UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Spring/Summer 2001
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The best and the brightest
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University Honors Program








Alumni of the UB Honors Program are ma]king their mark around the country-entering and completing prestigious Ph.D. programs and contributing to scholarship, research and fields too numerous to mention here. To illustrate the continuing impact of the 20-year-old program, here is a sampling of honors graduates and what they are doing nationwide.

Ashok Patel, B.S. '90
Ph.D., MIT
Senior Engineer, Applied Thermo Technologies
Concord, NH

John Assad, B.A. '85
Ph.D., Harvard University
Assistant Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School
Cambridge, MA

Helen Hess Cappuccino, B.A. '84
M.D., University at Buffalo
Physician and Surgeon
Lockport, NY

Daphne Bascom, B.A. '88
M.D., University of Pittsburgh; Ph.D., Oxford University
Physician
Pittsburgh, PA

Mark Ruff, B.A. '91
Ph.D., Brown University
Assistant Professor of History, Concordia University
Portland, OR

Randi Weinstein, B.A. '88
Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley
Assistant Research Professor, Department of Physiology, University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ

Elizabeth Beiring, B.A. '87
Ph.D. and J.D., University at Buffalo
Environmental Specialist, EPA
Washington, DC

Joseph Jacob, B.S. '90
Ph.D., Cornell University
Senior Member, Information Systems and Computer Science Staff
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Parallel Applications Technology Group)
Pasadena, CA

Thomas Sharp, B.A. '94
J.D., Yale Law School
Associate, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering
Washington, DC

Henry J. Nowak, B.A. '90
J.D., University at Buffalo
Lawyer, Connors & Vilardo
Buffalo, NY

Ann M. Bisantz, B.S. '89
Ph.D., Georgia Tech
Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering, University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY

Source: University Honors Program

 
The best and the brightest

Students in UB's Honors Program enjoy the 'license to explore'



By JENNIFER LEWANDOWSKI

  Herreid and Capuana
  Clyde F. Herreid and Josephine A. Capuana have offered consistent leadership.
 
They arrive with an adventuresome spirit and a lust to learn. Theirs is not a casual rendezvous, but rather, an ardent love affair sparked by the naiveté and brilliance of youth. Aspiring doctors and dancers, musicians and professors, these students are passionate about knowledge. At turns witty and earnest, timid and audacious, they dare to pursue an education without boundaries, weaving an eclectic tapestry of disciplines and discoveries, hobbies and foibles. They are wise beyond their years, and wise enough to know there's much yet to learn.

They are college students a cut above the rest. But while theirs may seem a tall order-to wear their intelligence well and carry themselves as first-class emissaries of UB-the expectations of the University Honors Program are rivaled only by those the students place upon themselves.

"We need to be our own motivating factor," says Daniel McSkimming, 20, of West Seneca, New York, now in his third year as an honors student. Speaking to the explorative nature of the program, McSkimming says the desire to learn is what motivates honors students. "We go out of our way to attain knowledge. We read on top of our coursework. We take ungodly amounts of credit hours ... always feeling that we need to know just a little bit more," adds the double major in French and mathematics who spent five weeks this past summer studying in Paris.

It's a desire that runs deep for these characteristically driven students, many of whom have difficulty squeezing into their schedules all that they want to accomplish before they leave.

"Restraining oneself proves to be the greatest challenge," says Emily Dalton Smith, 20, a senior English major from Troy, New York, who is minoring in math and marketing. Smith, who interned during the summer of 2000 in the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Buffalo News and who is entertaining the prospect of law school, says the program "allows you to look beyond what the university presents initially." And her peers, she contends, play a huge role in that. "Seeing them do things has inspired me. They have been really extraordinary."

Affectionately described as both a support system and a ready-made community, the honors program is a collective of elite individuals, to be sure, but one seemingly devoid of elitism.

Being in the program "doesn't mean you're snobbish, or ... an intellectual prig," says senior and distinguished honors scholar Monica Karwan, 21, of Buffalo. "It's not like it's some sort of club." And though honors students are united by a sense of camaraderie, after their first year many find their niche outside the program-be it in a department, a club or within a new circle of friends.

