Honors Student Advisory Board Winter Newsletter - University of ...


Honors Student Advisory Board Winter Newsletter - University of ...

Fall 2012

University Honors Program

300 Lippitt Hall


Dr. Cheryl Foster returns to Honors as Associate Director


Dr. Cheryl Foster as a guest speaker for Honors Seminar, HPR 319

Dr. Cheryl Foster is currently Chair of

the Philosophy Department but in January

2013 she will return to the URI Honors

Program as Associate Director, a position

she previously held from 1998-2005. She

came to URI as an Assistant Professor of

Philosophy but soon found herself

working with the Honors Program,

advising students and helping them to

locate scholarship opportunities. At URI

there was a growing need for such

services, and by 2005 Dr. Foster was

advising Honors students as well as

Philosophy majors, teaching three courses

a year, running the National Fellowships

office, serving on national fellowship

selection panels, providing informal

mentorship to graduate school applicants

at URI and pursuing her own research in

aesthetics and environmental philosophy.

Following the birth of her second child, Dr.

Foster needed to simplify her job a bit, so

in 2005 she returned to the Philosophy

department while embarking on new work

with an interdisciplinary group of URI

researchers interested in coastal

science and management issues.

Along with Professor of

Communication Studies and Theater

(and Honors professor!) Judith Swift,

Dr. Foster joined scientists Pete

August, Jim Opulach, Candace Oviatt

and Art Gold to pursue a project for

the National Science Foundation’s

Integrative Graduate Education and

Research Traineeship program (IGERT),

for which they had received a 3.3

million dollar grant. Only about 5% of

applicants to the program receive a

grant; the URI IGERT team won theirs

to train young coastal scientists and

managers not only to become

successful in their scientific specialties

but also to develop effective

communication, argument and

leadership skills.

Dr. Foster looks back fondly on

her five years with the Coastal Institute

IGERT Project, where she learned

enormous amounts from her brilliant

colleagues in other disciplines as well

as from the highly talented students.

By 2010 the five year project IGERT

was wrapping up, however, and at the

same time the Chair of the Philosophy

Department decided to step down

after nine years. Dr. Foster stepped up

to fill the role since she felt it was her

turn. She was well-aware of all the

responsibility that department

administration would entail, and how it

would make her less available for

students and teaching. In response to

Dr. Foster’s worries about this, her

College Dean Winifred Brownell

allowed Dr. Foster to continue advising

Philosophy majors while she was chair

and made that part of her official job.

While Chair of the Philosophy

Department, Dr. Foster wanted to

make some environmental

improvements to the Philosophy space

– as a philosopher of aesthetics and

the environment, this was a big priority

for her! This meant cleaning the

department out, literally, followed by

upgrading equipment and furniture for

faculty. At the same time Dr. Foster

worked with her Philosophy colleagues

to improve curricular offerings,

advising and outreach to new majors.

Dr. Foster said of her own teaching and

advising, “I want to open up access so

students have opportunities both as

learners and human beings.” She

prides herself as being a student

advocate; a faculty member who works

for the well-being of the students and

their education.

When former Honors Associate

Director and adviser Dr. Walter von

Reinhart decided to return to the

Department of Modern and Classical

Languages and

Literatures during Continued on page 3.


Classroom without Borders: Bringing concepts to application


Students from HPR 202: “Classroom without Borders” work to install structural support on a Habitat for Humanity house

The alarm goes off, the faucet runs,

the coffee maker chirps, the door slams,

the keys jingle, the car starts; another day

has begun. The basic, robotic morning

routine of the average college student has

taken place. However, in his class,

“Classroom Without Borders,” Professor

Robert Widell strives to communicate the

power of breaking away from “this very

old idea, that there’s life at college, life at

university, and then there’s the real

world.” According to Widell, “That’s sort

of a false way of thinking about things.”

The very nature of HPR 202:

“Classroom without Borders,” questions

and challenges the boundaries of

University life. Widell has created a class

that really gets to the heart of “a person’s

career versus a person’s work.”

