Testimonials: Clemson, Calhoun Honors College Faculty

Editor’s Note: From time to time, we publish testimonials from honors program faculty and students. Below are two contributions from faculty members who teach at Clemson’s Calhoun Honors College, which received a five-mortarboard rating in our recent book, INSIDE HONORS. Emphases are added.

From Michael LeMahieu,
Associate Professor
Department of English
Director, Pearce Center for Professional Communication
Faculty Fellow, National Scholars Program
mlemahi@clemson.edu

I have been involved with the Calhoun Honors College for 11 of the 12 years I have taught at Clemson University. My experiences with the Honors College have been hands down my single most rewarding pedagogical experience at Clemson. I became involved with the Honors College so quickly after arriving on campus thanks to the recommendation of a student. Here’s a first point to emphasize: the Calhoun Honors College not only provides students with a superior educational experience but it also allows students to shape the vision for that educational experience.

In my various efforts, I try to put the voices of the students first; it’s a lesson I learned from the Honors College and one that remains best exemplified there. I have also worked in several different capacities with the College, from teaching first-year seminars to advising senior theses to facilitating book discussions to serving on selection committees, scholarship committees, advisory committees, and as a faculty fellow for the National Scholars Program.

I highlight these areas because they instantiate the range of opportunities for faculty members to be involved with the honors college. The Calhoun Honors College benefits from the stable yet nimble vision and leadership of its director and from an ace staff that is fully invested in student success and that exhibits unwavering professionalism.

Discussions are held, books are read, and essays are written at Clemson University that would not be were it not for the honors college. Students learn more, better, and differently as a result of their work in the honors college, which continues to provide models and opportunities for my own thinking and learning. It’s the jewel in the crown at Clemson.

From O. Thompson Mefford,
Dept. of Materials Science

In evaluating the Clemson Calhoun Honors College, I have the unique prospective of being both a student and a faculty member. As a student, I enjoyed many of the honors programs including living in the honors residence hall, the Dixon Fellows Program, and the opportunity to complete a departmental honor thesis. The biggest takeaway from my experience as a student was the unique ability for the honors college to connect students and faculty in meaningful activities. What I am most grateful for is is the rich exchange of ideas and mentoring that made my “Clemson Experience”.

Since returning as a faculty member, the Honors College has been my vehicle to connect with students. My involvement to the honors college has spanned the entire student experience at Clemson, starting before the student arrives and beyond graduation. I have aided in the selection of honors students and National Scholars, where was able to have thought provoking discussions with the amazing students the College is attracting. I have assisted in the transition to Clemson through participation in the EUREKA! Program, where mentorship in research practices begins before the student even starts their Clemson academic career.

I have had the opportunity to develop curriculum including special course on nanotechnology and honors contracts to push students to explore areas beyond what is covered in the classroom. Finally, I have mentored students throughout their time at Clemson on to careers and graduate school.

Nonetheless, the greatest educational moments of my career have occurred while mentoring honors students and working with small groups in the lab. These opportunities to have a direct impact on the lives of the students have occurred through working with honors students. It is these types of interactions that are the most rewarding part of my career and keep me focused on bettering myself as an instructor.

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Goldwater Scholar Profiles: Clemson (Calhoun Honors College)

Editor’s Note: The following information comes from Clemson University, and is another in a series of profiles we are posting about 2014 Goldwater Scholars who are students in public university honors programs.

John Farmer, a junior physics major with an astrophysics emphasis area, was born in Florence, SC, and attended Cheraw High School for three years before studying musical performance at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.  He has maintained a 4.0 GPA in a departmental Honors track curriculum while engaging in many research projects.  Past work includes creative inquiry with Dr. Brittain of Clemson University on near-infrared spectroscopy of young stars, radiation simulation for the LHC’s CMS detector as an intern for Fermilab, and galactic astrophysics as an intern at the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in Chile.

A Dixon fellow in the Honors College, he has been named a 2014 Goldwater Scholar and has been nominated for the 2014 Astronaut Scholarship.  In addition, he has been awarded the L.D. Huff awards for outstanding sophomore physics major and outstanding junior physics major, and the College of Engineering and Sciences outstanding junior in the sciences award.  He plans to pursue a PhD in physics and explore a career in research.

