Student Post: Designing the Future of Honors

This semester, the Design Thinking junior seminar was tasked with the challenge of making Grand Valley’s Honors College more distinctive. On the first day of class, we were split into three teams of six or seven students. Our professor, Professor Chamberlain, did this by looking at students’ majors, attempting to create teams of diverse thought.

To foster a productive environment, each team created a team charter which outlined the expectations of individual team members and the team as a whole. Next, we completed a design brief. Through this, our team’s problem statement was established. Each team chose an area of focus that they felt was extremely important.

For example, team Uncharted chose to focus on marketing aspects of the Honors College and creating a brand. Team PSI focused on the curriculum and improvements that can be made in order to make it accessible and applicable to all majors at Grand Valley. Our team, the Creativity Crew, wanted to shine a light on the lack of diversity in the Honors College.

At our first meeting, our team realized that we were a group of diverse students, which is hard to find in the Honors College. Not only were we racially diverse, but we were interested in and involved in numerous academic areas and student organizations.

The design thinking process, which emphasizes empathy with the end user, began with primary research. In total, we interviewed twenty-four of our stakeholders, people we felt were invested in our challenge.

Additionally, we completed secondary research, in the form of fifteen research bibliographies. Through our research, we discovered our top five need statements. In turn, these led us to our top five prototypes, our top two innovations, and finally, our decision to focus on the implementation of a service learning trip with a target of creating dialogue with a focus on diversity. We presented our final prototype at our innovation symposium, with the goal of receiving support from our stakeholders.

Speaking for our entire class, this semester was full of ups and downs. While challenging at times, we gained confidence in our ideas and our ability to implement these ideas. This course changed the Creativity Crew’s perspective on what a team is, but also redefined what it means to be a member of a team. Now, we are learning to embrace the unknown because it is full of potential possibilities waiting to be understood and innovated with.

(The Creativity Crew, from left to right: Taylor, Pierce, Lynn, Marisa, Alexis, and Darius.)

Lynn Doherty is an International Relations major, with minors in Business and Spanish.

Marisa Kahnt is a Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Leadership, minors in Human Rights and Psychology.


Finals as Told by Louie the Laker

1. When you realize how much you have to do in so little time.

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2. And you start reviewing but you realize you don’t actually remember anything from the first month of classes.

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3. In order to get through the week, you reward yourself for everything. Like writing your name at the top of your paper.

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4. You find yourself having to make the decision between eating, showering and sleeping. And you choose sleep every time.

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5. When your friend brings you coffee and you are sure you have never felt so much love for someone before.

love you
Grand Valley State University / via giphy

6. Then your love for your friend, excessive caffeine, lack of sleep and stress kick in and make you super emotional.

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7. Despite setting 10 alarms, you still wake up late and have to run to your exam.

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8. When you read the first question and you know the answer.

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9. And then you go on to the next one and have no clue what it’s talking about.

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10. Turning in your exam and saying goodbye to your professor.

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11. Walking out of your last exam, defeated by the week.

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12. But then you remember that you get to go home and hug your dog.

Grand Valley State University / via giphy


Student Post: Life as a Resident Assistant

Niemeyer Living Center. Two wings, six floors, 9 Resident Assistants and 456 Honors students.

Being a Resident Assistant, specifically in Niemeyer Living Center, has been one of the single most rewarding experiences of my college career thus far. Becoming an RA means so many things, and it becomes a huge part of your life. Something that stuck with me from beginning-of-the-year training is that you are a person first, student second, and RA third. This goes to show just how big of a role it truly is, and a great one!

As a Resident Assistant, you are one of students most important (and accessible) campus resources. Not only are you a walking, talking campus directory, but you are there to look out for the safety and well-being of your residents. On an even grander scale, you hopefully help to foster a campus environment that is happy and healthy where everyone can feel comfortable and supported.

