Honors Update Feb 29, 2016

Dare we say it–we are leaping forward to the third edition of our review of honors programs and colleges. The posts during this time are few and far between because most of our efforts are focused on research and data crunching for the 2016 edition, which will have detailed ratings of 60 (versus 5o previously) public honors programs.

Here’s what we’re doing now:

–Analyzing the honors course sections in the 60 programs under review. This is the most time-consuming and the most important thing that we do. For the book, each profile will discuss the number of sections, by discipline, and list the actual class enrollment average. We also classify each program according to its type: core, blended, or department-based. In order to do the classification, we must know the number of sections that are seminars, the number that are departmental, and the number that are mixed (honors and non-honors students).

For the first edition in 2012, we did not do this sort of in-depth analysis. Since then, we have determined that this is the best way to develop a true sense of what each program or college is really like. So far, we have completed this analysis for six programs out of 60 under review.  When all is said and done, we will have reviewed about 9,000 class sections. During the review, we choose the most interesting (to us) sections and provide descriptions in the profiles featured in the book. The deadline for all programs to provide the raw material for this analysis is April 15, 2016. Stay tuned! Below is a sample of the matrix we use for this process:

Honors Critical Thinking2216
World Thought and Experience I5516
Themes in Amer Experience1124
World Thought and Experience II5513
Adventures in Data Analysis1119
Honors Precalc118
Honors Calculus I1119
Honors Calculus II1123
Honors General Psych1124
Honors Macroeconomics1119

(This is actually a simplified matrix; the full matrix also takes into account the number of credit hours for each section and the number of non-honors students enrolled.)

–Preparing a summary of the most prestigious and lucrative scholarships offered by each university and honors program. We might do a separate post on some of these before publishing the third edition in fall 2016.

–Gathering the latest stats on the number of students from each of the 60 universities who have won the following awards: Goldwater, Udall, Boren, Gilman, Rhodes, Marshall, Churchill, Gates Cambridge, Truman, NSF, and Fulbright Student scholarships. This, too, is a long and somewhat tedious project. Next up: data for latest Fulbrights and NSF grants.


Univ of Arizona Honors Students Win Churchill Scholarships, Show Value of Undergrad Research

Editor’s Note: This post is by Jill Goetz, Karna Walter, and Emily Kotay of the University Arizona College of Engineering and Honors College and was first published on January 17, 2016, on the UA News site.

Two University of Arizona seniors have won prestigious Churchill Scholarships to complete a one-year master’s degree program at the University of Cambridge in England.

UA College of Engineering majors Travis Sawyer and Jeannie Wilkening, both students in the Honors College, are two of only 15 Churchill Scholars selected in 2016-2017 for outstanding academic achievement and proven research talent in science, engineering or mathematics.

Both are the third and fourth UA students to receive the award since it was first granted by the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States in 1963.

The UA is able to nominate only two students to apply for the Churchill Scholarship each year, and this year is the first time that both UA nominees have been awarded the scholarship.

Churchill Scholarships range from $50,000 to $60,000 and cover a year of tuition and fees at Cambridge University’s Churchill College. Scholars also receive travel and living allowances and may get additional funding for presentations at international conferences and visits to other universities.

Capturing Magic From Van Gogh’s Paintings

Sawyer is majoring in optical sciences and engineering, a program jointly administered by the College of Optical Sciences and College of Engineering. He is developing visual recognition software using different wavelengths, such as infrared and X-ray, to help scientists capture more detailed images for making discoveries in fields as different as art preservation, astronomy and medicine.

Travis Sawyer (photo credit Graeme Hunt)

Travis Sawyer (photo credit Graeme Hunt)

For his master of philosophy, or MPhil, degree in physics, he will conduct research on applying hyperspectral imaging for detecting early-stage cancer with Cambridge scientist Sarah Bohndiek, whose lab is affiliated with the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

An Optics Ambassador with a 4.0 grade-point average throughout college, Sawyer came to optics in an unusual way. He was misdiagnosed with leukemia his freshman year and became fascinated with the optical instruments doctors used to examine him and, ultimately, ensure he was healthy.

Sawyer’s rising stardom was recognized in 2014 with a $10,000 Astronaut Scholarship, which he won again in 2015 — a first-ever feat at the UA. In 2015, he also won a Goldwater Scholarship, and his UA student team won the Robert S. Hilburn Memorial Optical Design Competition for its camera system to be sent to Saturn’s moon Titan.

