A printable version of this newsletter can be found on the SUNY Digital Repository
Edited By: Pamela Haibach-Beach
By Evelyn Belousov
When we think about how we can benefit others, we often imagine involving ourselves in activities that help the whole community—taking part in fundraisers, becoming doctors, or even donating to charity. There likely are not many of us who would consider doing math every day to achieve the same goal. However, one student at Brockport has decided to do just that by making it her career.
Morgan Sherwood is an Honors student with plans to obtain a teaching certification after finishing her undergraduate degree in Mathematics at SUNY Brockport. She’s someone who loves the outdoors, reading cheesy romcom novels, painting and drawing, and spending time with her family. She’s also a big fan of sports—playing soccer, basketball and softball in high school, and more recently becoming certified to coach.
Growing up in a little country town outside of Binghamton, Morgan has been surrounded by a close-knit community and a family invested in volunteer work for as long as she can remember. She was raised to value relationships and people, and she came to Brockport not only because of the classes it offered, but because she found warmth in the people she met while visiting campus.
Morgan made a natural transition into the Honors College. She had been the salutatorian of her high school and was a high-achiever who took several AP classes. Even so, her main reason for joining Honors was so that she could remove some of the financial burden her parents would be facing in trying to support four kids who would all be going to college soon.
She has “absolutely loved” her time at the Honors College. It was special because Brockport is made up of a bunch of small communities. Being a part of Honors in particular allowed her to pursue leadership opportunities while still making meaningful connections with students and faculty.
Making the most of her time at Brockport, Morgan served as both President and Secretary of the Honors Club. Every Honors student wants to succeed academically, but it can often be difficult to balance the demands of classes and personal life. The club was important to Morgan because it served as an outlet for her and other students to make connections—gaining greater emotional stability through supporting one another and talking about ‘what was going on’ in each other’s lives. It also helped her to have the club meeting scheduled every week, as it gave her a consistent moment to unwind and reset herself.
THE JOURNEY TOWARDS MATH
Like many young adults, Morgan did not always know her career path. As a high school student, she initially planned on becoming an architect. But after trying her hand at it in a high school class, she found that it wasn’t for her and that she wanted to have a career that allowed her to help people instead. In her sophomore and junior years of college, she still wasn’t sure that she wanted to go into teaching but felt that she was headed ‘in the right direction’ with the math and education classes she was taking. Around this time she was also considering working for non-profit organizations as an event organizer. However, her time working in the Honors Peer Mentor Program as Peer Mentor Coordinator brought her to the realization that that wasn’t the sort of work she was looking to spend the rest of her life doing.
For Morgan, the Mentor Program was one of many great opportunities that shaped her into a leader and opened her eyes to a future path in teaching. Honing her organizational and communication skills, she found that she loved the feeling of building a “supportive environment” for the incoming first-year and transfer students and wanted to construct a similar foundation of support for high school students learning math.
Today, Morgan student-teaches Algebra 1 to first-years and sophomores at Brockport High School. She says that the students are “well-behaved” and she’s grateful for the fact that many of them attend her class in-person. Due to the pandemic, one of the major struggles of her student-teaching experience has been juggling hybrid learning while also finding a learning situation that would best benefit all her students. Once she receives her certification, she plans to take a position in a college’s admissions department or work as a college advisor for a few years before she ultimately begins her career of teaching middle-schoolers.
“They’re so excited about life” and not yet at an age where they may have definitively decided that they don’t like math. She wants them to have a good core comprehension of math so that they can both understand and appreciate its purpose in our day-to-day lives.
MAKING AN IMPACT
Morgan’s philosophy of life has always been to help the people around her. Her opportunities at Brockport have helped her realize that she was capable of reaching out and finding innovative ways of engaging with others. While she wants to have a positive impact, she does not feel that it is necessary for her to be remembered. More than anything, she believes that if she can be a significant help to at least someone, she will receive the greatest happiness.
ADVICE FOR HONORS STUDENTS
For fellow Honors students, Morgan advises: “talk to your professors and also make it a point to make friends in your classes so that you have people who can help support you both academically and otherwise.” Working with not only students but faculty, she has been able to gain confidence in her own abilities and grow as an individual because she had the support and guidance of people who put faith in her—especially the Honors Directors.
Also, “get involved with anything—sports, clubs, volunteering. Find what you’re interested in and pursue it. Be a member of the community and not just a transient.” At the same time, be careful with your ambitions. The hardest lesson Morgan had to learn was when and how to say “no.” As a person who can become “overcommitted” to her tasks and desire to help others, Morgan came to the realization that “there are only so many hours in the day,” and that she can’t perform at her best for others if she over-schedules herself. She learned to say yes to the things that were most important to her, prioritizing and evaluating her skill development in order to complete the tasks she sets herself to accomplish.
By JaVanse Ryland-Buntley
Though wrapped in the chaos of college fairs, choosing a major, and campus tours, Clayton was, like many students, ultimately uncertain about which path he wanted to take to build his future. Having always been interested in biology, Clayton knew he wanted to enter a science program as an undergraduate, but didn’t know where that program would be.
