Friday, February 19, 2010

Missed it on the way

This afternoon, as I do four times each spring, I gave a thirty-minute talk to a group of prospective students on campus to be interviewed for the Honors College. It's a talk I enjoy giving because it illustrates something central to what I do and what I believe, and frequently surprising to the students who hear it. When they arrive for their interview, these students have already survived one round of cuts based on their submitted applications. One important piece of that application is an essay they write in response to a text we give them to read. The applicants might be forgiven for thinking the text is merely an example, an academic exercise designed to measure their skill in reading and analysis. But when I give my talk, which recapitulates and extends the theme of that text in ways the students haven't yet considered, I make it clear that we were telling them something about our program in our selection of text. Suddenly the academic exercise becomes an existential choice presented to them about what educational process they believe ought to characterize their undergraduate experience.

A couple of the upper-division students who act as Ambassadors, assisting us with recruiting, sat in on my presentation today. They had been dispatched to help me with handing out sheets for the students' post-presentation response write, but rather than coming back when they were needed, they just stayed. Both were students who had heard the same presentation a couple of years ago when they were applicants to the Honors College.

Later in the day, after I dispatched my responsibilities (lecturing, leading a small group discussion with five of the applicants, and socializing with parents and students afterward), I caught the last half of a conversation between one of our recent alumni who is now a health care policy adviser for one of Arkansas' senators. As the group broke up, my boss told me that one of the ambassadors had spoken to him about the presentation. She said that I should give that same lecture to current Honors students before they graduate. When she heard it as an applicant, she said, she was too nervous and keyed up about her own performance to really hear it. Listening again, she said, it was one of the best lectures she'd ever heard.

That's a great way to start the weekend.

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