They call themselves “The Circus Nerds”. They are sparkles and sensibility, brains and balance, grace and grit. For the 21 Honors students who are also members of the Gamma Phi Circus, connecting the values and dimensions of the Honors Program to their work in the circus is not a hard stretch of their boundless imaginations. In fact, it comes pretty naturally to them.

“I have learned that being an Honors student and a student circus performer go hand in hand,” said freshman Jessica Lamberty. “There is a large community of Honors students in the program who always have each other’s backs.”

A growth mindset

One of the most prominent Honors examples that students make a consistent connection with is the “growth mindset” taught by the Honors Program, the idea that intelligence and ability are malleable and not fixed. This frees students to embrace the idea that just because they don’t understand something “yet”, they have the freedom to find different ways to understand a concept.

“I was going to circus practices, trying things out, but not really excelling at any of them. I found myself thinking, ‘There’s just no way I’ll be able to do any of this,’” shared sophomore Abigail Nelson. “Then I stopped myself because that was an exact example of a fixed mindset – I thought that I had all the skills that I would ever have, and if I wasn’t good at something right then, that I would never be able to do it. I acknowledged I wasn’t where I wanted to be in some areas, but chose to believe I would improve.”

Practicing the growth mindset has certainly enhanced students’ tenacity when trying new things and setting goals for themselves. Students have also found specific connections between the circus and the Dimensions of Honors Learning as well.

Creative productivity

“Creative productivity is perhaps one of the most obvious,” said junior Missy Paris. “As a student organization we design, create, and plan almost every aspect of our show from costumes, to props, to choreography, and more.”

“I have learned to be more creative by being in the circus. We are encouraged to make up new tricks for any of the acts. We create our own characters for show by acting, making our own costumes, and choosing the music and sound effects for our act. The circus is full of extremely creative people, and we inspire each other and encourage each other’s ideas,” said junior Anna Krecklow.

Intercultural competence

“Intercultural competence is also incredibly important in order to be able to work with a group as large and diverse as Gamma Phi. Students from all walks of life and different majors come together to create a show. This requires the ability to collaborate with and understand the way other people think, which may be very different from the way I think. I can see now that many different types of input are important for our success,” said junior Zack Martin.

Honors Gamma Phi Circus students

Honors students pose during rehearsal for the 2019 Gamma Phi Circus.

Leadership development

As a student-centered organization, leaders come in many forms and at all levels. “There are numerous leadership roles that members take on throughout the gym, including exec board positions, act captain positions, or committee heads,” said junior Clare Maylone. “But even students who do not have official leadership titles are able to develop those leadership qualities by exhibiting our CIRCUS values (commitment, integrity, respect, courage, unity, and service) and being role models to new members and to the community.”

Transferable skills

These talented Honors students gain skills that are transferable to many other aspects of their lives, both academically and socially. As highly motivated students, many of them are very involved on campus. Identifying the skills they are learning and giving those skills meaning helps them to make connections to the world they live in.

“One of the biggest things circus has taught me is to be comfortable with challenging myself,” said senior Sophie Remmert.

“There are times in the gym where you want to give up because you are not hitting a trick or because you feel scared to try something new, but reminding ourselves to have a growth mindset allows our troop to grow as a unit and thrive in everything we do,” said sophomore Sarah Gorecki-Westrick.

“The circus environment is constantly changing, so I have learned that I have to be able to adapt quickly to new challenges in order to stay ahead,” said junior Zack Martin. “Every practice is different from the last, and I have had to be able to tackle new skills on the fly, cooperate with new people, and think of innovative ways to solve any problems that I face.”

Whether in the classroom or in the ring, the Circus Nerds aim high. By combining the Dimensions of Honors Learning and the skills they gain from the Gamma Phi Circus, these students are developing a unique set of traits that make them absolute show-stoppers.


Honors Gamma Phi Circus students

“I think one of the most special things about the circus is that we not only perform, but we do everything for ourselves… we promote our own shows, make our own costumes, and set up our own rig, etc. This is special and so much hard work, which requires motivated leaders to collaborate.” – senior Sophie Remmert