The Honors College at UTC: Our Educational Gemstone

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(Left to right) Amanda Bennett, Greg O’Dea, Linda Frost

Innovation, imagination, curiosity, and civility are embedded dimensions of the ℹ️ Honors College at UTC. The College, as a community, speaks to academic rigor couched in an empathetic atmosphere of collegiality and camaraderie. Its contribution to the spirit of excellence in learning is akin to the inspirational teacher who launches many lifetimes brimming with curiosity and intellectual energy.

On campus, the Guerry Center, A.K.A. “Hogwarts,” is the nucleus of the College and boasts a Harry-Potter like, expansive and embracing chamber—an enabling space for reading, thinking, sharing ideas, and engaging in informed respectful arguments. Hogwarts is also home to the offices of Dr. Linda Frost, Dean of the College and Associate Dean, Dr. Greg O’Dea.

Linda Frost has been described as the driving force in the Honors College. She describes the College as, “An academically invigorating curriculum; an arm for professional development; a place to experiment as a teacher; a way to get the attention of great prospective students; a research and performance intensive space; a place where you can think and wonder. Above all else, the Honors College is a community, a constellation of administrators, faculty, students, and community members who find in one another a group of like-minded, like-hearted, and like-driven seekers.”

Greg O’Dea adds, “I think we’ve created in the Honors College a community of opportunity and inquiry. Students find community here because they find their own curiosity, their own inquiring spirit, reflected in each other. And they find opportunities to exercise that curiosity in unique ways—through innovative classes, academic travel, cultural enrichment, leadership, and service. Our alumni will tell you, almost to a person, that their experience in honors made all the difference in their college lives.”

The Honors College has many facets. The Brock Scholars Program is, “a four-year program that delivers a unique general education curriculum for high-achieving students.” Dominique Malone, a freshman in the Honors College at UTC during the 2016-2017 academic year and a Brock Scholar says, “I have never felt a more loving community than that of the Brock Scholars Program. Each and every individual is unique, yet somehow we all fit together perfectly. My experience here has been unlike any other in my life. All in all, not many freshman can say this soon that they have found a family in college, but I definitely have the strongest one standing behind me.”

Honors in the City Living-Learning Community provides, “a freshman-year-only experience for residential students. City Scholars live and take select courses together during their freshman year, and benefit from special programming and advisement. Many City students go on to enter the Innovations in Honors Program in their sophomore year.” The Innovations in Honors Program is, “a problem-based, community-embedded learning experience designed for students to enter as sophomores or juniors.”

Mady Hazen, a senior, interned with the City of Chattanooga’s Mayor’s Office as an Innovations in Honors scholar. She began her Honors College journey as a sophomore in the Innovations program studying nonprofit management and public administration. Along the way, Mady chose to enroll in the Green|Light lab, a class pursuing a sustainable business certification for the university through Green|Spaces, a local green business certification program that promotes best practices for being more sustainable. After earning this certification for UTC, Mady’s class subgroup focused on meeting weekly with Green|Spaces to reach out to other organizations within the city that might be good candidates for the Green|Light program. Mady exemplifies how the Honors College Innovations in Honors program links academic pursuits with real-life experiences in our community.

Departmental Honors represents another facet of the College and requires a year-long senior thesis designed by the student in conjunction with a faculty director from the student’s major department. Theses have included a wide range of topics, such as determining energy output in manual and automated solar arrays, an ethics of economic sanctions, and millennial skepticism and susceptibility to media persuasion.

In each of its many dimensions, close ties between faculty and students are a hallmark of the College. Dr. Andrew McCarthy, UC Foundation Associate Professor provides a close-in view of the College from his perspective, “The Honors College provides a wonderful laboratory for intellectual inquiry and I see the work of the freshman seminar as teaching students that risk-taking and mistake-making are invaluable elements in academic work. The course I teach is demanding for both the students and me and I like the scholarly camaraderie that develops over the course of a year. I always try to get students to understand that we are working together, that The Odyssey or Hamlet or The Handmaid’s Tale are not dusty old books, but pieces of art that are urgently speaking to us here and now.”

Sybil Baker, UC Foundation Associate Professor of English teaches the year-long freshman Brock Scholars Humanities sequence as well as creative writing and literature. She shares this, “In my current University Honors ‘gig,’ I feel a great responsibility to expose the students to a diversity of text, ideas, and projects. You’ll often find us sitting outside in the veranda of the Confederate Cemetery discussing the nature of love in Plato’s Symposium or the image patterns in Natasha Trethewey’s Pulitzer-prize winning Native Guard.”

Last November, Dr. Thomas Balázs, Associate Professor and Senior Associate Department Head of English, provided a glimpse of what he was anticipating when he began teaching for the first time in the Honors College in the spring semester of 2017. “I’m looking forward to teaching an intellectually rigorous, if unconventional subject (comic book culture) to a group of highly motivated students with sophisticated skill sets in college scholarship. I look forward to challenging them and being challenged as we delve into our topic; I look forward to stimulating classroom discussions and thought-provoking papers.”

The embedded notion of “Community” in the College extends far beyond the bounds of classrooms and the UTC campus. Sarah Morgan, President of the ℹ️ Benwood Foundation, has worked with UTC honors students along MLK Boulevard and in specific programs in the Innovation District. She points out that these students get to experience, “ . . . the creative collisions happening every day in the Innovation District by attending community events at the ℹ️ Edney Innovation Center and by working on real-world projects in the MLK neighborhood.” She hopes these talented students are inspired to stay and work in the Chattanooga community.

Ken Hays, President of the Enterprise Center, points out that the Center provides an opportunity for Honors College students at UTC and students from other institutions of higher education to work together to try to resolve issues related to the Enterprise Center’s broad goal of establishing Chattanooga as a hub of innovation. In the Enterprise Center students develop bonds and common interests among themselves and with the City of Chattanooga. Mr. Hay’s hope is that those bonds will be lasting and strong wherever their future takes them.

The Honors College, in its broad embrace of academic excellence and real-world community experience, represents a recognition of fundamental connections between the academe and pathways in the world beyond. A higher education gem in our community.

For more information please utc.edu/honors-college.

Photography courtesy of UTC

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Richard (Dick) Morel is a science writer with a keen interest in the Chattanooga community and, where possible, brining the wonder of nature's workings into articles for Chattanooga Magazine.

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