For so many college-aged students

today, there is this instilled procedure of

school, landing that first great job,

“whether it be law school, med school,

consulting, going into business, getting a

job on wall street,” landing that first great

starting salary, getting married, having a

family, supporting that family, and living a

comfortable life style. But Widell tends to

find importance in “seeing what’s

interesting, finding ways I could do stuff

that I’m going to be interested in and

passionate about.”

Widell’s classroom material focuses

on poverty in America and the large

portion of the population considered

to be the “working poor.” Race,

gender, health care, education, and

immigration all figure in the guest

presentations by on campus experts.

Halfway through the course, the

students journey to Alabama where a

week is spent working for Habitat for

Humanity, building houses. The trip

takes all the theories learned and

discussed in class, and applies them in

a way that translates to the every-day

world. Widell believes strongly that in

order “for the class to develop

relationships and trust each other” he

had to remove his students from their

comfort zone. “I had to get them out of

their local settings,” he said.

He urged the class to “begin to

find their way, ask questions, look

around, and discover things.” This was

the truly remarkable part about being a

part of this experience: having the

opportunity to connect with not only

new and exciting people with amazing

stories in an entirely new environment,

but also the chance to relate to peers

in a way that would never ordinarily be

possible. When a whole new set of

circumstances is given, away from the

boundaries of the college atmosphere,

a unique and substantial bond is


Professor Widell creates a

classroom environment based around

trust, respect and the ability and

freedom to be open to new

experiences. The process of

interviewing and selecting participants

for this one-of-kind class identifies

students who are open and willing to

experience and learn about new things,

new people, and new perspectives.

Widell focuses on choosing individuals

with diverse backgrounds and majors.

In order to become a truly wellrounded,

multifaceted person, Widell

believes it is crucial to be surrounded

by and learn from those who “don’t

give a damn about your college degree

and don’t give a damn about your

credentials, but give a damn about

whether you are going to engage them

on their level and be a part of that

community and contribute and listen

to what they have to say and what

their needs are and their


This spring honors colloquium is

about challenging comfort zones,

questioning the things taken for

granted and most importantly, the

development of relationships of all



Director’s Note

This has been an especially busy fall semester. We added the Paul Farmer visit to the Fall Honors colloquium

(www.uri.edu/hc) and with Professor von Reinhart’s return to full time teaching in German had to scramble a bit with student

advising. Walter’s willingness to continue University College Honors advising has been a big help. We look forward to Professor

Cheryl Foster’s arrival as Associate Director in January 2013.

In addition to the Farmer visit some of the highlights of the fall colloquium included Partners in Health medical director

Joia Mukherjee, author Tracy Kidder, economist Jon Gruber, RI Department of Health director Michael Fine, and the play

Marvin’s Room, directed by Bryna Wortner. We are already hard at work on next year’s series on Education Reform coordinated

by David Byrd and Diane Kern.

We have a great lineup of Honors classes for the spring semester, some even have a few seats left in them. The testimony

in this newsletter from some of our recent grads reinforces the value of inter-disciplinary work, student involvement in and

outside the classroom, and finding your peers, all hallmarks of the URI Honors Program. Take more Honors courses – you’ll be

glad you did.

- Ric

Death is usually no laughing

matter, but for students enrolled in

THN: 360H, “The Impact of Death on

Behavior,” gallow humor can often be

found to set the mood for classroom


It did not start out like this. At the

beginning of the semester when

Professor Carolyn Hames asked her

students about their motivations for

taking the course, many responded

that it was out of curiosity for the

normal course of behavior in light of a

loved one’s death. Others provided

more vague and guarded answers.

Over the course of the next few weeks,

students were assigned article and

chapter readings that exposed them to

all they ever wondered about and

never knew about dying, and health

care leading to and after death. As a

student reflects, “Death itself is a

universal phenomenon that has such

rooted influences in culture,

Dr. Cheryl Foster returns to Honors as Associate Director cont’d.

Continued from page 1.

the summer of 2012, Dr. Foster

applied for the position since it would

once again make student-centered

work the focus of her efforts. She has

remained as Chair of Philosophy

through the Fall 2012 term while the

department seeks a new candidate,

but looks forward to assuming her

responsibilities as Honors Associate

Death, let’s talk about it

spirituality, and religion. In our culture,

it’s more of a taboo topic that makes

people feel uncomfortable. This class

has taught me that in order to move

forward, we need to talk about it.