Still, students' roots-no matter how far they spread-remain planted in the program, a mainstay in their lives with its advisement services and varied resources for learning and enrichment.

"The feeling of a small community truly exists, and has been much more valuable than I expected," says junior distinguished honors scholar Marina Dukhon, 20, of Williamsville, New York, who is majoring in both computer science and math. "Being a part of the program provides a sense of pride and ... recognition that helps drive me forward in my studies."

And while being granted honors status certainly is something of which to be proud, most maintain a modesty that relates to the demands they continually place upon themselves.

"I would much rather have professors respect me for the work I do in their classes, than for the work I did more than three years ago," affirms 21-year-old Jenna Lay, a senior English major and distinguished honors scholar, referring to the especially demanding requirements for this most prestigious component of the program, whose minimum entrance requirements are a 95 high school average and a 1470 SAT score. For honors students, there are no laurels on which to rest.

"I do hold myself to a higher standard," says Emily Gavett, 20, of Hamilton, New York, a senior majoring in chemistry and premed. Gavett, who has early assurance of acceptance to UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is spending this semester studying at Perth's University of Western Australia, an opportunity that this university down under rarely confers on students visiting from overseas. "And I work really hard for the grades," adds Gavett. "It's not easy, [but] it's possible."

In fact, honors students are held to high standards for admittance to and graduation from the program. By national standards, UB's bottom line for admission is tough: Students need an unweighted high school average of 93 and a combined SAT score of 1300. Once accepted, students must maintain a 3.5 GPA each semester (with the exception of the first year, where the requirement is slightly less rigorous); this requirement is then continuous until graduation. While the requirement standards are high, the rewards are great. The proof lies in the steady success of a program that began with 20 students and has grown to accommodate nearly 1,000, with its largest-yet freshman class of 250 entering this fall.

"I don't have any doubt ... that we are among the top handful of schools in the country with the best programs," says Clyde F. "Kipp" Herreid, academic director of the program and a SUNY distinguished teaching professor in biological sciences. "We have been left alone to be creative, and given the financial support and goodwill of the administration."

Celebrating its 20th year this fall, UB's honors program is in a league with those at schools such as Michigan State, Penn State and Texas A&M universities, and a review of honors programs nationwide in Robert R. Sullivan's Ivy League Programs at State School Prices (Simon & Schuster, 1994) showed UB at the top of its game. What has improved its standing since then, Herreid says, is the addition last year of the Advanced Honors Program, an opportunity for exceptional UB students not already in the honors program to join during their junior and senior years. The honors program also offers a creative and performing arts component, and this year will introduce a liberal arts special major for incoming honors students.


Perhaps the program's greatest credit-aside from its students-is consistent leadership. Both Herreid and Administrative Director Josephine A. Capuana have been with the program nearly since its inception in 1981, bringing to it "a certain certainty" both in quality and stability, Capuana says. A major asset to the university, the program provides comfort while encouraging independence.

"A lot of students are looking for a large college experience, but they also want a home base," Capuana says. "They can draw on the opportunities that a university has, and still be part of a smaller group."

UB honors students typically are also accepted at top-flight private schools-from Princeton University to the University of Rochester-yet they opt to come to UB. Scholarship is the overwhelming initial draw. The majority of students receive $2,500 each year for four years, while on average about 10 students receive scholarships for $4,000 each year. And recipients of the Distinguished Honors Scholarship-between 15 and 20 students each year-are fully funded for four years through gifts from an anonymous donor. (See story on page 10 on the donor's most recent gift.) For many students and their families, the steep price of a private education is a financial impossibility. While UB often wins out as the practical choice, the honors program has more than earned its excellent reputation in what it offers beyond dollars.

"You could go to Harvard and still not get a good education, depending on what your priorities are," says Gavett, whose parents (both librarians at Colgate University) tell her the individualized attention she receives at UB is greater than what she would receive at Colgate.

