Honors in Action Secrets from Phi Theta Kappa’s Deans

It’s summer, and for many of you (we hope) that means your planning for the fall semester and the remainder of the year is well underway. But is an Honors in Action Project on your to-be-planned list for the next few months? It should be, and here’s why and how to do it, directly from Phi Theta Kappa’s Honors in Action experts.

We know an Honors in Action Project is a big undertaking for already-busy advisors and members. But completing one is well worth the investment in more ways than one. The research, teamwork, communication, planning and writing skills gained are in high demand on college campuses and in the workforce and have been proven to help your students succeed.

“A recent study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement has directly linked active and collaborative learning and engagement outside the classroom – two key components of the Honors in Action Project – to student success,” said Jennifer Stanford, Phi Theta Kappa’s Chief Student Engagement Officer. “This project can be much more than an extracurricular chapter activity; it’s an opportunity to put skills taught in classrooms to use in a real world environment.

“The skills you’re using as you develop and implement an Honors in Action Project are relevant regardless of whether you’re transferring to a four-year college or going straight into the workforce. There’s something in Honors in Action for everyone.”

So let’s get started! Really – that’s the first piece of advice: begin now! The eight-step process for choosing and fulfilling your Honors in Action Project can be found here.

Familiarizing yourself with the Honors Study Topic, Frontiers and the Spirit of Exploration, is Step 1, and some key ways to do that are by reading the Honors Program Guide (don’t miss the brief essay on pages 8-9 that outlines the possibilities) and by watching the pre-recorded webinar for advisors.

“Digging deeper into a topic with academic sources can sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be,” Stanford said. “Be sure to select a theme that interests you and your chapter that you want to learn more about. New medical advances, exploring our oceans, colonizing Mars, the legalization of gay marriage, combatting cyber crime – the possibilities are limitless with Frontiers and the Spirit of Exploration.”

Get thinking. While the Honors Study Topic and its nine themes are well outlined, opportunities to get creative with a project abound. Brainstorm ideas using this help from Steve Fritts, a 2015 Faculty Scholar and co-advisor to the Alpha Psi Tau Chapter at Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri.

“There are countless ways each theme can lend itself to an Honors in Action Project,” said Susan Edwards, Phi Theta Kappa’s Dean of Academic Affairs and Honors Programs. “Your brainstorming session will no doubt expose you to numerous ideas, but beware that your research can do the same thing.”

Chapters often find themselves changing the direction of the project once they begin the research. This is fine – if your research doesn’t support your original idea, then be flexible and shift your idea. For example, you might start out exploring medical advances for cancer patients but discover a greater interest in artificial limbs for war survivors.

This is another reason brainstorming is important: it gives you an opportunity to (try to) anticipate every outcome, and it gives you a list of multiple ideas to pull from. So hang on to those notes from your brainstorming session.

Don’t go it alone. Collaboration is not just beneficial; it’s essential for an Honors in Action Project and College Project. Your impact will only be as big as your collaboration team, so join with others who are as passionate about the issue as you are so your reach can be greater. Bonus: the workload will be lighter.

Double bonus: you’ll gain leadership skills.

“One of the many things participation in an Honors in Action Project delivers is the capacity to lead and manage one’s self and others to motivate, overcome obstacles, perform in complicated environments and accomplish goals,” said Monika Byrd, Dean of Leadership Development and Service Learning. “Opportunities for exercising leadership skills through service and advocacy abound – and look great on a resume.”

While you will learn while doing, it’s essential that you take time to learn and improve important skills you’ll need BEFORE you need them in your project. We call this leadership development. For example, working with a librarian to learn how to conduct academic research is leadership development. Having an instructor teach members how to use Prezi for a presentation and communicate effectively is another example of intentional leadership development to help make your project successful.

Mind the rubrics. These are the questions and standards by which your Honors in Action and College Projects will be judged; work on your projects and ultimately your Hallmark Awards applications using the rubrics as your guide.

“The judges can only go by what is included in the entry,” Stanford said. “If crucial details were left out that relate to the rubrics, then their only choice is to give a low score.”

Writing a Hallmark Awards entry helps the chapter reflect on their hard work, lessons learned and progress made on their issue.

“Know your chapter’s ultimate success isn’t defined by awards,” Stanford said. “Real success will be in the difference your project makes in the lives of others, including your own.”

Still need help? Visit PTK TV for more Honors in Action resources.

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