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New Honors Fellowship program prepares Blugolds to be future community leaders

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Freshman Sophia Curran-Moore is one of UW-Eau Claire’s first Honors Fellows, a new fellowship program within University Honors for students who show academic promise, but also the potential to be leaders who will work to improve their communities. Fellows receive a $2,000 scholarship for up to two years, mentoring and other benefits. (Photo by Shane Opatz)

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire freshmen Jasmine Pearson and Sophia Curran-Moore have very different career aspirations — one hopes to be a researcher and the other a teacher — but they share the goal of someday being leaders in their communities as well as in their professions.

An Honors Fellowship program within the University Honors Program is giving the Blugolds new opportunities to gain the communication and other skills they’ll need to become future leaders, says Dr. Heather Fielding, director of the University Honors Program.

“We welcomed our first class of nine fellows this fall,” Fielding says. “They are all first-year Honors students who were selected for this special program because they show academic promise, but also the potential to be leaders who will work to improve their communities.”

Honors Fellowship program

Jasmine Pearson

Jasmine Pearson is excited to gain communication and other skills as an Honors Fellow. (Photo by Shane Opatz)

Honors Fellows receive a $2,000 scholarship for up to two years, mentoring and access to all the benefits offered through the University Honors Program, including special courses. The fellows also enroll in a leadership- and community-focused section of a first-year Honors seminar course, where they work together on a community project.

The new program is off to a strong start thanks to the impressive students who make up its first cohort, says Fielding, noting that any Honors student can apply to the fellowship program.

“They are a diverse group not only demographically, but in terms of their majors and their interests,” Fielding says. “They are a really interesting group that includes students of color, and majors ranging from business to actuarial science to education to English.”

Classroom discussion is a hallmark of all Honors courses, so students learn from each other, get better at listening to others, and figure out how to take in and respond to the thoughts of people who have different points of view, Fielding says. Those discussions within and outside of the Honors classes are richer when there is diversity among the students, she says.

“This kind of learning benefits students when they tackle problems in their future workplaces, but also as citizens and community members,” Fielding says.

Curran-Moore agrees, adding that the Honors Fellows work so well together “because we have different majors, races, gender and sexuality identities, so we each bring a different point of view. We can see a problem from multiple perspectives and see multiple solutions.”

Community focus

For years, students have flocked to Honors classes that involve service-learning, such as a class that matches them as mentors to Upward Bound students, or a course that has them analyzing Eau Claire’s food systems to help the City Council make good decisions, Fielding says. Her students say these courses add meaning and value to their college experience, she says.

The new fellowship program grew out of Honors students’ desire to make a difference in their communities, Fielding says. The fellowship program will help the university and the Honors Program recruit new students who want to connect their learning to their communities, she says.

It was the program’s emphasis on the community that motivated her to apply for the fellowship, says Curran-Moore, an English education major and Spanish minor from St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

“I want to be an English teacher in the future, but I also hope to be an active participant in my community, advocating for social change and environmental justice,” Curran-Moore says. “The project we are doing is a starting point so I can practice my advocacy skills.”

Their project is focused on sustainability and diversifying meal plans on campus, giving Blugolds more dining options that align with their diets, such as additional vegetarian foods.

“It will be difficult, but we are making connections and creating a plan to make a difference,” says Pearson, a bioinformatics major with a Spanish minor from Apple Valley, Minnesota.

In the future, Pearson wants to do genetic research and create cures for genetic diseases. She also wants to be a change-maker in her community. The fellowship program will help her develop the skills and connections she’ll need to accomplish both her personal and professional goals, she says.

Fielding says she’s been impressed by how seriously the fellows are taking their project. They’re having conversations across campus to gather information so they can make their plan, which they will implement in the spring, she says.

While she mentors the fellows, Fielding says she has “no idea what their project will look like in the end because the students are designing it from top to bottom.”

Collaborating with her peers on a community project is the best part of the fellowship program, Pearson says. She appreciates the opportunity to “create a service project that is up to us, and that we have the freedom to design it however we like.”

She’s thrilled to see the first nine Honors Fellows quickly build connections and friendships as they work on their project, Fielding says.

“There was a kind of magic that started to happen once they were in a room together,” Fielding says. “They are building on each other’s strengths, listening to each other and approaching their work with curiosity and openness. I’m excited to see what these students accomplish during their time at UWEC and where they go after.”

University Honors Program

There are about 800 Blugolds in University Honors, with about 200 new freshmen joining each fall.

Curran-Moore says the Honors Program has been a great experience. The discussion-based classes are helping her build her communication and leadership skills, and the smaller Honors classes making it easier to connect with her peers and professors, she says.

While it was UW-Eau Claire’s strong science programs and the “amazing opportunities” to do undergraduate research that brought her to campus, Pearson says the University Honors and Honors Fellowship programs are making her experiences as a Blugold even better.

“Honors gives me the opportunity to build valuable relationships with professors and my peers, as well as the opportunity to take unique classes that aren’t offered to students outside of the Honors program,” Pearson says. “I love UWEC and the Honors Fellowship program. I’ve met so many amazing people, and I cannot wait to see where I go in the future because of the amazing opportunities here.”