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.
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 email@example.com. This is a different semester, but it promises to be an enriching one!