Honors at Rhode Island College

Above and below are attendees of the Honors Awards Dinner on May 3.

A good place to begin a review of Honors at Rhode Island College for 2010 might be with an event held in Boston’s Symphony Hall the third week of May. The Boston Pops, under the direction of Keith Lockhart, had commissioned an original work as a tribute to Jack, Bobby, and Edward Kennedy titled “The Dream Lives On.”

On opening night, the words of the brothers were read by Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Ed Harris. Chosen to compose the musical score was Peter Boyer, RIC class of ’91 and proud graduate of the College Honors Program.

It was a very good year for Peter who, in addition to overseeing performances of his various compositions around the world, was promoted to full professor in the Department of Music at Claremont College in California.

Although not always as celebrated as Peter’s, the accomplishments of many of our honors graduates, both in the professional world and in the world of academe, have been equally satisfying.

I cannot forbear mentioning here Dr. Quenby Hughes, class of 1995, who was just tenured and promoted to associate professor in the History Department at RIC, and who has returned to teach in the Honors Program from which she graduated before going on to Harvard for her PhD.

Unfortunately, we hear about these successes irregularly and often through third parties, and we need to keep better track of what our former students are doing. To that end, Honors began to collaborate with Alumni Affairs this spring to create an ongoing database of honors graduates.

Also this spring, Facebook reared its unfamiliar and frightening head (for some of us elder citizens, at least). Along with Roger Williams University, RIC has taken the lead in forming the Li’l Rhody Honors Consortium, a group of honors programs in the state that will share resources, host academic and co-curricular events, and generally encourage their respective students to get to know one another.

In the fall, for example, the RIC Honors Program will host a “city-as-text” walk through Providence under the guidance of Professor Mark Motte, to be followed in the spring by a similar excursion in Newport hosted by the Honors Program at Salve Regina University.

Honors students and educators are pictured above and below.

The Consortium has established a Facebook account on which students, faculty, and alumni from the different schools can post information about and extend invitations to various events and opportunities. We hope to create links to honors alumni from the various institutions that will allow current students to network and, we hope, to learn about job opportunities locally, nationally, and internationally.

It is a potentially exciting project, and I am very grateful to the members of the RIC Honors Student Advisory Committee – Brittany Richer, Sara Reilly, and Kyla Pecchia – for their help on this and other projects this year.

If there has been an underlying theme to Honors this year, it would be “research and creativity.” With the strong support of Vice President of Academic Affairs Ron Pitt and Dean of Arts and Sciences Earl Simson, Honors is spearheading the attempt to boost undergraduate research and creativity at the college.

Nineteen students completed departmental honors projects in 2009-2010.

Departmental Honors students

The number of students doing honors projects has been increasing slowly, and I think that we are poised to see a significant increase over the next three or four years.

My optimism is fueled, in part, by a generous grant from Anne and Bob DeStefano meant to encourage undergraduate research/creativity at the college. Thanks to the DeStefano Fund for Undergraduate Research, students doing honors projects this spring could apply for the first time for funds to defray costs related to supplies and materials, travel, attendance and presentations at academic and professional conferences, copying expenses, and so on.

Lori-Ann Lima from the Nursing Department traveled to a meeting of healthcare professionals at the Pontifica Universidad Catolica in Ecuador where she participated in a professional conference pertinent to her honors project on “The Utilization of Nurses in Developing Countries in the Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS.”

Kevin Gravier, Sarah Petronio and Daniel Reeves
In order to encourage and prepare students in the General Education Honors Program to do honors projects as seniors, we have also begun to include introductory research components in such General Education honors classes as Western Literature and Writing and Rhetoric, as well as in the new “Honors Experience” class for first-semester freshmen.

Speaking of international travel, I was particularly pleased that three members of the General Education Honors Program were selected to receive Shinn Scholarships to study abroad next fall and/or spring.

Sarah Petronio, a Spanish major, will pursue Hispanic Studies at the University of Granada while preparing for a career as a bilingual educator. Kevin Gravier, a Secondary Education major with a concentration in Spanish, will study at the University of Cadiz while immersing himself in Spanish culture and cuisine. Daniel Reeves will study environmental and marine biology at the James Cook University in Cairns, Queensland, Australia, dividing his time between the Daintree tropical rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.

Their studies abroad will provide significant material for projected departmental honors projects when they return.

Twenty-seven seniors graduated this year having achieved General Education Honors, a program normally completed in the freshman and sophomore years.

General Education Honors students

Among them was Alicia Kristen Roberts, the winner of this year’s $1,000 Eleanor M. McMahon Award given to the student with the highest grade point average graduating with College Honors. (“College Honors” is awarded to students who successfully complete General Education Honors, the Junior Year Honors Colloquium, and a departmental honors project.)

Alicia Kristen Roberts
A double major in Anthropology and English, Alicia did an anthropological study of the Writing Center at Rhode Island College titled “Tutors’ Tales: Narratives and Initiations in Rhode Island College’s Writing Center.” Her paper based on this study won the undergraduate research prize at the fiftieth annual meeting of the Northeast Anthropological Association in Buffalo, N.Y., in the spring.

Now there may be something in the water, but the runner-up for the McMahon Award, who also graduated summa cum laude, lives in Woonsocket, as does Alicia. Samy Masadi, an English major, wrote a very innovative thesis on narrative theory in video games titled “Play Through to the Last Level: BioShock, Half-Life 2, and Video Games Narrative.” And just to carry through the Woonsocket resident theme, Brittany Richer, a rising junior, has just begun research on an honors project on adolescent literature, while her brother, Cameron, will be joining the General Education Honors Program as a freshman in September.

Cameron, of course, will not be alone. I am looking forward to welcoming an impressive group of incoming honors students at orientation. Like all long-standing programs, Honors at RIC is constantly reinventing itself, but I do believe that 2009-10 has been a watershed year in its 28-year history. There are exciting possibilities ahead of us.