Lessons Learned from the Honors Program Council

Lisa York’s relationship with Phi Theta Kappa began in 1998, when she became an honorary member of the Alpha Epsilon Omicron Chapter at Trident Technical College in South Carolina. Her aunt, the late Joanie Keller, was the chapter advisor there as well as the Carolinas Regional Coordinator, and she was trying to provide York with a new avenue in life following the death of her husband in 1992.

When York finally became an advisor to the Alpha Upsilon Eta Chapter at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina nearly eight years ago, she thought her journey with the Society had reached its peak.

“Thankfully, I was very mistaken,” York said.

While attending Honors Institute at Boston University in 2011, York was encouraged by Faculty Scholar Pat West to apply to become a Faculty Scholar the following year. Later, West encouraged her to apply for the Honors Program Council, which develops the Honors Study Topic and assists with the compilation of the Honors Program Guide.

“Serving on the Council as the Cultural Studies Representative provided me with a chance to focus intellectually on the issues that were important to me as an academic and helped me find new ways to bring those ideas not only to my chapter, but to all of my students,” York said.

York, Jo Fritts and Dr. Sauda Smith will complete their four-year terms on the Honors Program Council this summer. Applications to fill their spots are due May 2, and a Humanities Representative, a Social Sciences-Communications Representative and, for the first time, a Technical-Workforce Representative will be selected. (Apply today.)

York said the leadership skills and knowledge she has gained from Susan Edwards, Phi Theta Kappa’s Dean of Academic Affairs and Honors Programs, and from interactions with other Council members have proven invaluable both for her personally and for her students and chapter officers and have made her a better teacher and advisor.

“(Students) must know how to cooperate with others, how to lead and what constitutes effective leadership, how to successfully communicate complicated ideas, how best to serve others, why a life of service matters, and how to self-assess,” she said. “My greatest lesson, perhaps, is learning to continually set goals and assess personal growth and professional growth, which we can easily forget to do when we are so focused on our students’ personal and professional growth.”

York is a literature professor, but her time on the Council has allowed her to explore other areas of study such as accounting, the hard sciences and technology and to see how they’re all connected. She’s also made close friends with her fellow Council members — she and Smith now consider each other sisters.

“The camaraderie, the friendships and the participation in something so intellectual have become monumental for me,” said Smith, Associate Vice President of H. Lavity Stoutt Community College in the British Virgin Islands and founding advisor of the Beta Omicron Sigma Chapter. “For me, it’s been the ability to be in a room where a group of super-intellectual people can clash, and from that clash can come the most wonderful ideas and creativity. It’s absolutely been a priceless opportunity for me.”

Smith has used her experience on the Honors Program Council to show her students and even her co-advisors that it’s okay to disagree, as long as from that disagreement you arrive at a place where the common good and a common goal emerge.

The research aspect that goes into developing the Honors Study Topic and producing the Honors Program Guide has also been a valuable teaching tool for Smith.

“In a community college setting, we’re not often given the opportunity to do research and get published, unlike our colleagues in the universities,” she said. “The Honors Program Council enables you to create and contribute to the publication of a document that’s actually a teaching tool. It gives you an opportunity to use your intellect.

“We push our students to be on top of their games, so why shouldn’t we push ourselves?”

The opportunity to do research was a big draw for Fritts, a self-proclaimed “research geek.” Fritts is the advisor of the Alpha Psi Tau Chapter at Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri and is the Missouri Regional Coordinator. She patiently waited for several years for a spot on the Council to open up so she could apply.

Fritts has shared her first-hand experience as a Council member with her students and her region to show them that Honors Study Topics are not chosen lightly and that two years of repeated researching, writing and editing goes into the Honors Program Guide. It was important for her to show that it truly is a team effort, she said.

She is also ending her term on the Council with close friendships. Although she tends to be a private person, the connection Fritts has developed with her peers on the Council and the memories she has made with them have made it easier for her to open up.

“Knowing that my comments would be responded to in a respectful fashion (even if they were not agreed upon) was refreshing,” she said. “I know that I have developed a special bond with a handful of wonderful people that I will forever cherish.

“I feel as if I have lived the past four years in Williams Shakespeare’s quote, ‘We few, we happy, few, we band of brothers,’ because I look upon my fellow Council members as my brothers and sisters.”