Honors College Monthly Newsletter: September 2020

A Message from Dean Newcomer

Welcome to our inaugural issue of the JMU Honors College Newsletter. We hope you enjoy its content and find the information useful. Our main reason for producing this newsletter is to keep all of our students, parents, and honors stakeholders informed of our activities this year. More than ever, increased communications through various channels needs to occur. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the newsletter items or want to follow-up with suggestions. We are here to listen and value everyone’s partnership with us as we continue our work to educate this next generation of change makers and leaders! And now, for some quick updates from the Dean’s Office:

Largest Incoming Freshman Honors College Class

At the time of writing this newsletter, we welcomed our largest class of ~312 incoming freshman to the Honors College with ~72% requesting to live in Shenandoah Hall this fall.

Hillcrest House Improvements

The Honors College has partnered with the University to provide additional outdoor seating capacity around the back of the Hillcrest House. We should have a new outdoor seating area in the back of Hillcrest House with 6 new Adirondack Chairs. We are also hoping to see new umbrella stands for the 3 picnic tables on Hillcrest’s back patio and the Annex patio. Finally, we are working with the JMU IT department to extend our WiFi coverage onto the Hillcrest Patios and outdoor seating areas. We look forward to seeing our students utilize this new space for meetings and studying between classes. We welcome students, who remained on campus, to use all our spaces including the new outdoor seating and look forward to students returning to campus to see these improvements.

Closing Remarks and Personal Reflections on The Start of this Semester

As I write my final segment for the newsletter, I would be remiss if I didn’t reflect on the recent news that most of JMU’s courses were shifting to an online format for the month of September. I want everyone to know how hard we all worked over the summer to implement plans to help keep everyone safe as we began the fall semester. Personally, my class entitled “Science and Technology for Future Presidents” underwent multiple revisions over the summer to account for our new reality of in-class teaching requirements during this pandemic. New in-class pedagogies. New technology utilization. New complexities of juggling both in-class and fully online students in the same course at the same time. We were on a roll with our face-to-face class format just to have it switched abruptly to a fully-online format for the month of September. I think I can speak for my class in that we were all extremely sad to see this switch for the month of September. I’m sure my class is not the only one to feel emotionally and educationally strained. I assure you that we will make the best of this situation and continue to learn as a group. We will continue to be active and engaged learners through this challenge. I hope that in our next newsletter I will be writing about how my class, along with many others, is back to meeting face-to-face in a safe and socially distant fashion! Until then, I wish everyone a safe and socially distanced month of September. Be safe, mask up, and be kind to each other. We are all in this together!

Sincerely, Bradley R. Newcomer (Dean)

Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion and External Engagement

Diversity Council Goals

Dr. Montoya has been meeting weekly with the Honors Diversity Council.

  • Design a purpose and membership structure for Honors College Diversity Council.
  • Members of the council will develop the skills to be able to have broader conversations related to diversity and inclusion at JMU and in their long-term professional careers.
  • Encourage continued education on issues and advocacy
  • Strengthen diversity and inclusion efforts within the Honors College

She is also teaching an Honors 200 course for First Generation students. The class meets every Thursday. Course topics include getting acclimated to JMU, adjusting to the residence halls, and academic planning.

Please note this photo was taken by JMU Communications & Marketing prior to COVID-19.

Director of Student Engagement

Dr. Alysia Davis, Director of Student Engagement for JMU Honors, assists in admissions recruitment, co-directs the first year Honors experience, plans student programming, works with alumni, and teaches Honors seminars. Her rewarding role that allows her to interact with students at every place in the Honors continuum. As Dr. Davis states, it is a joy to watch our students thrive. Here are her comments about notable student engagement news:

The summer months kept us on our toes with virtual Springboard summer orientation sessions that were made possible with the hard work of student Honors Ambassadors volunteers.

Honors Ambassadors showcase the Honors College by sharing its impact on their collegiate experience with prospective students, current students and campus partners. I am indebted to these exceptional students for their generosity in sharing their time and talents with incoming students, and doing so much work to highlight strengths of the JMU Honors experience.

Also this summer, we launched a common reading program for incoming students. Everyone in the Class of 2024 was asked to read Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund. JMU Honors students embark on a path that will equip them with tools to tackle the world’s “wicked problems.” Cultivating “factfulness” is a great first step to cut through the noise and identify the facts that matter. In addition to freshmen discussing the book in their HON 100 class, all Honors students have the opportunity to join the conversation and practice applying their factful worldview by participating in the Honors Book Club and attending a series of four Factfulness-themed Zoom sessions scheduled over the course of the fall semester.

