Two UCLA College honors students presented at the annual Academic Resource Conference sponsored by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission.
Held in April in Burlingame, Calif., this year’s conference theme was “Future Perfect,” and focused on encouraging university faculty, administrators and staff attendees to exchange ideas about how to transform their schools to meet the opportunities and challenges of the future.
Third-year neuroscience and African American studies double major Chinyere Nwonye and fourth-year political science major Jeremiah Barnett joined Jennifer Lindholm, Assistant Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and Director of Honors Programs at UCLA, in a presentation about the newly redesigned College Honors Program titled “Learning, Being, and Doing: Launching a New College Honors Program.”
In another session facilitated by Director of Assessment Kelly Wahl and Director of Curricular Initiatives Mitsue Yokota, both of the UCLA Division of Undergraduate Education, Barnett offered his insights into learning outcomes and interests.
Lindholm noted that Nwonye and Barnett, both Honors Fellows, were invited to speak because of their valuable contributions toward enriching UCLA’s traditional College Honors Program and developing the new pilot program, which will welcome its inaugural cohort of first-year students this fall.
During the group’s 15-minute presentation, Nwonye and Barnett each shared their personal experiences as honors students in order to explain how the honors program was transformed to be more experiential and interdisciplinary, more tailored to students’ individual interests, and better positioned to cultivate a community among honors students.
“I was thrilled, humbled, honored and of course nervous,” Barnett said of being invited to speak at the conference. “But I was excited to be able to share my story.”
Barnett spoke about his expectations on entering the honors program compared to what he felt he ultimately gained from the program. He stressed the importance of discussing learning outcomes with students. Nwonye talked about experiential learning and how it has enriched her academic career.
Lindholm said that student participation in these meetings is essential as it allows conference attendees to hear directly from students and ask them questions about how to get students to be more connected to university programs.
“We do a lot of talking about students and how to document ‘evidence’ of their learning such that federal expectations for institutional effectiveness are satisfied,” she said. “Too often though, we don’t invest enough time actually talking with students and, especially, listening closely to what they have to say. When we do, the conversations are more fun and good ‘outcomes’ tend to result for all involved.”
Nwonye said, “The [attendees] were very interested especially because Jeremiah and I were there and [we could explain] how students become more engaged and how we’re going to do that [in the honors program].”
Barnett said he thought the support of the UCLA administrators added to the audience’s enthusiasm and interest in the presentation.
“Being backed by the [attendees’] peers from UCLA gave us, as students, a level of credibility that allowed us to speak and others to listen,” Barnett said.
Nwonye and Barnett hope that more students might be invited to participate at similar conferences in future, noting that they offer a valuable real-world perspective that administrators and staff don’t often hear, and that inviting students to contribute to the conversation can impact
the decisions made by university leaders.
“I felt like I was representing my peers who don’t have the opportunity to speak in front of people, to help make decisions that may impact students’ lives,” Barnett said.
“Jeremiah and Chinyere did a fantastic job representing UCLA and our honors program,” Lindholm said. “Their valuable perspectives, coupled with their poise, candor and enthusiasm, made them the stars of every session in which they participated.”