What Honors Means to Me: A Word to Incoming Freshmen

Senior year of high school is a whirlwind. The start of the year is consumed by college applications – writing the perfect Common App essay, getting letters of recommendation, and answering the long list of supplement questions each college requires. You take the SATs for the last time and go on additional campus visits. Just when you are finish with your final applications, the time comes to start applying for scholarships. Soon you start receiving your decision letters with your financial aid packages, and visit your top schools one last time on accepted student days. In what seems like a blink of an eye, the May 1st deadline rolls around and you are forced to make “the big decision.” Once you do commit to a school and take any AP tests that you have signed up for, you get to breathe again, and after a stressful year, you begin to relax. This is the time to celebrate all that you have accomplished with fun events such as awards night and senior prom. Before you know it, your countdown to graduation is up and it is time to say goodbye to the community that you have been a part of for the past four years.

The last year of high school goes by in such a blur, that sometimes you can forget to stop and appreciate the final moments. I know that this is an overwhelming time, and the thought of what college will be like is constantly on your mind. As a first year student, I was in this position last year and one of my biggest concerns was how I would find my place in college. I was heavily involved in my high school and had known my longest friends for close to ten years. The thought of leaving a place where I had achieved so much and felt so comfortable in left me feeling a mix of accomplishment, fear, and sadness on graduation day. Having been President of my high school’s chapter of the National Honor Society and valedictorian of my graduating class, I was scared that going into college I would not be able to live up to the pressure and expectations that others had for me – or the ones I had for myself. I joked with my friends that I had reached my peak at age 18, but behind this humor was an actual fear.

The reason I chose to come to BSU was because of the Honors Program. While I was considering many “big name schools,” whenever I visited them something didn’t feel right. They were too overwhelming and I could see myself getting lost and feeling like I had no one to turn to. At Bridgewater’s Honors Admission Dinner I talked to a current Honors student about my options and I remember her telling me, “You can go somewhere and be a small fish in a big pond, or you can go somewhere and be a big fish in a small pond.” She pointed out all of the benefits of the Honors Program and explained how much of an impact it had on her. I knew after our discussion that I wanted to be part of a more intimate community that truly cared about my success and could support me throughout my journey, instead of going somewhere else where I would only be viewed as a number.

I could not be happier with my decision to come to BSU as a member of the Honors Program. The two biggest things that the Honors Program has done for me is provide me with a sense of community and help me to further develop my leadership skills. The sense of community I have from being in Honors has stemmed from the numerous events hosted by the Honors Program, the Honors Center, working for the Honors Program, and being involved with the Honors Student Congress. I love how the Honors Program is constantly holding events. From holding breakfasts in the Honors Center to planning off campus trips to the movies and the Newport mansions, there is always something that I am looking forward to. I try to attend as many events as possible because the more events you attend, the more involved you get, which leads to you naturally becoming friends with others who are also regularly attending these events. I am a naturally quiet and reserved person when I meet a new group of people, so having these events to go to helped me tremendously when trying to break out of my shell, as they allowed me to slowly get to know and become comfortable with other members in the Honors Program.

In addition to this, the Honors Center has been extremely important to me. It is a place I can go whenever I need extra support, feel lonely, or want to catch up with my friends. Everyone who spends time in there is extremely nice and friendly, and whenever I go there, I leave feeling less stressed and in a really good mood. I met the best friend I have here at BSU from spending time in the Honors Center.

Working for the Honors Program is another way that I have found a sense of community. I work with such a great team of individuals who truly care about their positions and cannot see myself working anywhere else on campus. I am extremely passionate about the Honors Program and love that my job can contribute to this passion. Also, working for the Honors Program means that I have the best boss I could imagine. It is obvious how much she cares about all of her student workers and is always willing to listen to new ideas. Working for her has allowed me to become better prepared to work at a professional job after I graduate and she has played an instrumental role in making me feel at home here at BSU.