As the start of classes loomed, changes in university move-in plans required a shift in our Orientation plans to a primarily virtual format. Students participated in a fun, packing-themed late-night trivia session at the beginning of move-in week. We also hosted a synchronous Hot Drinks and Hot Topics session for students to grab a cup of coffee and chat with Honors faculty members about their concerns with how current events might intersect with their college experience. Of course, the pandemic was the main topic of conversation. Honors faculty imparted upon students, and continue to stress that we are here for them, no matter the circumstances. All faculty are available for appointments via Zoom, and many have drop-in Zoom hours as well. The recent COVID Response Team Newsletter that was shared in August has easy links for students to make convenient appointments with all faculty members.

Included in the Orientation experience were helpful asynchronous videos filmed by alumni and current students. These videos are still available on the Orientation website, and students are particularly encouraged to check out the Alumni Advice presentation. It is full of advice from recent alums who have “been there” and exceled.

Classes have only been underway for a short while, yet student engagement programming is off to a great start. Recruitment for a fall cohort of Honors Ambassadors is complete, as well as sign-ups to participate in the Book Club. Currently, we are also recruiting for students to become part of the inaugural Shenandoah Peer Mentors, a group of Shenandoah Hall former-residents who will plan Honors programs specifically for the dorm once residential living resumes on campus.

Student programs are happening online via Zoom, and we are seeing great student participation. The line-up so far includes:

  • On September 3, we hosted the first Toolbox Workshop session for the 2020-2021 academic year. Toolbox Workshops are offered by the Honors College twice a month to talk about "soft skills" students need to be successful in college, graduate school, and/or future careers. The first session focused on The College Classroom Experience, and featured Dr. Mike Davis, Executive Advisor to President Alger, and alumnus Saleem Aboite (’19, ‘20M).
  • On September 8, we kicked off the first of monthly evening trivia games using the Kahoot! platform. Four rounds of fun questions focused on Disney World, Lies You Learned in School, Quotable Quotes, and Wizards.
  • September 10 brought us our first Factfulness conversation, this one focusing on COVID with two notable guest presenters, Dr. Louis Kudon, Program Manager, Georgia Department of Public Health (retired) and Meghan Jones, Director, Global Patient Safety, Pharmacoepidemiology at Eli Lilly and Company.
  • Honors will be focusing on a variety of programming with a theme of resilience throughout the year. On September 15, we hosted our first TEDTalk Tuesday, an opportunity for students and faculty to listen to a short TEDTalk together, and then talk about lessons learned and how we will apply them. In this session, we listened to Lucy Hone present “The Three Secrets of Resilient People.”

Furthermore, I want to commend students belonging to the Madison Honors Leadership Council (MHLC).

These students accepted all changes thrown at them with grace and flexibility, and are working hard to plan an amazing line-up of student-organized activities in the realms of social engagement, service, and professional development. MHLC recruitment is happening now until September 21, and regular meetings are being held via Zoom on Monday evenings. I am excited about what is in store for these outstanding student leaders.

Because we have limited opportunities to engage with one another face-to-face, I am prioritizing my communication efforts. This summer, incoming students were invited to participate in a GroupMe, a text messaging platform, and Honors faculty continue to regularly field student questions there. I also created a personal blog site to feature the calendar of student events that I plan and short program descriptions. Please check it out at www.drdavishonors.weebly.com. As always, I am happy to answer any questions you have. I can be reached via email at davis4am@jmu.edu. This is a different semester, but it promises to be an enriching one!

Honors College Ambassadors (from top left to bottom right): Katie Angle, Amy Beladia, Angel Santiago, Sumner Levenson

Director of Advising

Academic Advising and Study Abroad Updates

The last six months have been challenging in the world of academic advising. The shut down and sudden transition to online classes in March, followed by an uncertain start to the fall semester, revealed unexpected hurdles and sudden twists and turns on our students’ academic journeys. Much of our focus during this time has been on helping students navigate these new realities. From study abroad programs being cancelled, to concerns about health and selecting courses in new formats, to questions about taking a semester off or a gap year—our students are making a lot of decisions in a short amount of time. We continue to work to meet the needs of students and keep them on track academically.

And we’ve gotten quite used to virtual advising! While nothing beats an in person exchange of ideas, we are quickly getting comfortable with Zoom as an alternative platform—and students have too. Our new team of Honors College advising peers, Fiona Turner (senior, Intelligence Analysis) and SJ Starr (junior, Communication Studies), have quickly taken the reins in providing excellent peer advising to Honors students.

Study abroad in the Honors College has been… challenging and uncertain. We successfully ran two spring break programs last spring before the pandemic took hold: trips to the Dominican Republic and a cross-cultural leadership seminar aboard a cruise ship. Both programs will run again in 2021. Our 6-credit summer Honors seminars abroad, however, were cancelled along with all JMU summer programs. We remain optimistic about the prospects for 2021. We will offer two seminars abroad: back by popular demand, our successful Barcelona program, directed by Jessica Davidson (History) and John Tkac (Spanish); and a new program in Tanzania focused on sustainability, directed by Betsy Herron and Andrea Knopp, both from Nursing.

