Honors Program challenges brightest students to shine even more

October 6 2006

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Greg Bierly (left), associate professor of geography and University Honors Program director, finds out about the classes honors students Andi Clifford of Hillsdale, senior athletic training major, and Kris Kraut of Terre Haute, senior English major, are taking. (Tony Campbell/ISU)
Blog entry 9-12-2006, from Segovia, Spain
"My name is April Philpott. I am from Switz City, which is a very small town in Southern Indiana. My town has around three hundred people living there, and isn't even big enough to have its own grocery store or bank. I am also a senior Honors student at Indiana State University. With one of my majors being in Spanish, studying in Spain will be a great opportunity for me, but I do have my worries about not being able to speak Spanish as well as I should."

Through a scholarship from the Indiana State University Honors Program, Philpott - an English education and cross-linguistics double major, emphasizing Latin and Spanish - is spending the fall 2006 semester in a Spanish immersion study abroad program in Segovia, Spain, just outside Madrid.

"I knew that I needed to study abroad for my language skills in order to speak fluently," Philpott said. "I'm a student who learns grammatically and on paper, but I don't actually learn the conversation skills very well in class. So I knew I needed to go abroad to do that."

While she is there, one of her assignments is to blog.

Philpott is one of seven students selected by AHA International, the nonprofit organization coordinating the education abroad, to write an on-line Web log, or blog, of her experiences throughout the semester.

Philpott was chosen through a competitive process which included an essay, phone interview and references. One student was selected for each of the countries where AHA offers study abroad, and she won the honor of being the Spain representative.

ISU's Richard J. Brett Scholarship for Study Abroad, which is helping to fund Philpott's semester in Spain, is an example of how high-achieving students are getting one-of-a-kind opportunities through the University Honors Program.

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Tapping into the Potential of Honors Students

Along with offering students a bright future, the Honors Program has a brilliantly lit road ahead of it, with a new director leading the way.

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Through a scholarship from the Indiana State University Honors Program, April Philpott, a senior English education and cross-linguistics double major, is studying in Segovia, Spain, this semester. She is pictured here at the Castillo de Coca in Coca, Spain. (Photo courtesy of April Philpott)
Greg Bierly, associate professor of geography and director of ISU's Climatology Laboratory, has accepted the additional position of University Honors Program director. He has plans to build upon the current program, expand opportunities for the university's best and brightest, and to entice new students to join.

"I want to appeal to students' own sense of self worth, accomplishment and motivation," Bierly said.

By offering "the very best education students can receive," classes that are "conducive to learning because of the size and composition" and a "hand-chosen" faculty, students will be stimulated and challenged in the Honors Program, he said.

One idea Bierly, also a graduate of Indiana State University, wants to implement in the program is more chances for honors students to meet with speakers and presenters in their fields of interest. Already, the University Speakers Series arranged for 20 honors students to have lunch and conversation with Jim Bittermann, CNN senior European correspondent, who was on campus this fall to present "The DaVinci Code and Other Mysteries of France."

Karen Schmid, associate vice president for academic affairs, said Bierly was chosen as the new director because he is well respected by faculty and administrators, and has outstanding ideas for the future of the Honors Program.

"Dr. Bierly is a dedicated teacher, a productive scholar and a campus leader," she said.

The Honors Program recently was awarded funding through the Lilly Endowment's Initiative to Recruit and Retain Intellectual Capital for Indiana Higher Education Institutions because it fits in with the implementation of ISU's "Fulfilling the Promise" strategic plan.

"The Honors program is an important investment because high-achieving students need to be challenged, to stretch, to use their abilities," Schmid said. "We plan to enhance opportunities for intercultural experiences, whether that's a field experience in Colorado or study abroad.

"We would like to expand leadership development activities, enhance honors housing, encourage undergraduate research, and increase the number of students applying for and receiving national scholarships."

Bierly said the Honors Program is geared to go beyond the traditional learning. "It's the field experience," he said. "It's the laboratory experience. It's actually getting to participate in research with a faculty member or create a piece of artistic work; travel to see the place, the buildings and the cultures that the students are learning about in the classroom."

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Students in instructor Marilyn Bisch's honors Latin 394 course - J.L. Stepp, Juanita Carothers, April Philpott and Will Bond - traveled to Rome, to apply what they learned in the classroom. (Photo courtesy of Marilyn Bisch)
Classes with Field Components: "City as Text" Learning

Marilyn Bisch, an instructor of Latin in the department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, uses a concept called "City as Text" with her honors students.

