Both intellectual curiosity and service to others were on display this past Saturday at Marymount University’s main campus and Ballston Center, which played host to the Fall Conference planning meeting of the Virginias Collegiate Honors Council (VCHC).
Fifty participants from 16 different colleges and universities across Virginia and West Virginia attended the professional development event, as honors directors, faculty, staff and student leaders gathered together in person and remotely to plan the Honors Council’s spring research conference. VCHC, which has been in existence for more than 25 years, joins universities, colleges and community colleges to support and enhance programs and activities to meet the needs of exceptionally talented and motivated students. It accomplishes this by providing a forum for sharing information about honors programs, providing students with greater opportunities for intercollegiate honors program activities, collaborating with regional and national organizations that have similar goals, encouraging articulation between two and four-year honors programs and increasing public and private awareness of and fiscal commitment to honors programs and projects.
Marymount is well represented on the VCHC’s Executive Committee, with Dr. Stacy Lopresti-Goodman – the University’s Honors Program Director – serving as Vice President, while Katie McShea – a senior Biochemistry major and member of the Saints women’s basketball team – is the Student Vice President.
“It has been my pleasure to become more involved with the Virginias Collegiate Honors Council these past few years, first serving as the two-year private school representative and now serving as the Vice President,” Dr. Lopresti-Goodman said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn about best practices in honors from my colleagues across the state, as well as showcase all of the amazing work that our Honors students are doing.”
“It was an amazing experience being able to talk to other students and hear what their experiences as honors students have been like and other unique aspects of their honors programs,” McShea added. “Having participated in the Spring VCHC Conference in the past and being the current Student Vice President for the program, I want to be as involved as possible in planning for the Conference so that students can feel connected and enjoy the benefits of sharing research and networking for the VCHC’s first in-person Spring Conference in two years.”
The Fall Conference kicked off through an optional service learning event on Marymount’s main campus with Dr. Susan Agolini, Assistant Professor of Biology and founder of the Food for Thought student club. She introduced volunteers to the “Plot against Hunger” initiative, and how produce grown in community gardens is directed towards food-insecure individuals in the Arlington area. Three Honors students from Marymount and three Virginia Wesleyan University Honors students teamed up to make a difference through impactful service.
“The garden is originally the result of an Honors project, so it just seemed fitting to share its story with these exceptional students while also demonstrating how their efforts within their honors programs can take root and grow,” Dr. Agolini explained. “While the garden has allowed me personally to build ties to the broader community, the real benefit I see is the opportunities it has provided our students – not only in giving them experiences to see how science can impact society, but also in allowing them to use their research skills to solve real-world problems.”
“The Honors Program, and Dr. Lopresti-Goodman in particular, should be incredibly proud of the success and broad-reaching effects of their efforts – and the garden is just one example of that. Marymount is able to perform these kinds of experiential projects because the Saints Center for Service provides critical logistical support and funding, allowing these kinds of experiences where students can realize their impact on the broader community.”
Following the service learning event, the Fall Conference kicked into gear at the Ballston Center with an official welcome by Dr. Lopresti-Goodman and the President of the VCHC’s Executive Committee, Dr. Karen Layou. The rest of the day was filled with workshop sessions and discussions that focused on identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for strategic planning, mentoring for faculty, skill building for students and a graduate school discovery session led by Joseph Gebbie, Marymount’s Director of the Center for Career Development.
Representatives of Marymount’s Counseling Center also stopped by to speak with students and faculty about the importance of self-care, and how to view it as time invested in yourself – instead of time lost from not working.
The VCHC’s Spring 2021 Conference will be held at the University of Lynchburg in April. For more details, click here.