Becoming involved with the Honors Student Congress has given me a great opportunity to make new friends. This organization is filled with people who have opened my eyes to see what kinds of amazing things BSU students can do. It is wonderful to be a part of a group of individuals who love the Honors Program as much as I do and realize the potential that we can achieve. This year we hosted an event called “Making the Grade in Kenya,” where we raised nearly $4,000. This money was used for a scholarship that will fully fund a girl in Kenya to go to school for two years. Coming in to college I never would have dreamed that I would be able to help put on such an amazing fundraiser, but through the Honors Student Congress I have been able to take part in many fantastic events. This organization has also given me the chance to expand on my leadership skills. I am Secretary of the Honors Student Congress, and through this position I have developed new skills and been able to take on many responsibilities. Taking on this leadership role has also provided me with an opportunity to attend the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in Chicago next November. From gaining small benefits to large opportunities, joining the Honors Student Congress was one of the best decisions I made this year.

While everyone has their own story, I hope that hearing some of my experiences will ease your worries and give you a better understanding about the benefits of Bridgewater’s Honors Program. Your college experience will be what you make of it, and my biggest piece of advice to you is to come in with a positive attitude. Take advantage of the opportunities and resources on campus, and know that there are no limits on what you can accomplish. Know that you will have all the support you need to be successful and the people here are rooting for you. So for now, stop counting down how many days are left until graduation and enjoy your last few moments of high school. Your first day of college will be here soon, and even though it will be a big change, you’re ready – so come in fearless.

-K. A.

Honors Second Year Seminar Goes to Boston

Over the course of the semester Dr. Tim Trask’s Honors Second Year Seminar “Survivors of Slavery” has explored the narratives of many former slaves including Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth, and Booker T. Washington. On Friday, May 1st Dr. Trask and students in this Second Year Seminar traveled to Boston to see sites along the Black Heritage Trail, including the 54th Regiment Memorial, George Middleton House, and Phillips School. Other destinations while on the trip included the Museum of African American History, African Meeting House, and Phillis Wheatley statue.

Check out some of the pictures from this fun field trip!

– K. A.

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Honors Mentor/Mentee Trip: Newport

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On Saturday, April 18th the Honors Mentoring Program hosted a trip to Newport, Rhode Island. While in Newport, mentors and mentees first visited The Elms and participated in the Servant Tour. On the Servant Tour we were able to walk through the staff quarters, see the coal cellar and boiler room in the basement, and witness the magnificent view of the ten-acre estate from the roof! After this, the group went to lunch at The Red Parrot in downtown Newport. Lunch was followed by a self-guided tour of The Breakers. This tour of the Vanderbilt home gave us the opportunity to experience the grandest mansion in all of Newport! The trip ended with some of us exploring the grounds at The Breakers, while others went on the famous Cliff Walk.

Check out some of the pictures from this great event!

– K.A.

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Life on the Spectrum: I am a BSU Student with Autism

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I am ok.

Because April is Autism Awareness Month, I decided to post accordingly. Last month, I promised to post more pieces pertaining to social justice issues and I would like to begin with my take on identifying as a person with a disability and how it impacts my experience at BSU. The views expressed in this piece are my own and are not representative of the BSU Honors Program community as a whole.

Today was difficult. I walked quickly back to my dorm room after class, head down, squinting from the brightness outside and avoiding eye contact with any passerby the whole way. The last thing I needed was an unexpected encounter with a friend or classmate; I didn’t think I had it in me to make friendly conversation.

A truck roars past me while I’m on the sidewalk, blowing my hair in my face. I cringe and tear up at the sound. I bite down hard on my lip and will myself to stay composed. A lot of things have gone wrong today.

In my room, I turn off the lights, close the blinds, and put on earplugs. I change into a t-shirt and try to reorient myself. I have 3 classes on Tuesday; the last one is three hours long. If I don’t rest in between them, I won’t have the stamina to meet people’s demands. Conversation is calculated, it takes effort. Looking people in the eye is uncomfortable and exhausting.

