The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth
Volume 21, No.1, Winter 2004

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A new Program Takes Flight at UMD


On a warm Friday afternoon in November most UMD students would be relaxing after a week of classes. Instead, five honors students chose to go on a guided hike in the Bagley Nature Area, 55 acres of forest and trails on the northwest part of campus. These five students —Margaret Perko, Sheena Stueber, Topher McCulloch, Kristin Zinsmaster and Robert Shipp — are among a group of 29 enrolled in the UMD honors program. The program, which began this fall, allows a selected group of students to take part in honors classes, activities, and specialized on-campus living arrangements.

As the group moved through the park, their camaraderie was apparent. “What’s wrong with this tree?” Stueber asked the first question, gesturing to a huge growth on the side of a tree along the trail. “How fast can a maple tree produce syrup?” asked Shipp. Questions, answers, and more discussion continued nonstop throughout the two-hour hike. Topics ranged from Duluth history, trout stream habitat and tree species to nature, and recreation.

“It’s amazing that we were able to recruit such a dynamic class in our first year,” said Anna Marie Roos, assistant professor of History and acting director of the UMD Honors Program. “We’re nascent! We don’t even have an Honors Scholarship to offer yet.”

What UMD does offer is specially designed seminar courses, high-powered mentoring, and the ability to use honors courses to meet liberal education requirements. The offerings were enough incentive to draw students with high ACT scores, high class rank and high overall GPAs to UMD. Some of the students graduated first or second in their high school class and therefore received a UMD Best of Class Scholarship which comes with 50 percent of their tuition paid.

In fall of 2003, UMD only offered two honors courses, but as each year brings a new group and students move into upper classes, UMD will add options. UMD expects a lot from the honors courses. They need to meet a liberal education requirement, be offered in a seminar format, and stretch students intellectually. Student-centered learning is emphasized, and a high degree of interaction between faculty and students is a priority. As students progress, they will also be expected to work on undergraduate research projects for presentation at UMD’s Undergraduate Research Fair, the National Conference for Undergraduate Research, and/or the National Collegiate Honors Council. In spring 2004 the two honors classes are Natural Disasters offered by Associate Professor John Goodge in Geology, and Global Issues offered by Professor Dennis Falk in Social Work.

John Colombo, a College of Science and Engineering honor student from St. Cloud, Minnesota said, “We know that the program is still in its infancy. Part of it is up to the students to make it something of value.”

Colombo is taking one of the two honors composition classes, Cyber Theory and Practice, taught by Jo Mackiewicz, assistant professor of composition. Colombo said, “I’m pretty impressed with Professor Mackiewicz. She’s easy to relate to, and she has a lot more energy than other teachers I’ve had.” Roos agrees. “Jo Mackiewicz teaches her passion, and that’s what we want from all our teachers.”

Cyber Theory and Practice, with only ten students enrolled, is a class that Colombo probably wouldn’t have been exposed to, if not for the honors program. “The class is applicable to the real world and it helps me to articulate the way I feel about my life and technology,” Columbo said. “With the small class size there is more interaction and that facilitates ideas and class discussion.”

Sheena Stueber, an honors student from New Ulm, is in the Labovitz School of Business and Economics. She took the other Fall 2003 offering, Rhetoric of Pop Culture, taught by Kate Maurer, assistant professor of composition. Stueber said, “When I arrive at the Pop Culture class, everyone is chatting, catching up. Everyone knows each other and we are comfortable with each other, even Kate, the teacher.” The pre-class discussion naturally leads into the pop-culture topic of the day: icons, gender roles, body and self, sports, music, and television.

“The class gets personal, we all share, even Kate... it’s a different class than a lecture because we are really getting to know our professor,” Stueber said.

Colombo is one of the students living in an honors wing of Griggs Hall. Through activities and classes, students are encouraged to interact with each other. Roos, whose previous experience includes a position as the Assistant Director of Honors at Salisbury University, knows that rapport between students is a key ingredient for success and it’s something that faculty and administrators can’t control.

Earlier this fall they attended UMD’s production of Guys and Dolls as a group. “I was sitting next to Vice Chancellor Vince Magnuson, who is a great supporter of the program, and I noticed a card passing between the students and I was kind of curious to know what it was,” said Roos. “After the play they presented the card to their fellow student, who was in the play. It was at the moment I saw the card being passed around I knew this program was going to be a success.”

— Samara Mackereth and Cheryl Reitan

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