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The mission of the Honors College at East Carolina University is to
prepare tomorrow's leaders through the recruitment, engagement, and
retention of exceptionally talented students of character in a diverse
intellectual living-learning community and to challenge them to attain
high levels of academic achievement.
Written by EC Scholar alumna Sarah Lisson (’16)
I cannot believe it’s been over two years since I graduated from the Honors College and the EC Scholars program. The time has absolutely flown by, and I have certainly kept busy! I am currently in my final year of graduate school at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where I am pursuing dual master’s degrees in nutrition and public health and will also be completing my dietetic internship in the spring of 2019. Though this chapter of my life has taken me approximately 450 miles away from Greenville, I’m happy to report that I’ve found a few fellow Pirates who proudly bleed purple and gold out here in Big Orange Country.
Graduate school has been very different from my undergraduate experience. Though I have taken plenty of exams and quizzes, most of my assignments have been papers and projects that have encouraged me to think critically and apply what I have learned (much like the assignments given in Honors seminars and colloquia). I have also had plenty of opportunities to use my new knowledge and skills to serve the community. Like ECU, UTK promotes service-learning and facilitates partnerships that will mutually benefit students and communities. My favorite service-learning experiences have been leading after-school programs in local elementary and middle schools. As I watched students handle chef’s knives in Culinary Club and advocate for anti-smoking legislation in Teens Working for Reform (ToWeR)- activities I certainly was not doing at their age- I was amazed by their capability, passion, and confidence.
My love of after-school programs led me back home to Raleigh this summer for a field placement with the YMCA of the Triangle. For nearly two months, I put everything I have learned about community assessment and program evaluation into practice while examining facilitators and barriers affecting the implementation of the YMCA’s Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards in after-school programs throughout Wake County. When I was not making site visits or analyzing data, my preceptor helped me arrange additional experiences based on my interests in policy and communications. We attended a variety of committee meetings at the North Carolina General Assembly during my first two weeks, and she entrusted me with the task of writing a series of articles and tweets promoting the North Carolina Healthy Out-of-School Time (NC HOST) recognition program (which can be found here: https://www.ncymcaalliance.org/). I felt completely “in my element” during my time with the YMCA, and I returned to Knoxville with a clearer sense of how I want my career to look.
I gratefully credit the Honors College and the EC Scholars program with much of my post-graduate success. Though my graduate program is equipping me with the technical skills and knowledge to excel in my field, the opportunities that I was given at ECU helped me to lay a firm foundation. It was at ECU that I began learning how to be a leader, a researcher, and a mentor. I learned why networking is so important and how to do it effectively, and I gained experience collaborating with peers and colleagues in other disciplines. My time at UTK has made me a proud Volunteer, but as I prepare to graduate and look back on my academic journey, I am proud to say that I will always be, first and foremost, a loyal and bold Pirate.
Weaving through the medieval streets of Krosno, Poland, ECU Honors student Lillie Rhodes and her classmates beamed ear-to-ear in stark contrast to the fourteenth century gothic architecture. “Our homework was to go around and smile at everyone. It isn’t typical for the locals we would see in Poland and the Czech Republic to smile at strangers and wear their emotions on their sleeves like we do in America. Many of the locals thought we were weird, but it was normal in our culture!” After a while, the smiles that spread from person to person warmed entire city streets—showing Lillie the most impactful but basic key to communicating across cultures: the power of a smile.
Knowing the importance of these kinds of intercultural connections, the East Carolina University Honors College fosters a “global mindset” in Honors students early on. Lillie, now a senior Political Science major and Communications minor, wanted to study abroad in order to push herself outside of her comfort zone and to see the world—and her own culture—from a new lens. “I chose Poland and the Czech Republic because I never thought of seeing them on my own, and I knew I might not get that experience again outside of a study abroad experience. I also was really interested in the classes that I took!”
The Communications Across Borders program allowed Lillie to engage with Czech and Polish students and faculty across three historic Central European cities: Krosno, Krakow, and Prague. Over three weeks from May 19th to June 9th, Dr. Lida Cope and Dr. Deborah Thomson brought the study of culture to life with Lillie and her peers through immersive historic experiences across centuries of global culture. Classes in intercultural communication and English as a world language made cross-cultural interaction a personal experience for Lillie and fellow Pirates as they learned with students at Krosno State College.
During their time in Krosno and Krakow, Lillie’s group had a morning lecture by one of their ECU professors or a Polish guest professor. “We focused on the differences between Polish and Czech cultures compared to American culture. This included things such as power distance, individualistic/collectivistic cultures, and culture shock,” Lillie says. Like anyone living abroad, Lillie felt her own fair share of culture shock. “It was definitely intimidating the first week because we were in a smaller town (Krosno) and not many people spoke fluent English. I was able to learn a few words or phrases in Polish, but Czech is way harder! In Krakow and Prague, it wasn’t too hard to communicate because a vast majority spoke English very well,” Lillie says.
