Alumni Post: Unique and Profitable Opportunities

I love science. Whether I’m riding my bike, sweating through a Detroit Lion’s third quarter or enjoying a Detroit Lion’s fourth quarter, I’m probably thinking about science. I’m the type of person that can enjoy watching paint dry because I’d argue it was never wet, to begin with. I can enjoy talking about the nature of tape because it manages to be sticky despite the fact that there is no “sticky force” found in any physics textbook I’ve ever read. What do these anecdotes tell you about me? I like to observe the world not only for its beautiful phenomena but also for the circumstances under which its phenomena are enabled.

With this in mind, I’ve been reflecting on the good fortune that’s come my way over the last few months in the form of graduate school admissions decisions. I’ve been wondering what the circumstances must have been that enabled my current path forward. It can’t be that I had a good GPA because GPA alone does not a valuable scientist make. It can’t be that I’ve worked hard because hard work alone does not ensure that the energy was spent in the proper direction. It’s not that my parents told me I could achieve my dreams and thus enabled my actions toward doing so because support alone is not enough. It can’t be that I’m just smart because I’ve just told you that I’d argue about whether or not paint can be wet.

However, it seems to be some combination of these things that enabled my dreams to become my real future. While I don’t currently have a curve or an equation that describes the circumstances under which somebody can experience positive admissions decisions, I can rest assured that every opportunity in the world was available to me at GVSU. This hasn’t always been my perspective, but as I’ve traveled to numerous institutions and met with faculty and students, I’ve realized how fortunate I was to have GVSU’s resources at my fingertips while the other applicants did not. Not every applicant had mentors who cared as deeply about the wellbeing of their students as they cared about the progress of their students’ projects. Not every applicant had the hands-on experience that is offered at primarily undergraduate institutions. Not every applicant had professors who were so invested in their students that they offered review sessions on Easter Sunday. Not every applicant was able to live in the building where they’d later meet their professors for office hours. Not every applicant was able to be a resident assistant for 2 years, to work in multiple labs, to speak at national conferences, and to experience life as the business head of a startup.

In only three and a half years, GVSU Honors offered me all of these experiences and many, many more.

Anyway, I’ve only recently appreciated the unique and profitable circumstances that exist in Allendale, MI. I was fortunate to attend GVSU, enroll in Honors and benefit from a program whose circumstances (people, support, environment, etc.) enable incredible possibilities for its members. I can only hope that I might have contributed to that environment in some way.

Usually, when I picture somebody staring through a window, I hope that they wonder to themselves why the window is transparent while the wall is opaque. However, I hope that you, while staring through your window and admiring this fine spring day, wonder to yourself what the circumstances must have been to enable your future. Similarly, I hope that you take advantage of the opportunity to contribute to the circumstances that will enable somebody else’s future as well.

 

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Joel Francis is a recent alumnus of Grand Valley State University (’16), where he studied Cell & Molecular Biology and Chemistry. During his time at GVSU, he worked in multiple labs and served as a Resident Assistant in the Honors College. He was born and raised in metro Detroit before moving to Grand Rapids. Joel is an avid Detroit Tigers fan, a cautious Detroit Lions fan, and also enjoys woodworking in his spare time. He will enroll at Stanford University in the Fall to begin working on his Ph.D. in Cell & Molecular Biology.

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Outstanding Senior of the Year Post: Honors & Opportunities

Gloria LaCourse is the Meijer Honors College Outstanding Senior of the Year. In this blog post she reflects on the Honors College, GVSU, and the opportunities they provided for her.

Entering the Honors College orientation in 2013 was terrifying and exciting at the same time. Gathered with hundreds of the brightest students at Grand Valley, I was unsure where I would fit in or if I would ever find my place amongst the brilliant minds surrounding me. College can be a scary place, but the faculty, curriculum, and atmosphere of the Frederik Meijer Honors College provided the warmest of welcomes and the brightest of futures.