Death isn’t something to fear. It’s

something we can all better

understand once we get over whatever

it is that holds us back.”

Each class often begins with a

“Thoughtful Moment,” roughly twenty

minutes in which a student presents

anything relevant to the course and

opens up the floor for discussion.

Presented concepts have included the

ethics of burying a loved one in the

front yard, negative population

growth, and being “green” even after

death—placing ashes in a

biodegradable urn that in turn

nourishes a tree sapling.

Guest lecturer, Mark Russell, a

local Funeral Director, answered

questions about the process from a

Director at the start of the Spring 2013

semester. Dr. Foster notes that she

would like to continue with her policies

of making resources more accessible

for students. She would also like to

collaborate with other departments

and programs on campus to get a

greater range of students involved in

Honors. Dr. Foster hopes that

continued integration by Honors with

students and programs across campus


loved one’s passing to their postmortem


Outside of the classroom,

students continue sharing their

thoughts in online forums. Forum

topics include the focal points from

weekly Honors Colloquium lectures

and reactions to class material.

As a final assignment, students

had the job of interviewing a care

giver—someone who has, in the past,

devoted their time and energy to care

for a dying loved one. Students were to

apply their readings to their interviews.

For many, this was a chance to connect

on a new and personal level with

family members. For others, this was a

revelation of their own hopes and

wishes in the face of death. “We’ve all

come a long way… This experience has

given me a better appreciation of what

my mother went through and a better

idea of what to expect for an

unpredictable part of life.”

will keep pace with the diversified

faces of Rhode Island and the country.

For Dr. Foster, every dimension

of her work is about access, equity and

making the most of educational

opportunities. She is grateful to have

the chance to make these values the

center of her work at Honors and looks

forward to helping students there take

advantage of all URI has to offer.


Honors Student Alumni: Where they are now

First-year medical student advises following passions


Mary and her father during

Mount Sinai’s White Coat Ceremony

Mary McGunigal is a URI

Honors Program alumni

from Warwick, Rhode

Island. During her time as

an undergraduate, she

sure accomplished a lot!

As a Classics major, she

had the opportunity to

study abroad in Greece

and Italy as well as

organize the Classics

Society’s annual “Agora”

event. As an honors

student, she volunteered

with Habitat for Humanity participating in a non-traditional

spring break. Mary traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to help

the community with her fellow classmates from the honors

“Classrooms without Borders” Colloquium. McGunigal also

had the honor of addressing her fellow classmates as the

2012 Student Commencement Speaker. These are just a few

of many great memories and experiences she says she will

never forget!

Now, Mary McGunigal is well on her path to success.

She is attending Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York

City for an M.D. degree. For students thinking about getting

involved with the honors program here at URI, Mary has

these warm words to share. She says, “Getting involved with

the honors program was the best decision I made in my

undergraduate career because it connected me to a great

support system. It enabled me to take wonderful classes

imbued with a warm camaraderie, and learn from amazing

professors like Galen Johnson, Art Stein and Walter Von

Reinhart. I met a lot of my closest friends through the honors

program and when I think of my “home” at URI, the first

image that comes to mind isn’t my suite or even the Quad—

it’s the honors lounge!”

Her advice to advise to new honors students and

undergraduate students in general? “Get involved in

whatever you find stimulating, and pursue your passions

from there. It sounds cliché, but you might surprise yourself;

I never expected to take so many philosophy courses as an

undergraduate, but I’m happy I did! The honors program is a

great way to explore unique classes outside your chosen


Hollings scholar advocates for student involvement


Alexa walking the stage during

commencement last May

Alexa Kretsch is an URI

Honors Program alumnus

from Eatontown, New Jersey.

During her undergraduate

career, she majored in

Aquaculture and Fisheries

with minors in marine

biology and marine affairs.