Despite the adjustments, Lillie took a few points from her classes to ease into the local culture and share her own with Krosno State College students.
“We once sat in on a class while they watched rap battle videos on YouTube in order to learn English and understand the different meanings behind words. It was cool to be able to help them learn as well as answer any questions they had. They helped us too by letting us in on certain cultural differences we were not aware of yet!” Even once students get a hang of their surroundings, it’s always comforting to get a taste of home every now and then in a foreign environment. Lillie laughs. “The amount of McDonalds I ate while in Krakow was crazy. It was funny to all of us because we were Americans abroad and we were eating McDonalds! But we promise it was only when we needed a super quick meal or a late-night snack. The local food is different—and way better!”
However, once their classes finished for the afternoon, there was so much to do and see that adjusting was second fiddle to throwing themselves into the new and exciting. They embarked a guided tour or other program in the afternoons. “While we were in Prague, we had a lot of nice free time! Most afternoons were free for us to explore the city on our own. There were a few guided tours during the trip, like to the salt mines in Krakow and to Auschwitz.” These opportunities to travel are key for students to look inwards and reflect and refine their own perspective. Lillie describes the impact one of these moments can have to even enrich prior experiences. “Touring the Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps were indescribable. The experience was a mix of emotions but heartbreaking overall. It’s one thing to remember read and learn about the Holocaust, but you can’t really imagine what it was like until you’re really there. It was especially emotional because a girl on my trip was Jewish, and hearing her perspective was illuminating,” Lillie says.
Being far from home also brought unique beauty and adventure that Lillie remembers vividly, even half a world away. “My favorite place in Poland was ‘Zamek w Krasiczynie,’ which is a castle about an hour away from Krosno. It was just so beautiful, something totally different than I could see in America! The John Lennon wall in Prague was amazing as well!” Once Lillie got started, she smiles and everything welled to the surface. “I also now have a newfound love for Ice Pubs. We went to one in Prague, and though it was very cold, it was an experience I’ll never forget. My new bucket list item is to travel to all the Ice Pubs around Europe!”
Now that she’s back on campus, Lillie is looking forward to translating her experience with intercultural communication into opportunities to broaden her horizons. The impact her experience will bring on campus and the community will be especially effective since she got to share her time in Central Europe with fellow ECU students. Whether it be shared experiences like summer camp, training, or classes, those close bonds can last for years—or even a lifetime. “It was nice to be able to explore Prague with the group of friends I made on my trip—we still talk almost every day!”
Studying abroad is an entirely unique and perspective-shifting experience, and although ECU’s International House and the Honors College offer plentiful support resources, friends and others that have lived abroad are often the tight-knit community that allow homecoming students to reflect and readjust. “I felt a bit of reverse culture shock when I originally came back but I quickly jumped into SGA activities and studying for the LSAT. Since I studied abroad with an ECU program, it’s been nice to still have friends from my group once I got back to joke around about our shared experience. It also helped that ECU did a great job of preparing us for culture shock and reverse culture shock. We received many emails and an orientation session before we left about travel tips and what it may be like while we were there!”
Although there are many things that Lillie misses from her time in the Czech Republic and Poland (“THE FOOD! I came to love pierogis, but the boxed ones from the grocery store just aren’t the same”), Central Europe and the rest of the globe certainly hasn’t seen the last of her. “I definitely plan on going back to Prague because I still missed exploring somethings while I was there! It would be nice to take family and friends to Krakow and to explore Warsaw in Poland next time. I loved the feeling of adventure that I had while abroad, and I really do miss that. Although this was my first study abroad experience, I would love to go somewhere again! I am looking at traveling to Australia after graduation but hopefully still through ECU,” Lillie says.
The ECU Honors College’s ability to afford students plenty of opportunity to discover profound experiences abroad makes it a special kind of support network where students returning from abroad and those booking their next flight to reach out for encouragement and advice from students like Lillie. “I think doing a program in a field that I was interested in—and related to my minor—helped me enjoy the experience more! I suggest doing your research on not only the place you are visiting but also learn more about your professors since you will be with them during the trip!”
To learn more about study abroad opportunities, you can contact us at 252.328.6373, email us at email@example.com or visit us on ECU’s campus at the Mamie Jenkins Building. To keep up to date on Honors College events and student stories like Lillie’s, follow us on social media.