Looking back at my past four years here at Grand Valley, it’s hard to believe how far I have come. When I entered, I feared the unknown, and unwilling to venture into uncharted territory. Now I am graduating this April with many experiences that I’d never imagined possible.

The Honors College heavily promotes studying abroad, promoting students to gain a global perspective of the world. One of my favorite experiences was my trip to Rome to present my Honors Senior Project. I had the opportunity to stand alongside the Director of the School of Accounting as I presented my project titled Family Owned Businesses: International Charitable Contributions & Tax Savings. Not only did I gather a vast array of knowledge from my Senior Project, but I was able to immerse myself in a diverse culture where I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I also studied abroad in London, allowing me to further develop a global mindset in an increasingly diverse America.

My study abroad opportunities were life changing, but my greatest experiences at Grand Valley occurred within my Honors courses. I had the privilege of taking Professor Benjamin’s Big History course during my freshman year. Professor Benjamin instilled in me a passion for learning that surpassed anything I thought possible, developing our discussion-based class into a big family in the process.

In addition to Big History, my science courses weren’t simply classes where I memorized cell structures or the human anatomy. My journey throughout college has focused on real issues throughout the world, not just the details of the basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. We weren’t encouraged to compete, but instead we focused on collaboration. Every other Honors course I have taken has had a similar effect, encouraging us students to genuinely listen to and understand each person’s way of thinking to inspire intellectual conversation and deep learning.

Throughout my four years at Grand Valley State University and the Frederik Meijer Honors College, I have been able to develop an inquisitive mind and deep values that influence every aspect of my life. In addition to finding my new beginning and future here, I found a voice for myself that may not have been possible anywhere else. Although I am leaving in only a few weeks, the Frederik Meijer Honors College is my home.

image1 (1)Gloria LaCourse is a senior honors student set to graduate in April of 2017 with her Bachelors in Business Administration. She was given the 2017 Frederik Meijer Honors College Outstanding Senior Award and is attending Ohio State University next year to obtain her Masters in Accounting. Gloria’s passions include reading, taxes, and her puppy Blue-Ivy!

Student Post: Exciting Opportunities Await You

The most exciting moments of my education have been those that I never saw coming. When I went to the National Collegiate Honors Council annual conference last November, I had no idea what I was getting into. While I had just wanted to go to an academic conference for the heck of it, I did not know the family I would find at NCHC. Among students, faculty, and scholars from all over the country, I was suddenly thrown into a whirlwind of passionate people unlike anything I had ever felt before. At the 2015 conference, I was lucky enough to connect with other writers from Nebraska, North Carolina, Maryland, and everywhere in between. We formed an instantaneous community.

More than that, these practical strangers were able to inspire and challenge me. Tiffany, a biology student from NC, impressed upon me the veritable adventure she had experienced through Partners in the Parks, a program through the National Parks. Her enthusiasm spread, contagious as wildfire. By opening herself and her stories up to me, Tiffany lent me some of her own curiosity, causing me to go to Hawai’i with PITP last summer.

The two weeks I spent there were educational in the realest sense. I was exposed to ways of thinking that I hadn’t previously encountered. Through hiking volcanoes and engaging with the Parks’ staff, I was fortunate enough to glean a knowledge of both Hawai’ian culture and geology, as well as how the two coincide. This further fueled my deep devotion to interdisciplinary knowledge. Seeing how the Hawai’ian people viewed the island as a place of life and spiritual importance gave me a better and broader understanding of the environment as a whole; it made me love it even more.

I loved that honors had empowered me to do this and that NCHC was a place for people to be both academically and personally challenged. To me, this represented exactly what traditional education often missed: the real passion of learning and sharing the knowledge one learns. This led me into my next involvement with NCHC in a more academic and professional setting.

