Former homeschoolers reflect on similarities and differences in their studies

Written by Tabitha Redder

Some could consider the Honors College a beacon for homeschooled students. That is, staff at the college noted a considerable number of these students concentrated in the Honors College.

There are a few possible explanations for this; the one-on-one professor contracting, the small, intimate classroom size and the community atmosphere might encourage former homeschooled students to pursue academics within the Honors College.

“[Honors students] all seem to be pretty friendly and open,” Johnson said. “The homeschool community is pretty tight, close-knit. We make a lot of good, close friends at the co-ops.”

Homeschooled students and Honors students take classes together within their respective programs, Johnson said.

He was homeschooled from first grade to his senior year of high school and took advantage of dual-credit opportunities in high school.

Another homeschooled student, Benjamin Barnett, shared a comparable experience.

Barnett, an electrical engineering junior, described his role in the Honors College as exerting more effort in academics. He found this to be comparable to his experience in homeschool. In both situations, he strived to excel, and the bar was set high.

He also touched on the one-on-one aspect of contracting within the College. Honors students earn a large portion of their degree through contracting, which allows a student to receive honors credit in a non-honors course. This typically includes a more laborious course load, meetings with the professor and practicing skills that will benefit the student in their Senior Project.

Barnett said his professor has scheduled weekly meetings to accommodate the contracting portion for one of his classes.

“He’s actually been nice enough to set aside an hour every single week that we’ll meet, and we’ll talk about this project,” he said of his professor.

There are also differences between the homeschool experience and university life in the Honors College. Transitioning from a public or private high school campus to university can be a foreign environment to any student, and homeschooled students may experience this to a greater degree.

Mechanical engineering senior Matthew Smith said homeschooling offers flexibility and schedule creativity whereas a university is more concrete.

Mechanical engineering senior Matthew Smith is one of several Honors students who was homeschooled. He said the Honors College reminds him of his homeschool community. Photo courtesy of Matthew Smith.

“In homeschooling, you can completely customize your education to how you want,” he said. “There is a bit more structure in the Honors College and college in general than in homeschooling.”

Smith was homeschooled for most of his K-12 education and said this aided in his academic success.

“My mom had started teaching me really young, so in kindergarten, I was at third and fourth grade reading level, math level,” he said. “It didn’t really make much sense to keep me in school at that point.”

Johnson said the major difference between homeschool and Honors College is the learning style.

“I pretty much taught myself my entire high school career, whereas here, you go to class and they actually read the stuff to you,” he said. “It’s a different learning style.”

These differences between college and homeschooling may cause shock when students arrive on a college campus.

Barnett expanded on the social shock of transferring to a university, rather than a surprise in academics.

“Probably the hardest adjustment was the social aspect, but it wasn’t too bad because I had friends from a homeschool co-op… in high school,” Barnett said as he elaborated on UTA’s diverse student population. “You get to see all sorts of thought processes, ways of life, religions, you know, ethnic backgrounds. It’s really cool, because there’s kind of like more for me to explore and see how everybody does things differently.”

Smith had a similar experience coming to UTA and noted that the student population is colorful demographically.

“I wouldn’t necessary say it was a culture shock as much as it was a place where those cultures were a little bit more diverse than they had been before,” Smith said.

In addition to a social adjustment period between high school and college for some students, there may be an academic adaptation period as well. However, Honors students who were previously homeschooled may be an exception.

Johnson said the transition was painless for him academically. He said homeschooling pushes students to a higher standard.

“There’s no average to pass, there’s no class to curve by, it’s just you versus the textbook,” He said of class peers whose grades may persuade a professor to curve assignment grades.

Smith also noted a smooth transition.

“I acclimated comfortably,” he said. “I think homeschooling in general was… more rigorous than public school. In our case, and that’s not universal.”

Despite potential challenges or adjustments, there are plenty of reasons students enjoy the Honors College

Like Johnson, Barnett appreciates the community aspect and how other students are just as driven as he is.

“I like that everyone is academically focused, because I’d say that’s kind of where my interests lie,” Barnett said. “It’s cool that there’s people with similar goals, even if they’re a different major.”

Johnson added that he enjoys that he can relate to his peers on a non-academic level, too.

“I enjoy that there’s a whole bunch of nerds,” he said. “If you’re a science fiction fan, or a Lord of the Rings fan, or you just like Calculus II, then you’ll find people here that enjoy the same things.”

Smith’s feelings echoed the others’ concerning his fellow students in the Honors College.

“I do enjoy the community,” Smith said. “[It] does feel similar to the homeschool community I had.”