As an RA you are there for your residents through both the think and the thin. There’s school stress, roommate conflicts, homesickness and late-night fire alarms. But there’s also the school success, the development of friendships, and super fun programs and campus-wide events like Transitions and Laker Traditions. As an RA, you bring work home with you, as work is your home; but I love that I am constantly in a place that keeps me busy doing something that I love, supporting and interacting with others. While doing so, I am able to connect and develop friendships with my residents. Being a RA in Honors-specific housing means that I supervise and am surrounded by some of campus’s brightest and most successful students.  My residents are always striving to be the best that they can be, which is admirable and inspiring.

Other reasons to become an RA?

You go through extensive professional development and training, get all the perks of living on campus (better grades, more involvement, the gym, the library) and you make so many new friends and connections (there are over 115 RAs on campus – and then there’s the housing staff). It is great work experience that will bring out the best in you if you let it.

How does one become an RA?

RA applications for the 2018-2019 are open now!

Learn more about the position and apply here. Just be sure do so before the deadline – Wednesday, December 20th.

Become a Resident Assistant and “LEAD LIKE A LAKER”!


Ted Tabor is a junior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Biology. He hopes to move onto graduate school and earn a M.S. in Genetic Counseling. In addition to being an RA for the Niemeyer Living Center, Ted also works as a Student Assistant for the Honors College. He enjoys exercise, travel, coffee and adventure. 


Student Post: Honorable Transfer

Winter is fast approaching, and with it, memories of the time when I first arrived at Grand Valley State University. For most freshmen, the winter 2016 semester would be their second semester, but I’ve always liked to differentiate myself from others. This would be my first semester at any university. It is common to feel slightly anxious on such an occasion, and I was no different; I was in a foreign country, with no prior experience within higher education. I did not know what to expect in terms of the classes I would be taking (I thought 17 credit hours seemed like a reasonable course load), and I would be living with someone whom I had never met. Also, the grocery line at Meijer was atrocious.

Thankfully, things went well. I could not have asked for a better roommate, and I somehow managed to emerge relatively unscathed from my classes. Some aspects of American culture were still confusing to me (it’s an ongoing process), but I was no longer concerned about whether I belonged at Grand Valley.

A great deal of the credit for the alleviation of my fears goes to the faculty, who were willing to go beyond what was expected of them in order to ensure that their students thrived. I was first made aware of the Honors College by one of these faculty members, namely Professor Coeli Fitzpatrick. I had taken MES 201 with Professor Fitzpatrick, a class I thoroughly enjoyed, and recommend to anyone wishing to learn more about an oft-misunderstood region. Her office is located in the Honors College, and due to the absence of any comparable institutions in Norway, I lacked a frame of reference with which to understand the significance of an Honors College. Once I realized what membership in the Frederick Meijer Honors College entailed, it was clear that this was something worth inquiring about.

I sent in a few questions, and was pleasantly surprised by the response; the then-Director of the Honors College, Dr. Jeffrey Chamberlain, wrote back. He answered my questions with the utmost consideration, and was instrumental in my decision to submit an application. I was informed that I was an internal transfer student; that is to say, a student who is already attending GVSU. Due to this, my first-semester grades were emphasized more than my (lacklustre) high school grades. Dr. Chamberlain has since become the Dean of the Hicks Honors College at the University of North Florida, but I was astonished that someone of his stature would involve himself in my application process.

I was admitted into the Honors College for the fall semester of 2016, and entered into the year-long Foundational Interdisciplinary Sequences. There were a great deal of fascinating courses to choose from, but I eventually opted for The Middle East Beyond the Headlines (taught by the aforementioned Professor Fitzpatrick and Professor Majd Al-Mallah). Additionally, I enrolled in various classes which were exclusive to members of the Honors College; one of the many benefits associated with membership.

As a result of becoming a part of the Honors College, I was able to establish and nurture relationships with faculty which have sustained my academic aspirations thus far. I consider a number of these professors as my mentors—whether they feel similarly is debatable. Without the guidance of these individuals I would not have the opportunities which I possess today. My advice to students, Honors and non-Honors alike is to not neglect the greatest resource any university has to offer: its faculty and staff.