The following is a first person account from Goldwater Scholar Kate Showers:

My name is Kate Showers, and I am a junior in Bioengineering from Nashville, TN. I recently received the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering which is a federally endowed scholarship program that aims to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering.

I became involved with research the summer following my freshman year as an intern at the Vanderbilt Initiative for Surgery and Engineering studying image-guided surgery. Upon returning to Clemson, I joined a Creative Inquiry team exploring ultrasound application in diagnosing soft tissue injuries. This past summer, I worked for the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering at the University of Washington studying human perception methods. In addition to research, I am a Big Sister with Women in Science and Engineering where I mentor freshmen women in STEM and assist in outreach events. In addition, I am the Vice President of Outreach for the College of Engineering and Science Student Advisory Board, an ambassador for the Calhoun Honors College, a past facilitator for IMPACT (a summer social action program for incoming students), and an alumna of the ACC Leadership Conference. Finally, I have also received the Robert B. (’70) and Susan B. Hambright Annual Leadership Program in Engineering Award, the WISE Smith scholarship, the S.W. Shalaby Outstanding Sophomore in Bioengineering award, and the CU Out-of-State Scholarship.

Clemson Calhoun Honors Student Combines Engineering with Global Studies

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Clemson website.

Civil engineering student Kate Gasparro has backpacked through Europe, studied abroad in Strasbourg, France, and helped build a schoolhouse in Nicaragua. Attending Clemson is the biggest part of what’s made those distant travels and many of the experiences that came before, during and after them possible

When Gasparro first began looking at colleges, she knew she wanted to pursue a degree that let her think big. As the daughter of two civil engineers, she also knew that a civil engineering program would help her do that: “Civil engineers are the ones who build the big things that we use everyday, and we make a difference,” she explains.

She visited 25 colleges before she landed at Clemson her senior year of high school. By the time she left Clemson’s campus, she knew she’d found her college home. Today, the Huntington Beach, California, native is only a semester away from graduating with a Clemson degree in civil engineering and a minor in international relations.

And just as she’d hoped, she’ll be leaving this place with a lot more than just a diploma in her hand. She’s moving forward with a portfolio of experience she can’t imagine having received anywhere else.

“It’s not about the name on the diploma. It’s about the experience you have there,” Gasparro offers. “Clemson helped me shape my future and where I want to go and who I want to be.”

The Calhoun Honors College has been an important part of that experience, with its small class sizes that allow personal, passionate and intellectual relationships with the University’s best and brightest, she says. For Gasparro, that meant spending her freshman year taking general engineering courses alongside honors classes, including a medieval history class with one of Clemson’s Harvard-educated professors. There, she and seven other students engaged in discussions about how war influences culture.

That same year, she and fewer than 10 other students studied Russian literature and philosophy as a part of the Dixon Fellow program, which “allows students to learn for the sake of learning,” Gasparro explains. “It expanded my own worldview and sparked my love of philosophy.”

Her Clemson experience has also meant getting involved in everything she wanted to be involved with. On the academic front, she is one of 12 Dixon Global Policy Scholars, a Coca-Cola Scholar and a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership fraternity. She’s served as treasurer and Latin American project leader for Engineers Without Borders, as well as vice president of the Alpha Lambda Delta honor society. And she stays involved with a variety of student groups including the Clemson University Student Alumni Council, not to mention University tour guides, Tiger Band, symphonic band, orchestra and the Hillel Jewish Organization.

“Getting involved is a great way to meet these people and realize your own potential,” she says. “You feel such a greater tie to the University when you are involved, and it makes you be a better student because you can see the impact you make. You can tie your extracurricular experiences into your academic curriculum, making theory into practice and deepening your broader understanding.”

Even with all the accolades and experiences, Gasparro’s favorite thing about Clemson isn’t just one thing: it’s the people. Sure, the University’s president knows her by name, but so do countless other students, staff and faculty who share her appreciation for community, not to mention her love of Clemson.

“Clemson invests in people. You’re never just a number,” she explains. “They make that personal connection, and it’s all about that Clemson Family.”

