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Connecting Honors Experiences
An Honors education lays the groundwork for professional success, but graduates need more than a high GPA to succeed in today’s job market. Honors College students are already joining the College’s minors in droves (see infographic, page 24), and have been adding to their professional skills with programs from Model Arab League and Writing Craft Talks to Career Fridays. Now, the Honors College is developing three new programs to help students package their academic experiences and sell themselves to prospective employers. A program in policy debate, a minor in leadership studies, and the ePortfolio program offer a wide range of options for students looking to make connections between their various academic experiences.
Policy Debate Program
The Policy Debate Program will be housed in the Honors College but open to all undergraduates, operating on the same model as the Office of Undergraduate Research. Policy debate is conducted in two-person teams whose objective is to debate urgent and complex government policies, forcing students to become familiar with varied topics in philosophy, sociology, foreign affairs, economic policy, and domestic politics. National tournaments are challenging, 2-day contests, drawing students and teams from top universities like Northwestern and Emory, as well as regional competitors like the University of Texas and Rice University.
Policy debate is a natural fit for the Honors College, which encourages students to conduct independent research through programs like SURF and PURS. “Many of the activities central to policy debate—research, analysis, and discovery—are at the heart of opportunities we seek to make available to our students,” said Assistant Dean Christine LeVeaux-Haley, who headed the recent search for a program director. The program will complement the other minors offered through the Honors College as well as serve as a springboard for students who may want to explore a topic further by conducting a faculty-guided research project through the Office of Undergraduate Research.
The Honors College also believes the Policy Debate Program will serve as a recruiting tool to attract talented high school students to the University of Houston, such as those involved in the Houston Urban Debate League (HUDL) with which Honors is building a relationship. “These students are committed,” said HUDL president Ron Bankston. “They may spend hundreds of hours preparing for a single tournament, and they frequently look to continue debate at the college level.”
Preparing for tournaments is a considerable time-investment, equivalent to taking a three-hour class. Though students will not be required to enroll in a course in order to compete in tournaments, they have the option of earning credit for their work by taking classes with the newly appointed director of the program, Sarah Spring, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Iowa. Policy Debate and Persuasive Speech, an elective course in the planned Leadership Studies minor, will provide students this fall with an understanding of the theory and practice of debate and persuasion, as well as the useful art of public speaking.
The new Leadership Studies initiative will connect several key Honors College programs and offer students a substantive résumé enhancement. Leadership and communication skills learned through the program, which is open to students of all majors, will complement any field and any “next step” after college—from graduate or professional school to direct entry into the business or political world.
“The Honors College has always encouraged its students to give back and be active in a community, whether in Honors, the University, or beyond,” said Brenda Rhoden, creator of the program. “The Leadership Studies minor will encourage students not only to participate in organizations, but also to develop skills for leading them.” Students will build a solid foundation for practical leadership by studying past and contemporary leaders, discussing leadership theory, and gaining hands-on experience. Training programs designed to foster specific skills will augment classroom studies, as will the opportunities for leadership offered directly through the program via collaboration with community groups.
Still pending formal approval, the Leadership Studies minor would be available for students graduating in fall 2013 and thereafter. Starting this fall, students can register for three coursesthat will allow them to make progress toward the minor: the Leadership Studies flagship course, Leadership Theory and Practice; Policy Debate and Persuasive Speech (see above); and the ePortfolio course (see below). Leadership Theory and Practice, as its name implies, combines classroom study with field training. Taught by Rhoden, the course will delve into issues relevant to today’s leaders, such as power and ethics, teamwork, mentoring, and conflict resolution, as well as cultivate leadership qualities in each student through reflection and experience.
Taking elements from the successful Career Fridays series, Leadership Theory and Practice will include résumé-writing workshops and mock interviews as well as group projects and self-assessment. Rhoden explains that “groups are microcosms of working organizations, and through assessing how one interacts, communicates, and contributes within a group project, one can determine a personal style for interpersonal communication and leadership.”
Throughout the minor, students will be able to shape their choices—of classes, projects, and subjects—to a specific area of interest. The Leadership Studies minor will be tailor-made for each student and his or her personal goals.
Also launching this fall is the ePortfolio program, providing students with an interactive tool to showcase their career in Honors. The program’s objective is to offer a retrospective of a student’s time in Honors, and to provide students with a means of conveying who they are and where they are headed.
Karen Weber, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, explained, “I often work with undergraduates who have done so many remarkable things, such as choosing to double major, conduct research, study abroad, or start an organization. It can be challenging for these students to step back and say WHY did I choose this challenging academic track, or decide to lead this organization. The ePortfolio program is intended to provide students with both the theory and the mechanics to connect the dots of their education.”
Beginning in fall 2012, students in the Honors College will have an ePortfolio shell, or folder, in their online Blackboard account. Students will store and upload their reflections and work to the shell, which will contain folders for course work, research, leadership, publications and presentations, etc. The shell, which will only be seen by the student, will remain in the student’s account until he or she graduates. Honors faculty and advisors will meet with students throughout their Honors careers about the progress they are making on their ePortfolios and suggest class assignments they may wish to save to their ePortfolio Blackboard accounts.
During senior year, students will be encouraged to enroll in the one-hour ePortfolio course. The course will guide students through the folio process and provide them with the knowledge and tools to transition the archived materials stored in Blackboard into a public face that can be shared with recommendation letter writers, potential employers, and graduate and professional school selection committees.
LeVeaux-Haley and Weber offered a preview of the program to a group of graduating seniors and continuing Honors students on May 4th. The workshop was intended for those students who would not have an opportunity to participate in the program in the fall, and for others who simply chose to get started in developing their portfolios over the summer.
Erica Fauser (’12, History and Political Science), who attended the session, shared, “As a graduating senior I knew that I would not have the opportunity to take the ePortfolio class, but I saw this workshop as a way to help organize my undergraduate accomplishments into a résumé with a distinct purpose, as well as a way to develop a strong personal statement for my law school applications. Regardless of the major or career path a student chooses, I believe that a course like this is vital to gaining a competitive edge and being more marketable to potential employers and school admissions committees.”