area Alumni

The trip also allowed some Honors College faculty and staff to reconnect with Honors alumni in the D.C. area. At a dinner and reception at Bobby Van’s Grill on October 30, 22 Honors College alumni enjoyed food, drink, and conversation with each other and Honors staff and faculty, including Dr. Bill MonroeDr. Christine LeVeaux-Haley, and Dr. John Harvey. Dr. Ted Estess says that over his 15 years of meeting with D.C.-area alumni, he has come to love the meetings as much for his own sake as for that of the alumni. "I have to say that I am very selfish about these alumni gatherings," he said. "I am always personally exhilarated to see former students, to learn about their families and their work, and to hear about their children. Graduates cannot begin to know how gratifying it is for their former teachers to see or hear from them from time to time." Several alumni who attended the dinner are doing big things around Washington.

Brodi Fontenot (’98) is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget in the Department of Transportation. Having also worked for the Senate Budget Committee and the Government Accountability Office in the past, Fontenot has seen many sides of Washington politics. And everywhere he looks, he finds that the skills of Honors' graduates are precisely what Washington needs. "For most jobs here, it’s the ability to think about a problem, solve it, and communicate it to others that is needed," he says. "And that’s exactly what The Honors College teaches."

Mike Dimock (’90), who develops and reports on research projects and polls for the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in Washington, first learned the importance of communication in a course with Dr. Ross Lence. "The first paper I turned in had a big red 'F' at the top, and more red marginal notes than typed words," laughs Dimock. "He took me into his office, and we talked for an hour about how I didn’t know how to think." Now, in his work analyzing and presenting polling data, Dimock performs a task similar to that demanded by Dr. Lence many years ago. "I have to take a mass of disorganized information and then figure out how to make it make sense to someone else," he says.

Another D.C.-area alumna, Katie Stout (’06), works for IDS International, a small defense contractor. "At The Honors College, I learned how to read, write, and think," says Stout. "And that’s what I do now, in the context of the major security challenges among agencies." Stout is one of several Washington, D.C. alumni who are forming an alumni group. Right now, they are just beginning to set their goals, which could include serving as a social club, networking group and sponsoring internships for current Honors students. These ideas are all under consideration, and they hope that with more input and support from area alumni, they can clarify their mission.

Between a successful conference and visits with exceptional alumni, it seems The Honors College invasion has hit Washington, D.C.