Jorgen Reberg is currently a sophomore at Grand Valley State University. And although Jorgen’s major is Psychology, his main interests lie with his minors; Middle East Studies and Human Rights. Having spent most of his life in Norway, he arrived in the United States in 2014. Since then, he has been involved in the long and arduous journey to acquire a Green Card. Jorgen is currently an RA in South Apartments, and has yet to be ousted by his residents.

10 Reasons to be Thankful for GVSU

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and before all of us drive home and put on our comfy pants to eat more than we can even imagine, we should reflect on all of the things to be thankful for about at GVSU.

  1. Having 23 LEED certified buildings on campus. These buildings are evaluated by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate their environmental performance and receive more points through their environmental-friendly actions. So before you leave for break, remember to turn the lights off!
  2. Studying abroad is a key component to life at GVSU with more than 90 GVSU led programs. Have a specific place in mind? Don’t fear, there are hundreds of programs led by other universities that are compatible to GVSU.
  3. There are 13,000+ pieces of artwork on GVSU’s campuses that help to make our University feel more at home. Interested in seeing more pieces? Check out the GVSU mobile app that showcases each of the hand-picked pieces that fill our classrooms, living centers and community spaces.
  4. Get involved on campus by joining one of our 400+ student organizations. If there isn’t one that suits you, grab two friends and an advisor and create your own.
  5. GVSU is located next to the Grand River and the ravines, allowing students and faculty to get away and explore the wilderness. With over 15 miles of trails, you’re sure to find a beautiful view.
  6. With an average class size of only 26 students, faculty relationships are bound to be built. This allows opportunities for letters of recommendation, research, and internships.
  7. Over 111,000 alumni are Lakers for a Lifetime, investing back into university growth. The university as a whole continues to grow, with buildings unveiled each year.
  8. Grand Valley’s two campuses, Allendale and Pew, allow a big city environment with a small school feel. In 20 minutes you can make it to the lakeshore or to downtown Grand Rapids. An added bonus is all of the amazing entertainment, food and opportunities that Grand Rapids offers.
  9. With resources on campus like the Milton E. Ford LGBT Center, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity, and the Division of Inclusion and Equity, inclusivity is a key to life at Grand Valley. They encourage all students to be their authentic self and advocate for issues that empower human rights.
  10. Last but not least, the best part of GVSU is Louie the Laker and our incredible president, T. Haas. These public figures can be seen helping freshmen move-in, toasting the graduates, and taking selfies at football games.

Although you may be home for the holidays, don’t forget your home away from home and all of the ways that you can give back and get involved on campus. GVSU is thankful for you, too.


Student Post: All Ears on the Small Screen

As Honors students with lots of interests and pursuits, sometimes it’s difficult for us to set aside time for hobbies. Maybe it’s just me, but free time seems more and more like a fantasy world I’d love to visit! My class schedule isn’t crazy this semester. I’m taking ten credits here at GVSU, but I’m also working twenty-five hours a week as a professional hairstylist, and trying to be a good dad and husband. After I plop my book bag down at home, I’m often heading to the kitchen to cook dinner for my family. It’s a full schedule, but in my free time I focus on the hobbies I enjoy, one of which is songwriting. This year I’m working on a very special songwriting project – I’ve been hired to write, perform, and record the original music for a new show on PBS!

How did this happen? How did I just start writing the little ditties that will end up becoming the background music and the theme song for a TV show? I guess I’m still pinching myself.

Even though I grew up watching PBS as a kid in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I never dreamed I’d be making the music for one of those shows. It’s not that I don’t have experience. I’ve been playing in bands and writing original music for over twenty years. I began writing songs when I was fifteen – a bratty punk kid playing sloppy guitar while my little brother sang improvised lyrics in our tree house. A few years later, as a young college dropout, I started several bands in Grand Rapids, eventually booking gigs at places like Meijer Gardens, the Pyramid Scheme, and Founders Brewery. For the most part, though, I found it impossible to make money as a musician, and a few years ago I started putting my energy toward finishing my college degree instead of chasing music.