Inspired by Tiffany to run for the Board of Directors, I took an immense leap of faith and did so. Surprisingly, I won. At my first Board meeting this past February, I was surprised by how incredibly quirky and passionate everyone else on the board was. I would be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated bunch of people anywhere else, and Honors has allowed me to do all of this: to serve as a student member on the Board of Directors of a non-profit, to clamber up and over a volcanic crater in Hawai’i, and to make friendships I fully expect to last a lifetime. Honors is incredible in this way.

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Annie Livingston is in her third year here at GVSU, where she studies English, Writing & Spanish, which somehow translates to studying how to make every class about poetry. Annie believes in radical softness and belief itself. She hopes to dedicate her life to words in as many ways as possible, and has previously been published in Brainchild (2016 & ’17) and Voices (2016).

Student Post: It’s Never Too Early

Grand Valley promotes studying abroad tremendously. There are fairs, thousands of pamphlets, presentations in most classes, and tons of students in Kirkhof desperately trying to get your attention.  When I first arrived at Grand Valley, I had the preconceived notion that studying abroad was only something I could do as an upperclassman. Those amazing trips were just for seniors, for people who had their lives (and senior projects) figured out, for people who were ready to leave their families and friends for three months. However, at the beginning of winter semester in my freshman year, I began to think about what I was going to do with my summer. I didn’t enjoy being home like most first-year students, and I needed to do something to better myself—but I was a freshman. The semester before, I had taken a Live.Learn.Lead class in FMHC that focused on owning your education. I reflected on this class and realized that the number of credit hours I had did not affect how mature I was, or how well I could understand life in another country. While I had this empowering feeling, I applied to the Honors Service Learning trip in Ghana, Africa. I still hadn’t completely convinced myself that I could travel across the world and live in a third world country for the summer, but what harm could be done by applying?

I didn’t even tell my family when the acceptance emails arrived, and I went to the first meeting still unsure of how I felt about the trip. However, after hearing the excitement from the other accepted students and listening to heartwarming stories from the professor, I knew it was exactly what I needed. I would have the opportunity to volunteer in hospitals, clinics, and schools, to understand life from a completely different viewpoint, and to make forever friends who would experience every moment with me—which is exactly what I did.

I left for Ghana on June 9th, ready to spend the next seven weeks learning all that I could and soaking up every part of the most exciting journey I’d ever been on. We stayed with a Ghanaian family in a hostel, which quickly became home. On the second day of volunteering in the hospitals, I had already seen more than I ever could while shadowing a doctor in the United States. With every minute, I was further understanding the meaning of ‘third world country’ and developing a deeper gratitude for the life I was given.

After returning, I was at a loss for words to explain what I had learned and how I felt. I had the time of my life. I was completely humbled by the happiness and love I found in each person I met, as well as the beaches, landscapes, and animals I saw. This wasn’t, and still isn’t, something that can be put into words. It is something that MUST be experienced.

Reflecting on the day I applied to go to Ghana, I can’t believe that I ever thought I had to be an upperclassman to study abroad. In my opinion, going as a freshman benefitted me more than if I had been a senior. For starters, I didn’t have any plans for the summer after my freshman year. I didn’t have an internship or an amazing job at a hospital or a school, and none of my friends were getting married or having babies. I wasn’t missing anything. Furthermore, this experience will help me, not only with applying to medical school but with the rest of my college career. Being able to see the ins and outs of medical care up close solidified that the degree I am working toward is exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life. Also, having experience abroad shadowing doctors and working in hospitals and clinics gives me a better chance to do the same things here. I now have a better understanding of the world and of life, which I can use in each of my other classes. I can relate almost anything to my experience in Ghana. Finally, studying abroad my freshman year gave me the courage to take control of my education and ensure that I am getting exactly what I want out of my college experience—and it gave me time to study abroad again.

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Lauren Robb is a sophomore in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at GVSU, majoring in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Applied Statistics. She enjoys playing intramural sports, being outside, and hanging out with friends. Lauren loves learning about medicine and health care through her job as a scribe as well as her volunteer work. Her one piece of advice for all GVSU students is to study abroad at least once, no matter how long it’s for!

