Honors Testimonials: Georgia Honors Program

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of testimonials from students and faculty at leading public university honors colleges and programs.

STUDENTS:

Nivita Sharma (Class of 2018)

As only a sophomore at The University of Georgia, I can confidently say that in another two years from now I will define my undergraduate career by the opportunities that have been presented by the Honors Program. I have been given the privilege to attend the first state chartered university in the nation with a student body of 36,000, while also receiving specialized attention through the small liberal arts college atmosphere of the Honors Program.

Honors classes are taught by world-renowned professors who have the genuine desire to foster intellectual growth inside and outside the classroom. But what has made my college experience particularly unique is the cutting edge research I have been conducting with the unwavering support and guidance of a UGA faculty member. As an Honors student, I was able to engage in research in an area of my own interest through the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) from the very first day I set foot on campus.

Besides the academic endeavors I have embarked on with the support of the Honors Program, the motivation and core values provided by the intimate community of faculty, administrators, fellow students, and alumni is unparalleled by any other institution in the nation I know of. The social support and many activities sponsored by Honors student groups, especially the Honors Program Student Council, add to the strong community that Honors students enjoy.

The University of Georgia Honors Program has gone above and beyond to help me achieve goals that I could have only dreamed of before.

Torre Lavelle (Class of 2016; Udall Scholar and Schwarzman Scholar)

The UGA Honors Program is incredible in its commitment to undergraduate research and connecting some of the university’s (and world’s) leading professors with students. During my second year at UGA, I was able to pursue research on anthelmintic resistance through CURO. Dr. Vanessa Ezenwa, my Honors research mentor, played an invaluable role that went far beyond the usual job description, a common depiction when Honors students talk about their faculty mentors—UGA professors value undergraduate research in a manner that I have found to be unmatched at any other institution. She even connected me with an internship this past summer at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Virginia.

Honors-funded travel grants have been invaluable in allowing me to delve into my academic interests undeterred. From presenting my research to other students at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference to spending part of my summer in Fiji, where I studied human-environment interaction and participated in a homestay in the coastal village of Waitabu, my adventures have always begun with a simple phrase of support from Honors administrators: “What’s next?”

I have also always been struck by the Honors Program’s ability to serve as a strong yet diverse community, and constant source of support and inspiration. It has built its alumni portal in a manner that allowed me to connect with a graduate who works at the State Department, and covered the cost of many a lunch during networking events.

Lastly, the support of the Honors Program as I applied for, and ultimately was awarded, multiple national scholarships is the reason why I have the life-changing opportunity to pursue my graduate work internationally, and why I feel confident in the academic direction I have taken.

Karishma Sriram (Class of 2016; Goldwater Scholar)

Entering college as a Foundation Fellow–UGA’s top academic scholarship which is housed in the Honors Program–I was immediately immersed in an encouraging and creative environment. Through the Fellowship, I have been able to participate in intriguing book discussions, dinner seminars and conversations that helped me shape my understanding of the world around me.

Further, the Fellowship afforded me the ability to travel during my career. Through its aid, I’ve taken a class under a Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford University, traveled to Harvard College to present my stem cell research, ventured to Bolivia to observe the health care conditions in the impoverished La Paz, and studied abroad in Morocco and Bali with cultural and religious immersion experiences.

Beyond the extensive travel and enrichment opportunities, the Fellowship has provided me with a community of peers and advisers that have guided and aided me in my growth as a student, friend and person.

FACULTY MEMBERS:

Dr. Marcus Fechheimer, University Professor of Cellular Biology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

The academic rigor at UGA has risen dramatically in the last decade. The average undergraduate student at UGA today would have been in the Honors Program 10 years ago, and students in the Honors Program today would have been in the top 1% 10 years ago. It is truly impressive that our Honors Program continues to recruit and engage these outstanding students! This is the view of a faculty member who is completing his 30th year at UGA.

The characteristic that best describes the UGA Honors Program is engagement of faculty and students working together to learn, discover, and create. This engagement is most patent in Honors classes that feature smaller sections and advanced material. Some courses employ an Honors option so that students earn Honors credit by doing extra work such as (in my cell biology class) writing analytical reviews of recent publications in the primary literature. I also regularly teach an Honors seminar in the area of neurodegenerative diseases- a topic too specialized for the regular curriculum. This type of class utilizing exclusively primary sources represents a level of scholarship and mentoring that is expected at the 8000 level for doctoral students. In the UGA Honors Program, sophomores engage at this level.

Finally, undergraduate research promotes engagement of Honors students across every discipline at the University. Research transforms students who develop persistence, creativity, teamwork, and communication skills. Engagement in research promotes self-confidence that emanates from authentic accomplishment. The Honors Program promotes research participation and engagement in many ways including CURO scholars, Gateway seminars, Summer Fellowships, CURO Symposium, Theses, and the CURO Scholar transcript notation.

By providing such opportunities for engagement and discovery, the Honors Program is the engine for both the transformation of students and for the rise of UGA to the elite among public universities.

Dr. Loch Johnson, Regents Professor of International Affairs, School of Public and International Affairs

Having been a University faculty member for almost forty years, I have many wonderful memories of campus life. My happiest moments, though, have been the many semesters when I have been engaged in the UGA Honors Program. The students in the Program are uniformly first-rate: smart, engaged in student and community activities, active in classroom discussions, and always punctual in the completion of assignments with a high level of excellence. These students have also been amenable to experiences beyond the classroom, whether discussions of current events over coffee, longer conversations over lunch, or coming to my place for a home cooked meal (as my Honors classes always do). The size of the class–always less than twenty–makes it possible as well to have rich dialogues among the class members and the instructor, which is more difficult in our typically larger classes.

I have also enjoyed the diversity of the Honors classes, with students from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Often many of the students are immigrants, or their parents are, which brings a wonderful international dimension to the classroom—especially valuable for my International Affairs Department.

Finally, I would note that the administrators of the Honors Program are top-draw in every way: the classes are well-organized and thoughtfully scheduled, the students come with an outstanding work ethic and a lively interest in intellectual matters, and the “home office” in Moore College is invariably a font of sound counsel and encouragement.

The UGA Honors Program is a five-star operation!

Dr. David Mustard, Meigs Associate Professor of Economics, Terry College of Business

Throughout my career at UGA, I have taught Honors classes, mentored Honors students, and advised students through CURO. In these capacities I have had the privilege of interacting with a cadre of extremely smart, interesting, and motivated students.

Over the past ten to fifteen years, UGA Honors students have been extremely successful in national and international scholarship competitions. I have myself taught and advised two Rhodes Scholars, a Marshall Scholar, two Fulbright Scholars, a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, a recipient of the top university-wide Ph.D. assistantship at Duke University, many winners and finalists of other prestigious scholarships, and also multiple Olympians, including one gold medal winner.

Such students exhibit enthusiasm for learning, are intellectually inquisitive, engage the readings and class material, and work extremely hard, which fundamentally changes the manner in which I teach classes. For example, in my education policy Honors class, instead of using a textbook, the required readings are largely articles from peer reviewed academic journals. In that class I also assign group research projects that have generated many excellent papers. Many of these students leverage that opportunity to do research into additional undergraduate research experiences that have produced five CURO Best Paper Awards, book chapters, and a co-authored publication in an influential economics journal.

My participation in the UGA Honors Program has truly been one of the highlights and most rewarding aspects of my professional career.

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