“Hopefully, I can make a contribution or invent a technology that helps someone in the same way optics helped me,” Travis Sawyer says.

Sawyer credits his research mentors for their guidance. After Cambridge, Sawyer plans to pursue doctoral and postdoctoral work and establish his own research lab as a university professor.

Engineering for a Healthier Planet

Chemical engineering student Jeannie Wilkening studies how human activity affects biogeochemical cycles, the movement of water and other compounds through the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. She is particularly interested in how these processes relate to climate change and in developing models for more environmentally sustainable technologies.

“My experiences over the past four years have been instrumental in getting me to this point. I’ve been surrounded by incredible faculty, friends and classmates who have supported me, challenged me and taught me so much,”  Wilkening says.

Jeannie Wilkenning (photo courtesy Univ of Arizona College of Engineering)

Jeannie Wilkening (photo courtesy Univ of Arizona College of Engineering)

For her MPhil in earth sciences, she will conduct research with Cambridge scientist Alexandra Turchyn on carbon, sulfur and iron cycling in marshes and climate implications.

The Churchill Scholarship is the latest in a string of top honors and internships for Wilkening. She entered the UA as a National Merit Scholar and Flinn Scholar and, like Sawyer, won a Goldwater Scholarship in 2015.

She won a NASA Space Grant and interned at Princeton University and the University of Michigan through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program. She belongs to the Tau Beta Pi and Omega Chi Epsilon engineering honor societies, is an Ambassador for both the Honors College and the College of Engineering and is president of the UA chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

“Since I was a child, I have been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by great female role models who instilled a passion in me for science and engineering,” Wilkening said.
One of them was her mother, Betsy Wilkening. After earning her own bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the UA in 1982, she became a popular science teacher at Richard B. Wilson Jr. Middle School. Two of her students there were Wilkening and Sawyer.

After Cambridge, Jeannie Wilkening plans to return to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and then an academic career, teaching and conducting research.

Univ of Arkansas Honors Student and Prof Publish Paper on Proteins Related to Alzheimer’s

Editor’s Note: The post below comes to us from Kendall Curlee, director of communications at the University of Arkansas Honors College.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A University of Arkansas research team has published a paper in ChemBioChem, a top European journal of chemical biology, based on groundbreaking experiments led by undergraduate honors student Armin Mortazavi. The paper contributes to the understanding of the molecular properties of membrane proteins, which play critical roles in cell signaling, both for diseased states and basic biological functions.

“It could be useful in understanding how proteins aggregate, which is characteristic of some neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s – but that’s long down the line at this point,” Mortazavi said.

Armin Mortazavi and faculty mentor Roger Koeppe examine deuterium magnetic resonance (NMR) results. Photo: Matt Reynolds.

Armin Mortazavi and faculty mentor Roger Koeppe examine deuterium magnetic resonance (NMR) results. Photo: Matt Reynolds.

“Our main purpose is to understand how they interact in the body.”

Mortazavi, from Hot Springs, is an honors chemistry and physics double major, a Bodenhamer Fellow, and the recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship. He is listed as first author on the article, giving him primary credit for performing the experiments that led to the discoveries. Roger Koeppe, Distinguished Professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, is Mortazavi’s faculty mentor and director of the study.

The paper is titled “Juxta-Terminal Helix Unwinding as a Stabilizing Factor to Modulate the Dynamics of Transmembrane Helices.” The U of A team used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to alter the amino acid sequences of model peptides and incorporated deuterium labels to study how the peptides move within a model for the outer membrane of a cell.

Mortazavi’s research builds on earlier work by honors student Kelsey Sparks, who studied the role aromatic rings play in the movement of the same family of peptides. Sparks was the first author on a paper published in 2014 in Biochemistry and is a coauthor on this paper.

Previous work in Koeppe’s lab found that a similar peptide helix might be unwound or “frayed” at the end. Mortazavi has confirmed that there are multiple peptides that fray at the end, limiting their extent of motion and helping to anchor them within a lipid membrane.

“What Armin has found suggests that there may be more importance to the loops within membrane signaling proteins, which have largely been ignored up to now,” Koeppe said. “His work may point us in a new direction.”

Mortazavi presented his work at the 2015 meeting of the Biophysical Society and will present his latest results at the February 2016 meeting in Los Angeles.

Koeppe has mentored more than 25 honors students, with six of them publishing their research.