Still, initially some were uncertain-even disenchanted-in coming to UB.

McSkimming was worried about what he perceived as a public education being less desirable, but now says being in the honors program gives him "the recognition needed to be competitive with private university graduates."

Indeed, students leave with that advantage. "They go anywhere and everywhere, and they are competitive with the very best," says Herreid, noting that roughly three-quarters of graduates pursue graduate and professional programs at the likes of MIT, and Stanford and Oxford Universities. (See accompanying list of noteworthy honors alumni around the country.)

Like McSkimming, Karwan admits she wasn't "phenomenally excited" about coming to UB, but the 21-year-old dance major hasn't any regrets about it now. "I've got a lot of respect for this school," she says. "I wouldn't trade the people I've met or the experiences I've had for the world."

Beyond scholarship, there are many perks and privileges: early registration, honors seminars, faculty mentors, evenings with faculty, guaranteed on-campus housing in the Governors Residence Halls, and research and teaching opportunities. However, beyond all of that, the program cultivates an appreciation for the unknown-something students have come to recognize as perhaps the most important benefit of all.

"I remember Dr. Capuana telling me ... that my education should be a time of exploration and experimentation," says Gillian Julius, a senior computer science major from Harborcreek, Pennsylvania. The distinguished honors scholar took her advice, cramming subjects from art history to mythology into her schedule the first year and a half-not uncommon for students in the program who know what they're good at, but aren't content to focus on that alone.


And at a university with myriad majors and minors, changing one's mind is hardly unusual among honors students who are no more immune than anyone else to that fabled struggle for many in academic life-indecision.

For distinguished honors scholar Catherine Hummel, the license to explore has brought about whirlwind change-several times. Hummel says she turned to the honors program for help when her intention to study computer science-after she had changed her major from engineering-ran amok.

"I was really glad to have the honors program. I went in (saying), 'I can't do this-how do I get out of this?'" says the 20-year-old from Hollywood, Maryland, who most likely will spend a fifth-and unfunded-year at UB after deciding to double major in cognitive and computer sciences. However, Hummel, who insists she has changed her major some 20 times-in her mind, anyway-says finding flexibility was worth the struggle. "I definitely figured out that I can't do just one thing."

For junior music major Edward Chilungu, the program's latitude was just what he needed to make peace with his passion. Initially steeped in chemistry courses with an eye to premed, the 20-year-old Buffalo resident now is seriously considering a career as a concert pianist. The program's advisors and administration, he says, encourage risk-taking "if you think it's important for your career to do something like that."

With that in mind, Chilungu is taking a leave of absence this year to study piano at SUNY Purchase's Conservatory of Music, renowned for drawing some of the world's best musicians as faculty. "I could easily get a degree in music from here, and be done a year earlier," says Chilungu, who, like many honors students, already has completed the required credits to graduate. "But I don't feel like I'm mature enough as a pianist ... or as a musician."

In a program that highly values the intellectual experience, honors students don't just dream, they do-and with the kind of fervor that reflects on a core of faculty and staff striving always to enlarge students' sense of options, says Robert J. Daly, distinguished teaching professor of English and comparative literature. "The honors program does that very well by selecting people who are quite bright, and then opening up for them the panoply of a large university, and telling them, 'Go after whatever interests you, and if it's more than one thing ... explore these things,'" says Daly, a fixture in the honors program, both in teaching and advisement.

That exploration often gives bright students a boost in confidence, he says, which in turn can help them grasp what Daly has determined is the heart of undergraduate education: "What we're really teaching students in every field is how to teach themselves."

Students-like Lay-have captured that essence, and made it their own.

"UB really does have more opportunities than most people realize," she says. "There are some amazing professors and some even more amazing fellow students. The honors program definitely gives you the door to those opportunities-you just have to choose to step through it yourself."


Jennifer Lewandowski, a UB alumna currently finishing her M.A.H. degree in English and education, lives in Portland, Oregon.

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