Gasparro’s travels abroad have provided some of her most significant academic opportunities. As a Dixon Global Policy Scholar, she was able to complete a short-term study abroad in Strasbourg, where she met with officials from the European Union, Parliament and NATO to learn how international policy is made. After interacting with French and German students, she and some of her classmates backpacked throughout Europe, and during those travels she also completed course work in enlightenment philosophy and public policy.

Gasparro also joined Engineers Without Borders and started the student organization’s first Latin American project. Leading a group of six other students, she located a nonprofit already doing work in Nicaragua. They partnered with them in early September 2011, and a few months later, Clemson’s first Engineers Without Borders team traveled to the Central American country to lay the foundation for a schoolhouse there. She returned to the country again the summer before her senior year.

“I’ve learned what it means to partner with people who have a different culture and history, and work with them to construct something sustainable,” Gasparro says.

These days, she prides herself on being smiling, enthusiastic proof that a challenging degree doesn’t have to take away from the “college experience.”

“College is what you make of it,” Gasparro offers. “Being involved and in a challenging degree is all about time management and understanding your own abilities. Being able to relate your extracurricular experience to your classes and understanding the value in having both is key to making the most of your time.

“College is what you make of it. Why not make the most of those four years of your life?”

Determined to think big. Head on.

Clemson President: There Is No Substitute for Campus Learning

As an architect and president of Clemson University, James F. Barker is perhaps the best person in America to speak to the value of the college campus as a place where young men and women can learn, grow, and be transformed within an atmosphere that is not only intellectually stimulating but also physically beautiful and inspiring.

Barker was one of several college presidents who contributed essays to a publication entitled Responding to the Commodification of Higher Education.  The title of Barker’s essay is “The Endangered Campus: Defining and Defending the Value of Place-Based Higher Education.”

Online delivery is “no substitute for the experience of ‘going away to college,'” he writes. “We must bring that experience into the 21st century and make it meaningful for today’s students. The best education is not transactional but transformational. It’s not: ‘You give me X amount of money and I give you a credential and a degree.’ Rather it is: ‘You give us four years, and you get a life-changing experience.’

Barker might have been speaking as well of the value of Clemson’s Calhoun Honors College, one of the most successful in the nation.

Barker recognizes the utility of digital learning methods, noting that for years Clemson has used a blended model in almost all math courses and in introductory chemistry. Students work in small groups while seated at round “technologically-enabled tables,” where they listen to short lectures and then complete exercises “to reinforce concepts and track progress.”  Using this model, students have had higher success and graduation rates.

Yet the success of this blended model in some kinds of instruction does not replace what Barker calls the “Idea of the Campus,” rooted in five concepts:

• Each campus is a distinct place. Each of us experiences it in a very personal way.
• The campus is a community – an intentional community. We are not born there. We choose to study or work there. It is a place of diversity and unity.
• The campus is stimulating and energetic. It bustles with ideas, creativity, and innovation.
• The campus is a work of art – for many of us, the first designed, beautiful, and cohesive landscape we experience.
• The campus is a place of pilgrimage – a place we return to, to renew a sense of belonging to the community we experienced in our youth.

But campus communities have another powerful value.  “Besides the cultural and historic value of our campuses, they also have economic value” Barker writes. “In a recent New York Times column, Thomas Friedman wrote that ‘the best entrepreneurial ecosystems
in the future will be cities and towns that combine a university, an educated populace, a dynamic business community and the fastest broadband connections. These will be the job factories of the future.'”

But the most important value of the physical campus is the impetus it gives to instruction.  “A beautiful, stimulating campus environment attracts the best students, faculty, and staff. It encourages personal reflection and group learning. Simply being together in a physical place, as a community of teachers and learners, has tremendous educational advantages,” the president-architect writes.

The real concerns for Barker and many other higher education leaders is not whether online instruction will have a significant role on campus but how that role should be defined in a way that does not diminish the overriding place of the campus as the principal seat of learning.

Most would agree with Barker that “he campus has always been the place where students begin separating from their families and gain independence. It’s a place where the deepest kinds of discovery and learning can and should happen. It’s a place where brains are fed, minds are opened, and lifelong connections and communities are formed. It’s a place that attracts creative, innovative people and creates the right ecosystem for community and economic development.”