This is just one piece of one day in the life of just one person living with autism. When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty with social skills and communication, repetitive, rigid thoughts and behaviors and issues with sensation and perception. Stories like these are pretty common in the blogosphere because they are completely accurate depictions of what life can look like on autism spectrum.

Unfortunately, the vast range of experiences and almost unfathomable internal diversity of people with autism is commonly diminished and essentialized. Public perception of autism is dominated by a narrative of tragedy where autistics are miserable and their existence damages families and burdens the public. Far too frequently, we are reduced to the stuff of somber commercials and billboards pleading you to help find a “cure.”

Every so often, I write and speak about my experiences because I reject this script; our humanity should not be simplified to fit everyone else’s expectations. Because I believe that myself and people like me are whole, I am sharing not only my struggles, but also the things that make me whole. To help neurotypicals* understand me and people like me, I try to draw back the curtain and invite them into my head.

At BSU, my disability is invisible most of the time. I could walk right by somebody and they wouldn’t know I have autism. Somebody with autism could walk right by me and I wouldn’t know it, either. At work and in class, I “pass” as neurotypical most of the time. That’s part of the challenge of high-functioning autism; the more successful I am at appearing “normal,” the less people anticipate me having difficulty with anything. But internally, I’m always working hard to compensate for the things I’m not wired to do.

I learned very early how and when to isolate myself to cope with overstimulation.

I learned very early how and when to isolate myself to cope with overstimulation.

The autistic brain isn’t really optimized for processing sensory input, especially a lot at one time. As a result, people with autism have a lower threshold of tolerance for sensory input, making it easy to become overstimulated in the face of one too many stressors. I am no exception. In fact, I tend to schedule most of my day around avoiding being overwhelmed. I take the least crowded routes to class. If I don’t have a lot of time between classes, I get food at Bear’s Den and eat alone in my room. Tilly at max capacity is a sensory nightmare for me with all the ambient speaking, music, and smells, so I eat strategically when it’s at its least populated. I wear earplugs to study and to sleep. And when I sleep, I am nothing short of extremely particular about which blanket I use.

Though my sensory issues cause me a great deal of frustration, there is also some beauty in them. I am especially appreciative of the stimulation I find pleasant because I experience it vibrantly and intensely. When it’s bright outside, I think I see the sky a little bluer. When I sit in my dorm room and listen to the rain, I think that the sound might hit my ears more sharply. One of my favorite things to do is use the swing in my backyard because the sensation is extremely soothing. Still, even the good things are part of the game that is avoiding the bad.

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My mother kept this chart on our fridge when I was a child to help me learn how facial expressions show what people are thinking and feeling.

When I’m not trying to process my environment, I’m usually trying to figure out people. Autistics by and large lack the innate social finesse of neurotypicals and the means to understand social cues. That’s why, in explaining the social challenges of Aspies**, we’re often compared to aliens visiting from another planet. For me, looking someone in the eye and going with the flow of a conversation are intensely conscious processes. The nuances of language like nonverbal cues, figures of speech and sarcasm are often lost on me. Though I have a theoretical understanding of all of these things, recognizing and reacting appropriately to them in the moment is another story. That disconnect can be very aggravating. Sometimes I don’t pick up on what another person is thinking or feeling, and I say the wrong thing. Naturally, I spend way too much time mentally critiquing my interactions with others long after the fact.

The actual speech patterns of people with Asperger’s are different too. We tend to use unusually formal, pedantic language. When I was younger, my vocabulary was sometimes isolating because my peers would mock me for using “big words” in casual conversation. More recently, it’s become something I love about myself because I can be articulate with ease and my friends [affectionately] joke about me being a robot. I can write impressive essays and fiercely debate with my classmates. When people don’t understand what I say, they usually just nod and agree. Things can really work out in your favor when you speak like a living SAT prep book.

At the end of the day, I’m neither thrilled about being autistic nor desperately wishing to be neurotypical. Like many other autistics, I prefer to think of myself as wired differently rather than neurologically inferior or other. While having Asperger’s presents many challenges, especially in college, I have an appreciation for the ways my brain is unique.