Honors students have shown an uptick of interest in JMU’s semester programs at Oxford and St. Andrews. 6 students accepted the challenge last spring, studying and living amidst the ancient quads and august confines of two of Britain’s most prestigious universities. Then March came, and our students came home. Due to the superb efforts of faculty and staff at Oxford and St. Andrews, our students were able to successfully complete their coursework remotely. The ongoing pandemic has made this fall semester a no-go for travel. But we have 10 students waiting with anticipation (and not a little bit of anxiety!) to study in Britain next spring. Finger crossed that these ambitious students can realize their academic dreams!

Hillcrest Scholarships

More pandemic fall out. Due to the disruptions of last March and April, the Honors College moved our application cycle for Hillcrest Scholarships, our most prestigious and competitive awards, to Fall 2020. Sponsored by the Honors Advisory Council, these awards provide funds that support unique and transformative off-campus summer experiences. They encourage Honors students to think big and pursue their goals. The Hillcrest also prepares our students to apply for similarly competitive awards at the national level: Fulbright, Truman, Goldwater, and so on. Directed by Mr. Jared Diener, students are currently developing their ideas, making plans, and putting together their application materials. The application deadline is October 12.

Please note this photo was taken by JMU Communications & Marketing prior to COVID-19.

COVID Updates

FREE Masks and Touch Tools!

Honors logo face masks and touch tools were given to all incoming first year students during Orientation and were available to all Honors students in the computer lab as well. We still have masks and touch tools available so when students return to campus we encourage them to stop by and grab one and help Honors #StoptheSpreadJMU.

Hillcrest House and Computer Lab are OPEN!

Please note that Hillcrest house and Computer Lab are still open and available to students for studying and taking online courses. The computer lab is open every day of the week from 8 am-midnight. We do ask that only 7 students study in the lounge area or computer lab at a time. For those wishing to study/take courses in Hillcrest House the hours of operation are Monday-Friday from 8 am-5 pm. Please register through SignUp Genius.

Admissions Report

For the 2021-2022 application cycle, the Honors College has revised its application. We will not be using ACT or SAT scores in our decisions processes. In previous years, there was an early admit and a regular decision application deadline, this year there is only one deadline November 29th. The Honors College is now accepting applications. Apply now!

A Preview of What's to Come

October will be a busy month with the Honors College. We are busily preparing for many student-centered virtual events:

  • Our Toolbox Workshop series will feature two programs to help our students cultivate a professional online presence (October 8) and prepare graduate school applications that set them apart (October 30).
  • Resiliency programming will include a TEDTalk Tuesday session featuring Elizabeth Gilbert's presentation, "It's OK to Feel Overwhelmed. Here's What to Do Next" (October 21) and the monthly Movie Night screening which will feature "He Named Me Malala."
  • Students will continue to practice being "factful" in a conversation linking the book Factfulness with lessons we can learn about climate change (October 15).
  • We will continue to offer light-hearted and fun social activities with late-night trivia (October 6), programming designed specifically for Shenandoah Hall residents, and more.

Please also save the date for our Virtual Family Fun Fridays from October 9 until November 20. Every Friday we will bring you a variety of synchronous and asynchronous opportunities to engage with the Honors College. Two synchronous features that you don't want to miss are a guest lecture from Dr. Mike Davis on "JMU Conspiracy Theories" (October 9, 12 p.m.) and a panel discussion featuring a new Honors partnership with UVA's Batten School of Public Policy and Leadership (October 23, 12 p.m.)

Lastly, we will be in full recruitment mode in October. If you know of prospective students who might be interested in learning more about the JMU Honors experience, please encourage them to join our Virtual Open House on October 15 at 5 p.m., or any one of our Friday drop-in Zoom sessions (4 p.m.). Click here for more information.

Honors Students In the News

Gabriela Moreno, a rising freshman from Springfield, VA, has been chosen as the first recipient of the Arts and Letters Opportunity Fund scholarship, which seeks to increase access to historically underrepresented students. Read the full story.

Honors graduate, Dr. David Killeen ('12), brings care, compassion to front lines in NYC hospital. Read the full story.

Health sciences alumna Kat Topf (’19) is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. She is also working at the Georgia Department of Public Health in support of their COVID-19 response as part of her assistantship. Topf talks about her duties and how JMU prepared her for success in her graduate studies. Read the full story.

JMU researchers and Honors student Isabella Bukovich ('21) zero in on solution for managing invasive tegu lizards. Read the full story.

Are you a current student or alumni that has a unique story to share? If so please email us at honors@jmu.edu. We would love to hear from you and share your news!

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