A main tenet of the Honors College spirit is the way its students keep their fingers on the pulse of administration, faculty, and peers on campus as leaders to create enduring change for all students. If you had to ask any student about goings-on in campus administration, EC Scholar Dana Shefet didn’t just have her finger on the pulse—she was the heartbeat! “This was one of the most unique, individualized opportunities so far in my college experience,” she says.
On April 11th Dana was chosen to act as the inaugural “Dean For A Day” at ECU’s largest college—the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. “My mathematics major is located within the THCAS, allowing me to interview for the opportunity to take on Dean William Downs’ role,” says Dana. While Dana took over the Dean’s desk, Dean Downs took a seat in all of Dana’s classes, à la Freaky Friday.
In this position, Dana represented all Honors College and College of Arts and Sciences students to gain insight into the administrative side while introducing positive change from the student perspective. “Acting as Dean gave me the ability to see the leadership required in running the largest and most diverse academic college at ECU,” Dana says. “My three main goals I wanted to accomplish as Dean were making students feel like more than just a number within the college, showing students the career opportunities they have present with their degrees, and allowing more department access to teacher reviews written at the end of the semester about courses.”
Like the beginning of any turbo-charged day, Dana enjoyed breakfast with the Dean’s office staff before diving into her responsibilities as head honcho. The Thomas Harriot administration certainly gave her the full experience: Dana was in demand, booked all day for meetings! She immediately began with John Stiller, Chair of the Faculty, then met with her Department Chair in Mathematics, Dr. Johan Hattingh—now from the other side of the desk. Dana spoke with College Advising and held an interview with The East Carolinian on her experience as a rare Student Dean. Before the morning was through, even Provost Dr. Ron Mitchelson stopped by.
Luckily, her packed schedule broke for lunch with Dean Downs and five students Dana hand-selected from within the College of Arts and Sciences to represent their peers. The hefty check-ins didn’t let up in the afternoon. She first met with Dr. Derek Maher, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies, and then with Career Development Counselor John Stowe. Dana tied up the afternoon neatly with a Dean’s Student Leadership Council meeting and discussed the insight she gained with Dean Downs.
With the shoe on the other foot, someone needed to take notes and answer questions for the classes that Dana would miss in her newfound position. Dean Downs substituted for Dana in her Chemistry 1160 class, his first chemistry class in thirty-four years. After the fact, Dana said Dean Downs was certainly taught about the realm of a department he hadn’t been exposed to as a political science major. “Although the class deemed challenging for Dean Downs, he gained a serious appreciation for students in my class who were mastering electrochemistry principles,” says Dana, laughing.
Dana’s “game plan” she prepared beforehand translated this opportunity into keen insight to maximize her experience. She feels the insight she gained can create a positive impact with the collaborative power of fellow students on campus. “The aspect that most surprised me after meeting with different members of the college was the complex system of positions that make up the college. If more students knew about the structure and the different people they could turn to for help besides their advisor within the college, they could be a lot more successful and feel like more than just a number. The faculty within THCAS and ECU in general is here to assist the students and truly want to learn what is best for the students to succeed and thrive.”
After seeing administration operations from the inside, Dana attests to the strength of Thomas Harriot’s degree versatility—one of her three goals. “Students believe that if you major in Biology, you either become a teacher, a doctor, or work in a lab. There are so many career paths available through your degree here that pursuing what you truly want to spend your life doing feels incredibly accessible with the administration’s help.” Dana speaks highly of the communication between the college and students, however she noticed where students can engage with campus administration to enhance this connection. “The post class surveys we take to assess professors was only ever seen by the professor himself and no one else in their department. Whether students are praising a professor or leaving remarks for improvement, change will not be made or monitored unless another party is involved to ensure their students are receiving the best education possible.”
After Dana’s day as Dean closed, the influence from the student-administration collaboration was already felt. During their morning coffee alone, Dean Downs and Dana spoke at length on how to further integrate the Honors College into the College of Arts and Science, resulting in adding an Honors College representative position on the Dean’s Student Leadership Council. Dana’s enthusiasm to employ her newfound experience into lasting change is electric:
“I gathered so many good suggestions and made amazing connections with faculty throughout ECU. I am eager to start implementing them in the college with the help of Dean Downs and the rest of the super supportive faculty I met being Dean. As the day developed, it was an invaluable experience for both Dean Downs and I to learn about life on the other side. I highly recommend everyone to apply to be Dean For A Day!”
To learn more about how Honors College students are engaged with the campus and community, you can contact us at 252.328.6373, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us on ECU’s campus at the Mamie Jenkins Building. To keep up to date on Honors College events and student stories like Dana’s, follow us on social media.