“To this point, I’ve not had a student publish before they graduate,” he said. “Armin started research early, in his freshman year. ­He’s well organized, dedicated, hardworking, and he’s produced a lot of results.”

Mortazavi’s work has been supported by a State Undergraduate Research Fellowship and Honors College research and travel grants. Other members of the research team who are coauthors on the article are graduate student Venkatesan Rajagopalan and research associate professor Denise V. Greathouse.

About the Honors College: The University of Arkansas Honors College was established in 2002 and unites the university’s top undergraduate students and professors in a learning environment characterized by discovery, creativity and service. Each year the Honors College awards up to 90 freshman fellowships that provide $70,000 over four years, and more than $1 million in undergraduate research and study abroad grants. The Honors College is nationally recognized for the high caliber of students it admits and graduates. Honors students enjoy small, in-depth classes, and programs are offered in all disciplines, tailored to students’ academic interests, with interdisciplinary collaborations encouraged. Fifty percent of Honors College graduates have studied abroad – three times the national average – and one hundred percent of Honors College graduates have engaged in mentored research.

Virginia Tech Will Move from Honors Program to New Honors College

Editor’s Note: The big news in the honors community is that Virginia Tech will build on its current University Honor Program and develop a new Honors College. Tech joins the University of Kentucky as the most recent prominent state universities to expand honors programs to honors colleges. The post below is by Virginia Tech writer Alison Matthiessen.

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 5, 2016 – Virginia Tech President Tim Sands announced the university’s plan to transition the University Honors program to an Honors College.

Paul Knox, University Distinguished Professor and senior fellow for international advancement, will provide leadership for the transformation, directing the current University Honors program while engaging with the university community to build an Honors College. VaTechSands has tasked Knox with aligning the transformation process with the university’s Beyond Boundaries visioning process, Destination Areas discussion, and InclusiveVT, supporting the university’s vision for a more diverse undergraduate population.

“Virginia Tech’s University Honors program is well positioned to move into the top echelon of Honors colleges within the United States,” Sands said. “The Honors residential communities, the Presidential Global Scholars program offered through the Steger Center for International Scholarship, the flexible curriculum that encourages interdisciplinary and innovative plans of study, and strong faculty commitment to the Honors program provide the foundation for an honors college.”

Knox will convene a steering committee to look at the transformation process that will engage constituents and stakeholders across the Virginia Tech community. In addition, he will meet with relevant commissions as well as alumni and friends to build private support for this initiative. Once built, a transition plan will be presented to University Council and to the Board of Visitors. Upon the completion of the transition, Sands said Knox will become founding dean of the Honors College.

“I believe an Honors college, with high expectations and a collegial atmosphere that encourages risk and flexibility, will significantly enhance the university’s commitment to the open exchange of ideas and the shared belief, regardless of discipline, in a generalized, coherent, communal set of attitudes that are collaborative and intellectual,” Knox said.

Provost Thanassis Rikakis said a Virginia Tech Honors College will not award degrees or create a specific curricular structure that would prevent some students from joining based on their chosen major. “We want to ensure the continued collaboration between University Honors and the academic colleges to provide the opportunity for students to build innovative plans of study and to engage in a cross-university collaborative educational curricula and experiential learning environments,” Rikakis said.

As a first step in the process, the current honors residential community housed in East Ambler Johnston will be renamed the Honors Residential Community. The name change will not impact the community’s programming or services. This living-learning community as well as the Hillcrest Community will remain part of the new University Honors structure.

“We are excited to have Paul Knox lead this transition,” said Christina McIntyre, who has been serving as interim director of the program and will return to her position as senior associate director. “He is a renowned scholar and has already been an active participant with University Honors and its students. He has the skills and vision to take us to the next level.”

“During this interim period for the program, Christina and the rest of the University Honors team never stopped their good work to recruit the best students and cultivate relationships with them to ensure their success here at Virginia Tech and beyond,” said Rachel Holloway, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs. “The university is thankful for their work and look to see them do even more under Paul’s leadership and during this transition.”

As the transition unfolds, the university community will be invited to provide feedback and participate in the process.

Knox joined Virginia Tech as a faculty member in urban affairs and planning in 1985. He served as dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies from 1997 to 2006, before stepping down to focus on teaching and research and serve as senior fellow for international advancement. In that capacity he has served as interim director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and coordinated efforts at Virginia Tech to build long-range strategic plans, including the current Plan for a New Horizon. He is currently a member of the Beyond Boundaries steering committee.