If your understanding of autism was ever limited to anecdotal knowledge or portrayals in popular culture, it can be difficult to understand why someone might want to deviate from the popular narrative that prioritizes struggle despite their very real pain and challenges. While I validate those challenges and see the importance of talking about them, I also don’t want to be constrained by them. I wrote this post to demonstrate that autistics are complex, whole, and valuable. Life with autism is, in fact, so varied and complicated that I couldn’t possibly encapsulate the breadth of experiences in one post. We are so complex that there is only one thing that I can say is true of all of us, and I will leave you with that sentiment:

I am absolutely certain that we have too much to give to the world to be mistakes.

-M.S.

For more information, visit Wrong Planet for articles written by high-functioning autistics about their experiences. You can also read up on neurodiversity or check out the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

*”Neurotypical” is a word often used in the autistic community to describe a person without autism in lieu of terms with negative implications of the autistic brain, ie “normal.”

**”Aspie” is a colloquialism for a person with Asperger’s often used in online communities for autistics.

Making the Grade in Kenya Fundraising Dinner

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On Tuesday, February 24th, the Honors Student Congress held the “Making the Grade in Kenya” fundraising dinner. The goal of this event was to raise a $2,000 scholarship for Hannah, a female student at the Beverly School of Kenya. This scholarship would cover all of Hannah’s educational cost for one year, including room and board and other educational expenses.  After a tremendous amount of hard work, I am happy to report that the Honors Student Congress surpassed this goal and raised nearly $4,000 – enough to fund Hannah for two years! This could not have been done without the work of the Honors Student Congress Service Committee and the incredible support of the Bridgewater State University faculty, staff, families, and community members. The entire BSU community came together to support this cause, and we would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of support we received; with your help we were able to double our goal!

The night began with a silent auction hour, with an array of items available to be bid on. Items up for auction included Maroon 5 concert tickets, Red Sox tickets, Hy-line tickets, BSU sweatshirts, restaurant gift cards, and much more! All the proceeds from the silent auction went directly towards Hannah’s scholarship. The remaining funds were raised through donations and the selling of 50/50 raffle tickets. During this opening hour, many people also stopped by our letter writing station, where they wrote letters to students at the Beverly School of Kenya.

After the auction, Nara Nascimento, chair of the Honors Student Congress Service Committee, welcomed everyone to the event. After this welcoming address, Emily Wiegand, the Service Committee Chair-elect, introduced Sue Swanberg, an ambassador for the Beverly School of Kenya. During her presentation, Sue Swanberg provided the audience with a detailed look at the school. Through a combination of pictures and stories of her personal experiences visiting the school, her presentation truly allowed the audience to understand the students and the mission of the Beverly School of Kenya. Following Sue Swanberg’s presentation, Abdi Lidondi, the founder of the school, provided the audience with a few words about the history of the Beverly School of Kenya.  Dinner followed, along with the announcement of the silent auction winners and the winner of the 50/50 raffle.

Thank you again to everyone who made this fundraiser a success!

For more information about the Beverly School of Kenya, visit their website at http://beverlyschoolofkenya.com/.

-K. A.

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Letter From The President of Honors Student Congress!

For the past two years I have served as President of the BSU Honors Student Congress.  I have seen this organization grow from a simple idea to a well-oiled machine with an efficient organizational structure, a concise mission statement and Constitution, and a core set of values.  As myself and the other individuals who have seen this organization through from the beginning are preparing to graduate from BSU, we cannot help but acknowledging what an integral part this organization has been in our undergraduate experience and what exactly the Honors Student Congress has meant to each of us.

So, when I think about the Honors Student Congress, what do I think about?  I think about the trailblazing students I have mentored through the Honors mentoring program.  I think of the lifelong friends and memories I have made through this organization.  I think of our advisor, Amy Couto, and the constant encouragement, support, and time that she, Dr. King, and Dr. Wiggins have dedicated not only to me, but to all of our students.  And I think of the impact we have collectively been able to make in just our two years of recognition at BSU.

