Honors Institute Leads to Lasting Success

Honors Institute is a special experience that provides perhaps the best opportunity to learn what Phi Theta Kappa is really all about. While nothing compares with the energy of Annual Convention, there’s an intimacy to Honors Institute that fosters learning and friendship.

“Honors Institute is all about student success,” said Susan Edwards, Phi Theta Kappa’s Dean of Academic Affairs and Honors Programs. “Our program affords members and advisors the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary inquiry, raise their global awareness, and experience deep learning.”

And yet, it’s an experience many members will never get to have. Getting college administration to support sending members to Honors Institute has proven to be a challenge for many chapters. But as regular Honors Institute attendees will attest, that special week of intense study can and often does directly impact the success of a chapter.

“I do believe that many colleges at the level that can influence or provide financial support are ignorant about Honors Institute and the value it provides the students and the college,” said Florida Regional Coordinator Connie LaMarca-Frankel. “Now that we have Honors in Action, there is an even greater reason to support Honors Institute.”

Honors Institute is often called the “crown jewel” of honors programming. Renowned speakers address the current Honors Study Topic in general sessions, and then smaller seminar groups meet to further discuss the topic and the presentations.

“It gives the students the opportunity to grow academically without the stress of a grade,” said Dr. Mary James, advisor of the Upsilon Eta Chapter from Florida State College at Jacksonville. “Since it is an open discussion format, it allows the students the chance to develop a technique to express themselves. I have seen some personal growth in students as well as in myself.”

It’s a week that some chapters just don’t miss. They’ve garnered support from their colleges to make Honors Institute attendance a priority for several of their members. And their advisors are sharing the why’s and how’s as Best Practices for you.

Lone Star College - Kingwood, Texas

Texas Regional Coordinator Debbie Esparza began sending her incoming officers to Honors Institute in 2006 when she became advisor of the Alpha Lambda Xi Chapter at Lone Star College-Kingwood.

“Because I had experienced Honors Institute as a student and then as an advisor, I personally remembered the impact it had on me as a student and in introducing me to everything Phi Theta Kappa has to offer,” she said. “ (It) forms the foundation for their Phi Theta Kappa experience. When events like Honors Institute lead to involvement in Honors in Action and College Projects, the experience positions students well for completion and helps insure they are competitive in the four-year arena.”

The chapter’s funding for Honors Institute is built into its annual budget, which is sent to the Student Activities Fee Committee for approval; and, as a large, active and well-established campus organization, the chapter often receives significant funding from the college.

“I am lucky that my college president recognizes the value of Phi Theta Kappa,” Esparza said. “When we can show the relationship between Honors in Action and completion or College Project and value for the college, it is much easier.

“I think the single more important reason for administrators to support Honors Institute is because it is directly in line with the completion agenda. Full participation in Phi Theta Kappa, grounded with the Honors Institute, engages students in the areas we know lead to success and completion — active and collaborative learning, student effort, academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, and support for learners.”

Hillsborough Community College, Florida

Dr. Michael Odu, advisor of the Alpha Lambda Alpha Chapter at Hillsborough Community College, Brandon Learning Center Branch, in Florida, said his chapter has always had the backing of its Student Government, but chapters on other Hillsborough campuses were not as fortunate. Following a successful college project three years ago that received support of the campus president, the college president and the board of trustees, Odu and his chapter approached the Vice President of Student Services for college-wide funding for all Phi Theta Kappa chapters at the school.

He was successful in his pleas, and the chapters now enjoy a college-wide budget — $50,000 this year — that is used as evenly as possible by all five chapters. Supplemental funding from campus Student Government Associations assists, allowing the chapters to extend opportunities such as Honors Institute to even more students.

“Because of our past successes, it was very easy to convince the budget committee of our mission to expand the Phi Theta Kappa experience of our students, including participation in CollegeFish.org, the development of servant leaders that will help our students and community grow, and the improvement of our overall retention, graduation, transfer and completion rate,” Odu said.

Canada College, California

Beta Zeta Nu Chapter Advisor at Cañada College Paul Roscelli urges advisors to make the case that a Phi Theta Kappa chapter is no different from any other “team” the college supports. He also emphasizes that experiences like Honors Institute provide lessons the students will bring back and share with the campus through broader applications, specifically with Honors in Action and the College Project.

“It’s the most comprehensive way for students to get a handle on Honors in Action,” he said. “Moreover, unlike Convention, which has its own value, Honors Institute really does allow students to bond with others from across the country.

“It allows them to dig deeply into scholarly topics, which they can then bring back and use to create campus events. I think that’s the key; the administration needs to see that broader campus application.”

Pima Community College, Arizona

Rob Carey, advisor to the Alpha Beta Chi Chapter from Pima Community College in Arizona, has a list of reasons for college administrators to support sending students to Honors Institute. The Arizona Region gives an Honors Institute scholarship to chapters recognized as Distinguished Chapters during Annual Convention. Carey also requests available end-of-the-year funds from the college’s district office that can often support sending up to six students.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to giving the student a multidimensional understanding of learning that isn’t restricted to the classroom.

“They discover the value of integrated thinking about issues rather than seeing them as isolated and unconnected; and, they learn the importance of engaged dialogue as a means of exploring solutions to real world problems,” Carey said. “Opportunities like this are important because, regardless of their socioeconomic positions, they can make a difference in their communities with the potential for impact on national and global levels by collaborating with people who share their vision.

“Honors Institute produces significant and lasting changes that continue after the Institute is over.”

Holmes Community College - Goodman, Mississippi

The Kappa Alpha chapter from Holmes Community College – Goodman Campus in Mississippi invites members of its college administration to attend Phi Theta Kappa events — even Annual Convention. Administrators are kept informed of the chapter’s Honors in Action Project and College Project; the open communication leads the college to help fund the chapter’s travels to Honors Institute, chapter advisor Will Alexander said.

“Support from college administrators is key to the success of the Kappa Alpha chapter — and I do not mean just winning awards,” he said. “We define success as being able to educate our officers and members in a way that translates to a more educated and engaged student body and community.

“The impact that we, as a chapter, have in our community is what we consider to be outstanding. As a result, we have their support.”

Alexander said he feels that participation in Honors Institute gives chapters a distinct advantage in the execution of Honors in Action projects. In addition, support from his college administrators has allowed his chapter to offer support to other chapters within the Holmes Community College district and the region.

“I recognize the tremendous value that comes as a result in participation in a program like Honors Institute,” Alexander said. “The impact of these kinds of opportunities extends way beyond lectures and sessions.

“While those activities are important and provide students with an overall picture of Phi Theta Kappa, it is our perspective that participation in Honors Institute can open unexpected doors for students.”