Skip the Advising and do it the Hard Way: 5 Reasons Not to See Your Advisor

Advising is a hassle and no one likes it. Here are five reasons why you shouldn’t bother meeting with an advisor:

  1. Meg and Kelly, the new Honors Advisors are really boring people and some would consider them downright mean. They are closed-minded, unsympathetic, and not even helpful. They won’t help you brainstorm, share their experiences, or offer support if you’re going through a difficult time.
  2. Meg and Kelly have never been abroad, especially not to places like El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, England, Thailand, Ghana, or Costa Rica. They will certainly not encourage you to travel either—forget helping you or referring you to places where you could get funding to travel. They don’t care about any of that!
  3. Why get a thumbs up before graduation? How about you show up to commencement and risk your name not being called because you missed something. It’s worth risking another semester at GVSU just to save a few minutes now!
  4. Meg and Kelly are not at all connected across campus. If you are interested in research, job opportunities, and more, they won’t know where to send you. Plus, that’s not their job!
  5. Meg and Kelly are notoriously unavailable. They don’t respond to emails, don’t have openings on their calendars, and never hold open advising sessions. They twiddle their thumbs, come in late and leave early, and basically spend their time on Facebook and Instagram, keeping their office doors closed and avoiding contact with students.

Actually…..In case you couldn’t tell, Meg and Kelly have a good sense of humor and are both excited about being advisors within the Honors College. Combined, they have spent over 20 years working in the fields of higher education, non-profit, international development, k-12 education, and community engagement.  They will both be teaching a section of Live.Learn.Lead in the fall semester and they look forward to meeting you.  Stop by the office or call to schedule an appointment or pop in for open advising sessions that are publicized in the weekly FMHC announcements.

Student Post: Conferences, Presenting as an Undergrad

When you hear the word “conference,” it can sound big and scary. They’re not only reserved for graduate students and scientists, though. I have been fortunate enough to present at a conference twice now in my undergraduate career, and hope to present at more before I graduate. I am a part of the GVSU Honors Mentor Council, where we plan the welcome days for Honors first-year students. I was a mentee as a freshman, became a mentor as a sophomore and was accepted onto the mentor council for the second semester of my sophomore year.

At the very beginning of my sophomore year, I received an email asking if anyone would like to attend the National Mentoring Symposium in Indianapolis. Shortly after, I found out that I was going to help present at the conference, and I hadn’t even started my own role as a mentor yet. I thought going to the conference would be fun, but presenting would be not only be a great thing to put on my resume, but also a great experience to better my presenting skills.

I’m not one to willingly speak in front of large groups of people. I always stumble over my words, and speak too quickly when I get nervous. No matter how much I practice, there is no saving myself. Needless to say, I was terrified before I attended my first conference. I was working with Erin Koren and Glenn Miller, two members of the mentor council at the time. Luckily, they already had the proposal submitted and approved, and even had a general outline of what they wanted to present. They were nice enough to let me choose what part I wanted to present, and helped me feel more confident in myself. We practiced the presentation a few times so we knew we would fill the full hour slot, and if I got nervous and spoke fast, Glenn was prepared to ramble during his sections to make up for my lost time. Without these two wonderful people, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to go through with it.

Once we got to the conference, all of the nerves set in. The first room that we started in to eat breakfast and listen to the key note speaker held close to 500 people. Luckily, when we presented during our concurrent session, we only spoke to maybe 30 people at the most. They all seemed to love our presentation, and were very active in participating, which made everything a lot more comfortable. Comfortable enough that when given the opportunity to present a second time, I jumped at the chance! This past fall, I was asked to present a second time at the same symposium. This time, I took more of a leading role when submitting the proposal and abstract, and Emma Hahs and Darby Naheedy helped me present. We all had such a great time this fall and I think we all learned a lot.