She felt that URI had a lot to

offer students and thus took

advantage of its available

opportunities. Alexa was

awarded a NOAA Hollings

Scholarship, which involved spending a summer catching

and tagging sharks in Delaware Bay. She studied abroad

with SEA Semester, which involved doing science and

learning nautical skills as she sailed a tall ship from Maine to

the Caribbean. She even played with the pep band for a URI

basketball game at Madison Square Garden! And, of course,

there was the Honors Program. Kretsch says of the honors

program, “I took fun classes, such as ‘Recreational Problem

Solving’ and Professor von Reinhart's Tolkein class.” With a

couple of friends, she even helped to develop and teach a

course on the ocean, through the Honors Program’s,

Students Teaching Students” initiative.

Classes, jobs, and experiences at URI shaped Alexa

Kretsch’s academic career and life beyond her

undergraduate profile. She is currently pursuing a masters in

Fisheries at the New Bedford marine science school (SMAST)

of UMass-Dartmouth. Alexa finds that SMAST is a great

place for her because few other fisheries programs look at

the interdisciplinary interaction of fisheries science, policy,

and social issues, something she hopes to delve deeper into.

Alexa’s advice to future students is, “Definitely get

involved with the program. The classes are interesting and

original beyond the scope of most university courses,

especially when I was looking for classes to fulfill general

education requirements. I even took classes just for fun,

though they didn't contribute to any of my programs.

Completing the program wasn't too difficult; I managed it in

four years along with a major and two minors. It especially

helps when Honors Program credits can double for your

general education or major studies requirements. I also

made a lot of friends in the Honors Program, from the girl

who happened to take three of the same Honors classes as

me to the group who would hang out in the Honors lounge

where I would work between classes. The Honors Program is

really the best place at URI to take classes which complement

your intellectual capacity and find friends who share that

love of learning.”


Honors Student Alumni: Where they are now

Pre-Health Program: preparing students for success


Jason and Brown University’s

Dean of Medicine during the Class of

2016 White Coat Ceremony

Jason Bowman, now a firstyear

medical student at the

Warren Alpert Medical

School of Brown University,

is a walking success story.

Jason believes that the rich

academic environment,

diversity of challenging

courses and curriculum,

and brilliant professors at

URI helped him gain a

strong foundation for

medical school and beyond.

Educational endeavors as Fulbright scholar

The Honors courses that Jason took while at URI emphasized

creative thinking and problem solving which are crucial skills

for medical school and medical practice. He understands that

the Pre-Health Program’s guidance was invaluable in helping

him get into the prestigious program at Brown. When he is

not in class or lab, Jason enjoys catching up on sleep and

meeting new people. He loves listening to and playing music,

reading, hiking, cooking, and discovering people’s stories and

quirks. Though he is presently unsure of his specialty, Jason is

leaning towards primary care. He hopes to work in an

underserved community, teach medical students and

residents, and do medical missions trips abroad when the

time allows.


Megan visiting the Mjolkarvirkjun

Power Plant, Iceland

When Megan O’Brien is

not rock climbing,

kayaking through icy

lakes, or searching for the

Northern lights, she is

taking advantage of an

educational opportunity

of a lifetime. Megan is the

recipient of a Fulbright

Fellowship – a prestigious

grant that fully funds her

year of studies in Coastal

and Marine Management

in Ísafjörður, Iceland at

the University Centre of the Westfjords. At URI, Megan

attained a strong scientific foundation by studying Marine

Biology in her undergraduate and graduate years. Now she is

taking her studies a step further by learning about

management, policy, and ocean literacy. She is investigating

the ways humans dramatically shape ecosystems and is

learning the importance of good governance and

communication. Megan has learned that by managing

people, and not just the environment or resources,

communities can be more effective in reaching sustainability.

Aside from helping her receive her fellowship, Megan says

URI’s Honors Program prepared her for what she is doing

now because it allowed her the opportunity to look outside

of her field of study and led her to a more interdisciplinary

approach to her interests. “Taking classes in the social

sciences, from Law & Economics to Environmental Ethics

really got me connected to the broader world and context

outside the sciences,” she says. Furthermore, Megan explains

that the style of classes in the Honors Program are similar to

graduate school because they emphasize writing assignments

and discussions more than examinations. After her year

abroad, Megan plans on entering the workforce and be

someone with scientific knowledge who is able to

communicate critical information to the public.

