Graduating with Honors
A. Sue Weisler
Getting into—and staying in—an honors program is no walk in the park.
That’s why the 100 students graduating this May from RIT’s undergraduate Honors Program are so excited to wear the well-earned academic orange stole that says to the world, “I did it.”
Honors Council President Erin Downs of Pittsburgh, Pa., is graduating with a dual degree in environmental sustainability, health and safety management from the College of Applied Science and Technology. She’s held almost every position in the Honors Program and is very proud of serving two years as chairperson of the Service Committee—helping community efforts like Foodlink, Habitat for Humanity, and Mary’s Place.
“Ever since Day One, all my friends have been in Honors,” said Downs. “We are a community that supports each other; everyone understands how hard you push yourself to get that A instead of a B.”
RIT’s Honors has some distinct advantages including priority registration, housing in Gibson Hall, smaller class sizes and Honors student council membership—plus leadership, research, study abroad and community service opportunities, said Director Danielle Smith, who took over the helm in 2009.
“We began with our first class of students in 2001, and currently have 710 Honors students from across all RIT disciplines,” said Smith. “They have to attain a cumulative 3.5 GPA and 12 Honors Points—earned through Honors classes, co-ops, studying abroad, or research—and complete 20 hours of community service each year.
“This past year, Honors students performed over 22,115 hours of community service.”
According to Assistant Director Kerrie Bondi, “What makes us stand out at RIT is the tight sense of comradery among the students. They are very cohesive and have a strong sense of identity. Even our alumni remain in contact with one another, forming lifetime friendships.”
Amy Zeller, who is graduating with a biomedical engineering degree from Kate Gleason College of Engineering and starts her new job this June at Stryker Orthopaedics in Mahwah, N.J., said maintaining a high GPA has resulted in little down time—especially sleep.
“I am not one of those students who has good grades because they’re really intelligent; I have good grades because I have a strong work ethic,” said Zeller, from Shortsville, N.Y. “Through the Honors Program, I’ve been given opportunities that have allowed me to expand upon my leadership and team-building skills that helped me during my co-ops.”
According to Senior Associate Provost Christine Licata, the current RIT student government president, all four Goldwater Scholarship winners and two out of three Fulbright Fellows were honors students.
“The honors curriculum is rigorous and requirements include a first-year experiential learning seminar, a research course and senior capstone course,” said Licata. “This past year, 28 RIT faculty taught Honors courses and 87 faculty taught Honors contract courses—providing additional research and scholarship opportunities to students.”
Miguel Lopez, a team captain of RIT men’s basketball team, said, “Good grades come easy for me, but what Honors taught me was to embrace and explore my potential.”
“I strongly believe in school-life balance,” said Lopez, who is from Puerto Rico and graduating with a management information systems degree from Saunders College of Business. “It’s a false stereotype that you can’t be academically successful if you are an athlete; you need both hard and soft skills to succeed in your career.”
Each of RIT’s colleges has faculty and staff Honors Advocates who accompany the students on Honors trips. Deb Kingsbury, assistant dean at the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, said her students hold campus fundraisers to help finance their excursions—which have ranged from Spain, Italy, Hungary and the Czech Republic, to the Pacific Northwest.
“The world is our classroom; students immerse themselves in art, history and different cultures,” said Kingsbury. “It’s a bonding experience to travel together. There are always tears at the end of a trip—and at graduation. Lots of emotions, but no goodbyes. We stay in touch.”
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