Last week I packed my duffle bag with dress pants and button down shirts and met other excited students in the parking lot of Taylor Hall. We piled into a few vehicles, clown car style, and headed to the Philadelphia International Airport. Destination: Denver, Colorado. I, along with eight students from Arcadia University’s Honors Program and our director, Helene Klein, was headed to the 2014 National Collegiate Honors Conference (NCHC).
Each year NCHC invites Honors program directors and students from across the country to share their accomplishments and scholarship, collaborate with the national Honors community, and generate new ideas. The 2014 conference theme, the Thrill of the Climb, was inspired by Colorado’s mountainous terrain, and the challenges and triumphs associated with it.
Many presenters took this theme metaphorically, focusing on ascents related to improvements in their Honors programs or research. My presentation, a character analysis of Dracula heroine Mina Harker, concerned the tumultuous climb of women in Western culture. My fellow Arcadia presenters discussed research in behavioral psychology, Native American representation in film, successful Honors events, and more.
In addition to the student presentations, various Honors program directors presented sessions throughout the four day conference, in collaboration with other faculty and students. They discussed commonly faced problems in Honors programs, best practices in academics, and steps to the creation of vibrant Honors communities on college campuses. As the President of the Honors Council, the student community of Arcadia’s Honors Program, it’s easy to guess why that last topic piqued my interest.
I planned my time at the conference with my role on the Honors Council in mind. Sessions on academic advising, the role of activities in honors, and mentoring made for a packed schedule. Most sessions, while interesting, didn’t spark any fresh ideas for Arcadia’s Honors Program. However, one stood out: “The Role of Activities in Honors, to Do or Not to Do.” During this session, I was able to have an open group discussion with several directors and students about the struggles and successes in our respective Honors programs. Through active dialogue, we were able to combine ideas and truly collaborate. Eventually, more individuals from other groups joined the conversation. Students and staff from across the country (and the world) were engaged in this exchange of ideas. Thanks to one session, I have plenty of new ideas to improve Honors in the coming semester.
As I said earlier, I also have some amazing personal takeaways from the ascent (in altitude) to Denver – the new friends that I made through the week. The same roundtable discussion that gave me a million ideas also ended with a fervent exchange of email addresses. In fact, throughout the entire conference, I conversed with new people who were eager to continue our conversations even after the week was over.
I also was able to make connections with the other Arcadia students who attended the conference. I knew most of them before, but after traveling on two four hour plane rides, you get to know people in new ways. In the little down time we had, we were able to enjoy our new surroundings together, from eating at food trucks, visiting antique stores, and even climbing a (literal) mountain.
So, what did I learn from my (figurative) climb? Ultimately, I was able to experience an intense spirit of collaboration with people from around the world that continues today via email. And, I was able to make connections that will hopefully last beyond my time at Arcadia.