And that’s what I’ve done – I’ve focused on studying, catching the bus on time to make it to class, and keeping my GPA up. I have to admit, though, I was happily surprised when J Schwanke, a client of mine at the salon, pitched his idea to me while I was cutting his hair. He needed a boatload of original music for his new lifestyle TV show about flowers, and he wanted to know if I could write it for him. I jumped at the chance.

J is a flower expert, and has been fascinated by flowers his whole life. A fourth-generation florist, he’s fond of saying, “I was born at a flower show!” (And he actually was.) He travels nationally and internationally, working with florists, flower farmers, and floral product companies to promote a happier world filled with flowers. I’m just the guy who cuts his hair. But for a few hours every week this semester, I’ll be in the basement in my sweatpants, perfecting guitar riffs and rolling piano chords, trying to make background music that’s so happy and light, you won’t even notice it.

Keep an ear out next spring when you’re flipping through channels. “J Schwanke’s Life In Bloom” premieres on PBS across Michigan in May 2018. And if you’re a flower lover, contact your local station (WGVU!) and ask them to carry it. If the flowers don’t make you smile, the music will.



Ben Scott-Brandt is a songwriter and professional hairstylist in Grand Rapids. He’s also a Liberal Studies major, an Honors student, and an amateur mycology geek. Listen online at He is pictured (left) with J Schwanke, the creator of  “J Schwanke’s Life in Bloom.”

6 Things to Remember During the Last 6 Weeks

As we wind into the final weeks of the semester, tension grows as students become more stressed. Class projects that were assigned in the first week of classes are finally due, as well as papers, speeches and of course, final exams. As we wrap up the semester, take advantage of these 6 things in your last 6 weeks.

  1. Stress around finals becomes inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it should go unnoticed. Remember that the University Counseling Center is always available, even if you just want to go and talk out everything that you need to do. Students get 10 free sessions a year, so take advantage of them. Their website even has self-help tools that give tips and tricks to combat stress and help you relax.


  1. Assigned a speech and extremely nervous about it? Don’t worry, the Speech Lab specializes in speech delivery and is one of 16 communication centers with a nationally certified training program. A tip that many people don’t know is the speech lab goes beyond class assignments, but will also help with wedding toasts, sales pitches or award presentations!


  1. Although everyone is avoiding thinking it, this time of year is when the dreaded group presentations begin. The Knowledge Market specializes in presentations, helping to select topics, organize information efficiently and practice delivery.


  1. On top of helping with presentations, the Knowledge Market also specializes in research. Their research consultants work to gather peer-reviewed and scholarly articles, while helping to focus the topic and set you up for an awesome paper! Pair them with the writing consultants from the Writing Center, who brainstorm ideas, organize content and integrate research, and you’re sure to get an A. For your convenience, you can even work with a writing consultant from your own bed thanks to their online consultations.


  1. Although pushing final exams out of mind seems ideal, they’re right around the corner. Test taking skills are important to brush up on, and the Student Academic Success Center is here to help. They offer tutoring, academic coaching, academic skills resources and academic strategies. Need a quiet place to study or a room to study with others? Reserve a room at the library early to guarantee a whiteboard to study with.


  1. Although it can be extremely easy to forget to have fun, though getting out and about can be amazing for self-care. Starting on November 24, Rosa Parks Circle opens for ice skating at only $3.00 per adult, including skate rentals. While you’re downtown, check out the Grand Rapids Griffins, single tickets can be as low as $19, though many student orgs sell them at a discounted rate on campus. Grand Valley also has an event on Monday, December 4 with French Music for the Holiday season that you don’t want to miss.

Although there are only 6 weeks left until the end of fall semester, take advantage of campus resources and downtown Grand Rapids before heading home!