If I had any advice to give to anyone considering presenting at something similar to the National Mentoring Symposium, it would be to take the opportunity in a heartbeat. I never would have thought that something like this would ever affect me as much as it did. My first conference made me realize that I wanted to be a part of the mentor council and make some changes based on what I learned at the conference. I also learned that I am capable of accomplishing things that I am absolutely terrified of. I learned a lot about myself, and about mentoring through both of these conferences, and I plan to take any conference opportunity that comes my way.

 

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Kate Langmeyer is a third year honors student studying wildlife biology and nonprofit administration. She was born and raised on the east side of Michigan before moving out to Allendale to attend Grand Valley State University. She is a part of the Honors Mentor Council, as well as on e-board for the GVSU belly dancing club. During her free time, she can be found reading quietly or watching documentaries. She hopes to one day work in marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation. 

Student Post: Why Honors?

As student assistants in the Honors Office, my coworkers and I experience a different side of the college than most, through seeing the many facets of the people who make up Honors. I have worked as a student assistant at the Honors College Office for a little over a year now, and the experience has undoubtedly made me a more confident and competent person.

We regularly get calls from parents and high school students asking us “Why Honors?” This is a question that, when I started working as a freshman, was difficult to answer. Now, when parents need reassurance that Honors is a good place for their child, I can speak from experience.

Honors offers a caring environment of support and opportunity that changes how students think about the learning process and the college experience. Here are some phrases that, as students get more comfortable in Honors, we start to hear much less:

  1. “I don’t know how to do that.” As Honors students, we have resources beyond what I ever would have imagined. This starts with the people who shape Honors – faculty, advisors, Dr. J, and Robyn – who daily bend over backward for students. They give students the tools needed to learn new skills and have eye-opening experiences. There is so much support given to students by people behind the scenes. Honors students replace the words “I don’t know how” with “I’ll learn how.” This change in approach makes all the difference, setting Honors students apart as leaders in their own education and success.
  2. “That professor doesn’t have time for me.” My freshman year, I was intimidated by professors. They are professional, intelligent, and busy! I needed to work out an issue and advocate for our class, but I was terrified of what would happen if I offended a professor, or even took up too much of their time. My experience in Honors, working with and for the professors, has shown me a different side of them. In the classroom, the professors are all business, but I have the privilege to see their humor, successes, and frustrations. (We also get to meet their kids, who are absolutely adorable!) I see professors in the Honors office who want nothing more than to support their students, taking the time to learn names, backstories, and dreams. It really is inspiring to see an entire college that takes such an intentionally student-centered approach to education.
  3. “I don’t have time for that.” Honors students take on a lot. Some might think we commit to too much! But I have seen students with such drive, passion, and commitment to their work that inspire me to do more. There are students researching cures for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, mentoring the incoming classes, and volunteering in Ghana, Haiti, Nicaragua, and more. They are starting businesses, innovating, and creating the products and ideas of the future. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Honors does: inspiring students to take the time to make a difference.
  4. “I’m not confident enough” Many people find that seeing their own success builds their confidence. If you don’t give the opportunity a shot, how can you ever succeed? The frankly terrifying experiences of preparing for the Honors Recognition Ceremony, keeping track of the information for almost 500 incoming freshmen, and even participating as a full-fledged member of the committee to hire the new Honors advisors helped me build my own confidence. One Honors professor told my freshman class, “…just say yes.” This is so important! When an opportunity arises, just say yes. I see so many Honors students “say yes” every day to the multitudes of opportunities offered to them, and their successes keep building.

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Julia is a sophomore at GVSU studying nursing.  She works as a student assistant in the Honors College office and enjoys helping faculty, staff, and students. In her free time she enjoys fitness classes and copious amounts of coffee with friends. Julia is looking forward to working in Honors this summer and two more years at Grand Valley!