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Honors Contract Contest winners go above and beyond

Every spring, the Honors Program holds an Honors Contract Contest, allowing students who have completed an Honors Contract in the past year (one of the six Honors Learning Experiences) to submit their work. The winners are chosen based on the quality and content of their work, collaboration with their instructor, as well as the uniqueness of their final product. Winners are recognized for their accomplishments and receive monetary prizes as well.

Taking first place this year was Addison Norris, a junior special education major. Norris has plans in the future to work with students with severe disabilities and chose to develop a toolkit to assist students and their families with the transition from school to adulthood.

To complete her contract, Norris thoroughly researched existing websites and print resources currently available on the topic of transition and collaborated with her instructor to share her findings and get feedback. She also interviewed experienced teachers in the field to gather insights from them about the process and challenges they face with the transition process. After the research and interviews were completed, Norris began constructing her toolkit by synthesizing interviews, sorting through the results of her research, and putting together her documents into a toolkit that can be used in the field by any new special education teacher.

“This was a unique and valuable experience that I was able to have,” Norris said. “After completing my Contract, I feel empowered to learn even more about how to best help my future students. I was inspired by the stories and experiences the professionals currently in the field shared with me.”

Debbie Sheldon, who collaborated with Norris on her contract, was impressed by her diligence and commitment to extend her learning. “Throughout the semester, Addison did a fantastic job connecting her Honors project to past, current, and future coursework,” Sheldon said. “Her final portfolio will be a wonderful resource for her as she progresses in her program.”

A representation of Addison Norris’ contract, “A Transition Toolkit for Teachers of Students with Severe Disabilities”.

In second place was senior Basheer Becerra, who is double majoring in computer science and statistics. Becerra is interested in studying computational biology in the future, so when selecting his contract topic he knew he would need insight from the different fields he would be drawing upon, which are computer science, statistics, and biology.

Working with three professors in two different areas of study, Becerra first identified a biological problem to solve – attempting to determine the biological age of a fruit fly using its physiological data. After identifying the problem, he then turned to machine-learning and the field of information technology to look for a solution. The third and final component required him to understand and interpret the results of his research. Combining his interest areas, as well as collaboration with his instructors, allowed him to gain specific insights into each field that helped him craft a unique project.

“My confidence in my field-specific knowledge has increased due to my Honors Contract,” said Becerra. “The collaboration with my professors was critical to its success.”

A section from Basheer Becerra’s contract “Predicting the Biological Age of Fruit Flies Using Machine Learning”.

Finishing third was sophomore Madison Ifft, who is majoring in music therapy with a Spanish minor. Ifft wanted to expand her knowledge of the Spanish language beyond what she was learning in class, and she also had a deep appreciation of spoken word performances, so she chose to combine these two interests for her contract. She tried several different variations of writing her pieces, until she finally settled on writing in free form Spanish, taking the opportunity to learn new vocabulary and syntax. Ifft worked closely with her professor throughout the writing process, making sure that her grammar was correct and that the pieces flowed well. Once the poems were written, Ifft practiced reading them out loud, both by herself and for her professor, who made sure her pronunciation was correct. Finally, she recorded herself performing each poem to create the final 9-minute project.

“I learned about how to create something beautiful in Spanish. This experience helped me think creatively in Spanish instead of just writing academically,” Ifft said. “It definitely stressed my language skills in a way the class hadn’t yet. It was a perfect extension to the class.”

A visual representation of Madison Ifft’s contract, “Mis Amigos Viejos”.

Each contract has unique aspects which made them stand out in our competition. The breadth of topics covered by Honors Contracts each semester emphasizes our Honors students’ diverse range of interests and passions. The collaboration with instructors from all different areas, and the chance for students to connect with faculty in meaningful ways is what makes the Honors Contract an exceptional opportunity within the Honors Program.

“Our students are given the opportunity to more deeply explore a topic or class that they are passionate about or to develop skills or projects that will be useful to them in their future careers,” said Honors Program Director Rocío Rivadeneyra. “It is clear from these winning Honors Contracts that our students are engaging with faculty in innovative ways and enriching their classroom experiences.”

Learn about our Honors Contract experience, and find out more about the process to create a contract of your own.

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