Honors course shapes student’s career path


Mak as a guest lecturer for aspiring

students in public health

Mak Thakur, a recent

mathematics graduate from

URI and the Honors

Program, is currently

attending Yale University,

majoring in Biostatistics with

interests in Global Health

and Healthcare

management. “If it were not

for honors courses I would

not be at Yale and would be

doing something completely

different,” says Thakur.

During his time at URI, Mak has taken several honors courses

but one of his favorite courses was “HPR 319: The Global

Challenge of Emerging Infectious Diseases.” The course

emphasized current issues in global health and highlighted

major diseases in certain nations. This course changed

Thakur’s outlook on medicine and introduced him to public

health. “This course helped me develop the skills I needed for

graduate school such as presentation skills, reading research

papers, and understanding the challenges we face in health

systems around the world.” Thakur advises that current

students in the honors program, “Keep an open mind. The

Honors Program has a lot to offer. You don’t want to miss out

on an amazing opportunity.”


Bringing Students Teaching Students to the national stage


Duncan and Holly present during the 47th Annual Conference of the NCHC in Boston, Massachusetts

On Friday, November 16th, Honors

students Duncan Stiller and Holly Tran

took to the streets of Boston to represent

the University of Rhode Island at the 47th

Annual Conference of the National

Collegiate Honors Council. The duo

presented their poster on the classroom

structure of Students Teaching Students

(STS), a concept developed by Bridget

Griffith, Class of ‘12, in her senior honors

project. Two STS courses were taught in

the 2011-12 academic year.

Students apply in their junior year to

design, research, and teach an honors

course on a topic about which they are

passionate. The STS program allows

motivated honors students to have a

unique opportunity to lead a class. This

allows students freedom of creativity on

the topic, assignments, and teaching style.

The STS program provides the valuable

opportunity for the mutual discovery of

knowledge in a shared field of

interest. The student-facilitators must

demonstrate sufficient proficiency to

facilitate a course. With the support

and guidance of their peers, faculty

advisors, and guest lecturers, studentfacilitators

have the chance to develop

a new model of learning and teaching.

“Big Blue and You: An

Interdisciplinary Look at Science and

the Ocean,” co-taught by Alexa

Kretsch, Megan Nepshinski, and Ben

Negrete, examined the relationship

between people and the oceans,

focusing on issues such as pollution,

overfishing, climate change, and

coastal development. Brian Stack, in

fall 2011, taught the course, “LBGTQ

History,” investigating the social

construction of sexuality. For spring

2013, Patrick Slavin will teach the

course, “Chinese Youth Culture,”

introducing students to a variety of

issues in contemporary China seen

through the lens of its youth.

In preparing for the conference,

whose theme this year was “Challenge

Structures,” Holly and Duncan worked

with material from their peers and STS

alumni to create a poster outline

representation of Students Teaching

Students. They fielded questions from

Honors Directors curious to know

more, from as close as New Hampshire

to as far as the Netherlands. Fellow

honors students from sister schools

swapped contact information in hopes

of scheduling a time to personally sit-in

during a STS course.

“STS is a radical and innovative

structure that works. It’s something

that our program and its students are

excited about. It takes the concept of

learning to entirely new dimension,”

said Holly. For Duncan, the NCHC

conference was his first exposure to a

poster session. He reflects, “As soon as

I walked through the doors, I knew it

would be a cherished experience. Our

poster session was the highlight of the

trip for me. Having the opportunity to

represent URI’s Honor’s Program

means a lot to me. I loved explaining

how our STS program functioned, even

when some attendees described it as

bold. After all, the theme of the

conference was challenging


In addition to introducing STS to

the national stage, the pair was able to

learn about other interesting

structures from across the country—a

few of which may soon take root here.

The Honors Student Advisory Board

Commonly referred to as HSAB, the Honors Student Advisory Board is a group of dedicated students with an infectious personality

that meet twice a month to confer with staff and make things happen in the Honors Program. New members are always welcome.

Special thanks to Alex, Stefan, Arielle, Tory, Mia, Mecca, and Holly for their contributions to this semester’s newsletter.

HSAB Members Pictured: Alex Carlson, Stefan Correia, Arielle De Souza, Tory Kern, Mia Rocchio, Mecca Smith, Duncan Stiller, Holly Tran


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