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Monmouth Students Compete at National Honors Conference

Monmouth’s Honors School had 11 students qualify to present their research at the National Collegiate Honors Council’s (NCHC) 57th annual conference in Dallas, Texas from Nov. 2-5. Representing a multitude of academic disciplines, a total of 178 students were in attendance.

The 11 students included Lyndsey Buren, Luke Collier, Ana Huertas, Cassie James, Lenien Jamir, Alexander Kalina, Darika Lara-Rodriguez, Alexander Mykulyn, Emily Pawelek, Mary Schuld, and Madeline Woolley.

Nancy Mezey, Ph.D., Dean of the Honors School and Professor of Sociology, commented on this year’s turnout. “I was really pleased that we had 11 students present their research…There was a nice mix of students who had presented at previous conferences and others who were presenting for the first time.”

Alexander Kalina, a biology student, shared his experience as a first-time conference goer. “Presenting to the judges was definitely nerve racking; nonetheless, they provided great feedback. Because this was my first conference, there was one particular judge who gave great advice on my poster and presentation, as well as provided feedback on how to improve for the future.”

“Overall, it was a great time, and I am definitely excited to present at the next one,” summarized Kalina.
Mezey added, “I was likewise impressed with how the students supported each other throughout the conference. They all did an excellent job presenting their research.”

Cassie James, a history student, shed more light on the atmosphere of the conference. “It was impactful to be around like-minded individuals with such intense passions concerning their presented projects. I learned so much about the development of our future generation across all academic genres, which gives me hope for the next step of our lives.”

Emily Pawelek, a senior studying accounting, concurred with James, “The experience of presenting was unlike anything I had accomplished before, but it was very rewarding. Being surrounded by honors students from around the country is an experience I will never forget.”

According to the NCHC’s website, its mission “to support and enhance the community of educational institutions, professionals, and students” is made possible by hosting these annual conferences. These events enable participants to network with fellow students and professionals from all over the country.
“I had the opportunity to present my research on air pollution and meet students and faculty from schools across the states. Learning about the culture and social norms of Texas was also an exciting and interesting experience,” added Luke Collier, a senior chemistry student.

For many of Monmouth’s students, the conference not only served as an opportunity to learn from fellow presenters, but to also educate others on topics of their own.

Ana Huertas, a health studies and exercise science student, elaborated on some of the discussions she initiated related to her research.

She began, “Speaking on topics such as racial bias is important, especially for those in the medical field. I spoke to many students and faculty on this topic, which they absolutely loved.”
According to Huertas, there is a lot of commitment that goes into preparing and being able to effectively communicate one’s findings with others.

“You work on your thesis for a whole year, so why not brag about it and show it off,” emphasized Huertas.

Mary Schuld, a junior English and elementary education student, tied for first place, competing against 17 students in the category of Education and Pedagogy. Schuld’s poster of research was titled, “Creating and Restoring Mental Health Education Through Children’s Literature.”

Schuld elaborated on the intricacies of her findings and purpose in pursuing this kind of research. “My project focused on implementing social emotional learning through children’s books. I am developing standards and criteria for what constitutes a beneficial and effective social emotional learning book and then creating an inventory of books that fit these standards. I am also putting together a checklist so teachers can take new books and see if they fit the standards. I ultimately decided to adapt these ideas into a website. The website breaks down the standards, has an interactive checklist, and includes a growing inventory of books.”

She continued, “My goal is to include both English and Spanish books, as many American students are English Language Learners, and my minor is in Spanish.”

Schuld is the second-ever Monmouth student to win a prize at an NCHC conference, and the first student to win first prize in any category.

“Honestly, I was shocked,” said Schuld, in regards to winning first place. “It was really exciting to have all my time and energy recognized this way . I believe teaching social emotional learning is such an important component of the modern classroom. I am proud that I was able to show this through my project.”

Aside from conducting the presentations themselves, the students also had the chance to engage with the local community.

Alexander Mykulyn, a political science student, further explained their service project. “We helped paint a mural at a school in Fort Worth with some of the students there, which was a really gratifying experience. These trips are a great way to explore a new city and learn about its customers, people, and history.”

James reflected on the opportunity as a whole, saying, “Being able to attend the conference was indicative of the hard work and focus my peers and I have put into our research over the course of the year.”

She also credited the Honors School for facilitating the environment that produces such work. “The Honor School provides so many amazing opportunities and it is our responsibility as students to take advantage of these chances to further our academic studies.”

“The main goal of the Honors School is to foster a community of lifelong learners and leaders. With that being said, having the opportunity to be selected and supported by the Honors School in presenting research is an added benefit of my education. It is extremely important for students across all disciplines to challenge themselves academically, as you never know what doors might open for you when you do so,” agreed Collier.

Mykulyn compared his mentality at the conference vs. during the normal day-to-day semester. “I often find that in the middle of a semester, my blinders are very tuned in to blur out everything that is not on my schedule. These conferences are a good chance to pull back those blinders and explore other disciplines.”

To wrap up the discussion, Mezey implored, “For students who feel inspired by the student presenters and their accomplishments, I encourage them to submit an abstract to the 2023 NCHC conference, which will be in Chicago, or to one of the Northeast Regional Honors Council meetings that occur in the spring. Students have a variety of presentation options such as panels, posters, and roundtable presentations. And students from all majors can find ways to connect to each year’s theme.”