It is true that all things come to an end and my time as President and my time at BSU are drawing to a close, however, I am confident the Honors Student Congress is only going to continue its growth.  My successor,  also my mentee, Adam Costa, along with all of the other individuals elected to Executive Board positions for the fall, are all truly exceptional individuals and I am looking forward to seeing what they are able to accomplish.  During my discussions with the incoming leadership of the HSC, I continue to stress the importance of community.  In becoming a larger organization we have noted the need for a set organizational structure and clear purpose, however, it is important to never forget our roots and our mission. We started this organization to establish a stronger sense of community within the honors program, to foster meaningful connections, and to build intentional leaders within our community, and we must never forget this.  In the end, we will not remember the emails we sent, the exact content of each of our meetings, or navigating the event planning process.  What we will remember are the friends we have made, the laughter we shared, and the moments we were able to make a difference.

Don’t miss out on the great events the Honors Student Congress has planned for the rest of this semester!  More Pizza and Profs, Trivia Nights, service projects, and off-campus trips are coming your way!  On behalf of the Honors Student Congress, best of luck with your midterms as well as the rest of the semester!

Kevin Costa

President, Honors Student Congress

Adventures in Nicaragua with Olga Pou-Felix

IMG_5487 Hi everyone! Over winter break, honors student Olga Pou-Felix traveled to Nicaragua on a study tour focusing on the geography of coffee. Read the interview below to find out about Olga’s adventures abroad! Thanks Olga!

– K.A.

Major, Year, & Fun Fact? Spanish – Secondary Education Concentration, Geography minor, freshman, Fun Fact: I’ve been to seven countries (but would like to go to WAY more places!)

Where did you study abroad? How long? I went on the Nicaragua study tour for two weeks (January 2nd-16th) with Dr. James Hayes-Bohanan.

What interested you in this study abroad program? Professor James is really passionate about the fair trade coffee industry and he would mention it in class (Olga was in Dr. Hayes-Bohanan’s Honors First Year Seminar: Geography of Brockton last semester). Just hearing about his experiences made me want to experience them as well. Also, I am a travel enthusiast and just love adventure!FullSizeRender

What is your favorite memory from your trip abroad? My favorite memory was probably hiking up to a waterfall, Peñas Blancas. The view was breathtaking. 

What surprised you most about your time abroad? I was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality that I found in our homestays. It’s one thing to be in someone else’s country but another thing to be in their home. When you’re in their homes they work as hard as they can to make you feel like you’re at home, which was something that I did not expect but really appreciated. 

How has your study abroad experience benefited you? I have not only reached a new level of gratitude for what I have, but the trip has made me more aware of my purchases and how I am spending my money. Going there made me want to be more aware of what I am investing my money into and the chain effect of my spending.

What is the biggest life lesson you learned while studying abroad? In general, not only in coffee now, I realize that there is someone out there who is working for everything that I am buying. As consumers whenever we purchase anything we have to realize that we are investing in something that could be extremely negative, that could be life-threatening to the person making that good, or could be positive and establishing their future and building community development; which is why we need to be educated consumers. 

IMG_58521505170_782655738437087_3204329266558938172_n What were some fun things you did during your time abroad? I climbed up a volcano and then sled down it (halfway on the board and halfway on my face – but it was fun!). In general we did a lot of fun hikes and we played games and painted a mural in a human trafficking shelter for children. We played volleyball and soccer with them. Working with the kids was not only fun, but impacting as well. 

What advice would you give to others who are thinking of studying abroad? Just do it! You learn not only a lot about another country, but a lot about yourself as well. It opens up your mind to a whole new horizon. There’s a whole world out there and some people don’t even realize it.

Where else would you like to travel to one day? Everywhere! I would like to go somewhere in Asia, I would love to go to Japan one day. I definitely want to keep exploring South and Central America and the Caribbean as well. 

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