Even though Johnson, Smith and Barnett had different homeschooling paths that all led to UTA, they say the Honors community they found here is what makes it so enjoyable.

“I do obviously enjoy the academic perks of being able to do the specialized Honors courses, but the people, I think, are what make it best,” Johnson said.

Interdisciplinary Studies moves to the Honors College

Written by Madison Ray

This spring, Interdisciplinary Studies found a new home on campus.

Formerly housed in University College, the department moved to the Honors College in early 2018. There were several reasons behind the decision to move, including distinguishing between Interdisciplinary Studies, or INTS, and University Studies. Additionally, INTS students will now complete Honors requirements to fulfill graduation requirements.

Rebekah Chojnacki, the INTS adviser, is also a doctoral student at UTA. She’s currently completing her PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. In the past, she earned both an Honors Bachelor of Arts in public relations and a Master of Arts in communication from UTA.

“We wanted to give the students in the program a more rigorous, challenging and overall better experience,” Chojnacki said of the move.

The University Studies program is different from INTS in that it’s designed for those who may be working adults or non-traditional students with many credit hours who want to graduate quickly to begin their career.

“Interdisciplinary Studies allows students to have a customized experience that is more in depth and rich than they would otherwise get,” Chojnacki said.

If students wish to receive multiple minor degrees, INTS allows them to combine those minors into one customized major. The move from University College to the Honors College highlighted the distinctions between the two degrees, allowing INTS to stand out.

However, there have been a few drawbacks to the process.

“I don’t have the additional support staff that I had over in university studies, so I am the department right now along with one intern,” Chojnacki said.

Despite this, Chojnacki praised the support from Honors College staff as well as additional recognition toward INTS on campus.

 

STUDENT EXPERIENCES

INTS students were affected by the move, as well. There are many INTS students who were in the program beforehand that did not previously have to meet Honors College admission requirements and those who experienced an adjustment period during the move.

Roman Vasquez, a senior who has been an INTS student since fall 2017, was grandfathered into the Honors College.

Roman Vasquez is a senior in Interdisciplinary Studies. He likes that INTS allows students to focus on their own unique interests.
Photo by Madison Ray

“With INTS, you have the flexibility to really dig in deep into a discipline and pull out what you want from it,” he said of the degree plan. “No one plan is exactly alike, and that’s something I really like. Like, everyone has it based off their interests, and it’s very interesting to see.”

Grandfathered students are required to take a senior seminar to fulfill the Honors requirement. Vasquez said that he had to take the seminar earlier than usual due to the transition into the Honors College.

“I don’t graduate until May 2020 most likely, and so, typically with a senior seminar or a senior internship you leave that until the end, but I had to take it this time around,” he said.

Savannah Almond joined INTS in early spring 2018, right when the program was moving.

“Right as I was coming in was when it was moving over to Honors College, so there was like a whole lot that was up in the air, and everything was like really changing,” Almond said. “It felt a little chaotic at the time. That’s nobody’s fault, other than it was just, you know, poor timing, I suppose, on my part.”

Vasquez had a similar experience during the transition.

“When the whole change occurred, those of us that were already in the program were kind of like, ‘What’s going to happen to us? What’s going to go on?’” he said. “So that was a little shock to us. When we found out, we were like, ‘What? The program is changing?’”

Despite the stress of transitioning into a modified degree plan at the Honors College, Almond still appreciates being an INTS student.

Savannah Almond, senior in Interdisciplinary Studies, said she enjoys having control over her own degree.
Photo by Madison Ray

“I really enjoy the fact that I get so much control over my own degree,” Almond said. “I came from being an engineering student where it’s very structured.”

Almond also commented on the fact that INTS is a much smaller program than engineering, which allows students to build closer, more intimate relationships with professors.

“[Engineering professors] had like, 900 students in one kind of class, you know, so there was no way to stand out, really,” she said.

Because INTS students all pursue different subjects and customize their degrees, they’re typically not in the same classes as other INTS students.

“Honestly, it feels very…individual,” Almond said of the subdued INTS student comradery in the program. “I mean, there’s nobody else that’s really doing the same thing that I’m doing.”

Almond shared that some students did not have the same professor for their introductory class and don’t know any other students. It’s a stark contrast to the Honors College Council that hosts biweekly meetings and other events throughout the semester.

“It was a little hard at first to integrate everybody,” she said.

 

INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES CLUB

A potential solution to the lack of community among INTS majors is to start a club. Some INTS students signed a petition to resurrect the defunct INTS club. Almond is one of those students.