"The idea behind 'City as Text' is that you 'read a place,' so to speak," she said. "Through careful observation and then reflective writing about an experience in a place, coupled with information you can gain about a place from a book, you can develop a more in-depth understanding."

Bisch's Latin 394 honors class began last semester by looking at classically influenced architecture on campus and in the United States. The students learned how to pay attention to their surroundings and how people interact with their surroundings. The next assignment for the students, which included Philpott and three others, was in Rome, Italy.

"When we got to Rome, we were ready to not just make journal entries and write down what we saw, but to think about it and appreciate it more in-depth," Bisch said.

J.L. Stepp of Floyds Knobs, a junior mathematics education major and classical studies minor, researched the Pantheon as part of his Latin 394 assignment. With a love for classical studies, especially mythology, seeing and touching the Pantheon gave Stepp a personal encounter that he never could have experienced through a book.

"Going there and seeing that the Pantheon was still intact just wowed me," he said. "I stood in the archway, looking up, and I was like, 'I can?t believe I'm here.' It was just beyond belief."

A graduate herself of ISU's Honors Program, Bisch knows the impact she can make on her students by challenging their assumptions and offering them the world as a classroom.

"I know that the education I received here at ISU through classics and honors classes prepared me to go anywhere in the world," she said. "And I have."

As part of the "hand-chosen" Honors Program staff, as Bierly calls his faculty members, Bisch creates unforgettable moments in her students' education.

"Ms. Bisch is like a fountain of knowledge," Stepp said. "When we would go to the museums, she could see something and tell us almost anything about it, which was really cool, because if I went to the museum by myself, I would only know what it says on the plaque."

Another trip to Europe is planned for spring 2007. Honors students in the Literature and Visual Arts class, taught by Keri Berg, assistant professor of French, will be going to Paris, France.

Closer to home, field components offered as part of honors classes this semester include the World Mythologies class viewing the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago, and the Introduction to Performing Arts class attending a performance of "Don Giovanni" at the Indiana University Opera Theater.

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Opportunities for Undergraduate Research

Back in the States, the next assignment for the Latin 394 honors class was to bring together elements of their overseas experience in a scholarly way to present at a national conference and campus venues, such as the annual Latin Fest and Undergraduate Research Showcase.

The Triumphal Arches in Rome was the subject William Bond of Washington, a junior history major and classical studies and Latin minor, presented at the Undergraduate Research Showcase.

"I got a chance to showcase my research in front of five judges, and basically got my 15 minutes in the sun and have people listen to me," Bond said. "The Honors Program presented me with the class that allowed me to go over and do most of the legwork for the research and get the pictures I wanted."

Philpott and Stepp accompanied instructor Bisch to the Mid-East Honors Association (MEHA) Conference, which is part of the National Collegiate Honors Council, and presented Bond's research for him, as well as delivered several other presentations at the gathering.

"We talked about our trip to Rome and showed that any college that has an honors program can set up a trip, and how interesting and fun it is at the same time to go to the location that you're studying," Stepp said.

Bisch said the conference was a great place for the students to make their first national presentation.

"The MEHA conference is very student-centered," she said. "Most of the presentations are given by students. It's a superb opportunity for students to give professional presentations in a welcoming environment."

In addition to the MEHA conference, Philpott assisted Bisch with a presentation at the Indiana Classical Conference.

"For an undergraduate to have two conferences in one semester, making professional presentations, is something that comes to you through participating in the Honors Program," Bisch said.

As for Philpott's honors activities this semester, she's in Spain, finishing all her upper-level Spanish classes required for her major, practicing her Spanish on a daily basis, and having a fun time being immersed in another culture. And if you want to know more, you can read it on her blog.

April Philpott's blog is at: http://aha.waxwolf.com/Members/aphilpott.

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ISU Honors Program By the Numbers

-- Students Enrolled: 418
-- Honors Courses This Semester: 15
-- Students Enrolled In Honors Courses This Semester: 242
-- Student-To-Teacher Ratio: 16 to 1
-- Most Popular Major: Business and Pre-Medicine
-- Average GPA: 3.72

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Photos: Publication-quality, high-resolution photos are available here:

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AprilinSpain
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Contact: Dr. Greg Bierly, associate professor of geography and University Honors Program director, Indiana State University, g-bierly@indstate.edu, (812) 237-3226.

Writer: Megan Anderson, media relations intern, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or kspanuello@isugw.indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

Undergraduate research, study abroad, top-notch faculty and personal attention unlock students' potential in ISU's University Honors program, directed by Greg Bierly, associate professor of geography.

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