“I think it would really help if we had [the club]… like, ‘Hey, you guys are feeling very isolated probably because you’re not in the same classes with…any or most of your peers, and most people maybe that are in your classes with you don’t know what Interdisciplinary is,’” she said.

She also elaborated on a potential meeting agenda, and it may be delicious.

“Let’s get together, let’s have some pizza…we’ll bring in a guest speaker, or…we’ll talk about how to put Interdisciplinary on your resume, and how to like, sell yourself, or have useful seminars every so often,” she said. “That kind of thing.”

Despite setbacks, staff and students feel that the future of INTS is promising.

“I’m excited to see where it’s going to go,” Chojnacki said.

Honors College alumna finds pattern in local crime

Written by Tabitha Redder

While some fear statistics and number crunching, former Honors College student Megan Meier welcomes it.

Meier graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Anthropology, then she continued her studies to receive a Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice at Texas State University in 2013. As a graduate student, she worked as a teaching assistant for several statistics classes.

She said her time at the Honors College truly prepared her for graduate school and ultimately, her current career as a crime analyst in DFW.

Photo provided by Megan Meier

“I work for a police department where we get reports every day. We get calls and logs of what’s going on,” she said of her current position. “I add them into a system, and we can do everything from forecasting crime patterns or finding out what areas in the city are hotspots for crime.”

When she inserts qualitative data into a system, it categorizes the crime and can reveal helpful information.

“It tells you what the crime is, and we can classify that as mild, moderate, severe, and we can actually plot that on a map near an address or GPS coordinates,” Meier said.

She said one can continue compiling crime data until a pattern or discrepancy is noticed.

“In criminal justice, you find out, you know, that five percent of street addresses make up a majority of the problems we have in a city,” she said.

She said she enjoys the math element of her position the most.

“I like looking at data. I like looking at numbers,” she said. “Whenever we get to do crime reports and say, ‘Crime went up, crime went down, here’s a forecast for what we’re expecting next, if we continue on this trend…’ that’s the fun part. Getting to look at numbers. I like patterns.”

As an undergraduate, the research requirements to fulfill the Honors degree seemed promising to her.

“I went to one of the open houses, and they said I’d get to do research and go above and beyond what you’d do in normal classes,” she said.

She knew this would prepare her for research in graduate school.

“Research methods is the best thing. You use a lot of it in graduate school, which I liked,” Meier said. “You’re doing research for your thesis or dissertation for your masters or PhD.”

Her anthropology classes in particular proved to be beneficial beyond her work as an undergraduate.

“There was a lot of discourse in anthropology. We would sit around the table and discuss things, which helped me a lot in graduate school,” she said. “It’s like all the classes now are discussion. There may be some lecture [in graduate school], like the math courses had lecture, but it was mostly reading, discussing, adding to the conversation.”

She also praised the skills she learned enrolling in more rigorous coursework to fulfill Honors requirements, including time management.

“The Honors College made graduate school pretty easy, honestly. You learn time management because you’re kind of in a crunch” she said of completing additional coursework for Honors credit.

Many Honors students receive the bulk of their Honors credits via contracting. They set up a contract in advance to fulfill Honors credit for a non-Honors course. This can include an extra project or an extra presentation, among other methods. Usually, they work closely with their professor throughout the semester to ensure they receive credit.

“I loved my time at the Honors College. I liked getting to go make Honors Contracts,” she said. “You didn’t just rely on what the honors college already provided, you could go in and add things to courses you wanted to take. I enjoyed doing that.”

Meier shared that the Honors College offered her more than just academics.

“I’m actually still best friends with two people from the Honors College. One is traveling, the other is settled in DFW, too,” she said. “We were all three in anthropology.”

As for current Honors students, she urged them to avoid fixating on perfection in their studies.

“I think the Honors College kids are kind of perfectionistic and like to study,” she said. “They should probably be patient with themselves. Even if you think you’re not getting where you should be and when you should be there.”

Meier relates her advice to her feelings as a student.

“I don’t think I enjoyed graduate school and got the most out of it,” she said. “I really wanted to get to work. I wanted to do that as quickly as possible. Sometimes research for your Master’s takes a bit longer than you think, and it puts you off 6 months to a year. It’s like, adjusting your expectations of yourself within graduate school or your career; Either could throw you a curveball.”

She added that it’s wise to approach studies and the future with a realistic mentality.

“You need to adjust your expectations of being at the very top because sometimes that doesn’t happen. [Students] can beat themselves up about it, and I don’t think they should do that,” she said. “I think they should be happy that they’ve made it this far in the Honors College. That’s more than a lot of students do at UTA. Every now and then you can take a break. If you do badly on an exam, it’s not the end of the world.”