Clayton took great interest in Brockport after he met Dr. Priya Banerjee and Dr. Adam Rich while on tour of the campus. Having visited other campuses, Clayton was used to hearing only brief descriptions of each college’s programs without regard for how they would relate to his own personal studies. Brockport surprised him because its faculty made an effort to show him opportunities and programs related to his interests. It was thanks to his awareness of all the potential research he could do, paired with the smaller classroom settings of the Honors College, that Clayton made the decision to attend SUNY Brockport and become a part of the Golden Eagle family.
Throughout the entirety of his undergraduate career, Clayton worked alongside Dr. Rich in his science lab on a variety of research projects. It was through this time working in the lab that he was able to get acquainted with a number of professors and students (both graduate and undergraduate) who shared the same passion, interest, and love for science that he did.
“When I think back to Brockport, those are the memories that really stand out.”
The decision to partake in research projects related to Clayton’s genuine enthusiasm and love of hands-on activity. Wanting to make a little extra money, Clayton got a job in the physiology lab where he handled small tasks like washing dishes for other researchers. After showing an interest in the research being done, he was able to participate in the projects themselves. It was in the lab where he was able to slowly develop new skill sets and effectively learn how to “drive a project.” Here, alongside his faculty mentor, he curated his Honors thesis on peristalsis in the gastrointestinal tract. Having done many research labs on similar topics, Clayton was more than prepared to dive into this research. He was very interested in his topic of study and suggest that fellow Honors students “pick a project that you can be enthusiastic about – if you’re genuine and true about it, the work comes easy.”
Clayton is currently enrolled in an MDPhD program at the University of Buffalo. While he is not studying the same things as he did at Brockport, he finds all the work he did and the connections he made here at the college to be useful. His time in the physiology lab researching his thesis provided him with the “skills and the confidence to go to the next step.” He explains that he has frequently referenced his Honors thesis in his MD program to remember and understand those methods of research. The Honors College served as a steppingstone for Clayton to bigger and better things as it provided him the support to take on more than he otherwise would have, as well as providing him with confidence and reassurance of his goals.
“I’m really happy with where I am now, and it wouldn’t have been possible without Brockport.”
By Mary Geisert
Kitty Hubbard - Associate Professor of Art (Photography)
With it already being a full year since the pandemic stopped the world in its tracks, finding new and effective ways of learning has been the burden of educators everywhere. This burden comes with making sure students have access to online material. They need not only internet but also technology such as laptops or iPads to complete their work. Many educators have stepped up to try and make these challenges easier for students, one of them being our own Kitty Hubbard of the Art Department at SUNY Brockport.
Kitty completed an undergraduate degree in Studio Art with a concentration in photography, and then went on to work in many different photography-related fields for eight years. She moved to Rochester and went to RIT, did TA work there, earned her MFA at Visual Studies Workshop through SUNY Brockport, and then taught at Nazareth, University of Rochester, and Brockport, as well as at various art centers. Kitty was even able to do research in Poland while on a Fulbright scholarship where she was immersed in Polish culture while creating art. While she focuses on photography, she does not call herself a photographer but an artist because “when people think photographer, they want you to take their wedding photos and I don’t do that.” She has an interest in multimedia works, even though her own work is mainly image-based, because she likes to work with things digital as well as tactile objects such as books.
Complementing her interests as an intermedia artist, Kitty often finds herself working in the two large worlds of photography. Analog and digital photography are a great way to take the past and its history and combine it with the technology of today. When COVID-19 hit the U.S. and made our world shutdown, many educators such as Kitty had to stop everything and adjust to a new normal. The spring semester of 2020 was the hardest transition, as everything began to move online. The mutual bonds that had formed in her photography classes made moving to a virtual format difficult, as did the uncertainties that came with the shutdown. Many art classes like the ones she teaches require human interaction, and that became a serious obstacle when everything switched to remote learning.
Going remote was not only an obstacle for her digital photography classes, but for her film (or analog) classes as well. Thanks to modern technology, photos were still able to be created with cameras on students’ phones. Being able to take photographs anywhere you go made it so that students weren’t as attached to one type of camera and were able to learn on many types all at once. This, combined with the ability to do produce analog photographs easily (such as cyanotypes), pulled in Kitty’s interests of working with both digital and analog simultaneously. Photography is one of the media in the art world that adapts to any environment easily, and so it paired well with remote learning. Things such as online gallery visits, online museum exhibitions, and online research projects fit these classes well and gave a full-spectrum photography education to Kitty’s students, though the class would have been very different if things were still in-person. Kitty has even been able to find more resources for herself, other educators and students during this time, which has made the semesters following Spring 2020 go a lot more smoothly.
When I asked her about her inspirations during this time, Kitty mentioned her late mother who was a very resourceful woman and had taught her to use the things that are available right then and there. One of the resources she was able to find was an organization called Society for Photographic Education, which is a group of photography educators that collaborate and share resources. This group was able to create a site called fotofika (fotofika.org), another teaching resource designed to help educators after COVID-19 shut everything down over the world. With the help of such resources, Kitty was able to create with her students camera obscuras that could be mounted on their head to create a “camera view of the world”. When asked if she had expected to see a change in students’ work during the pandemic, Kitty said that she did since people’s work in her classes is visually driven and what our world looks like is different now. She also expects that resources for artists such as Instagram would influence her students, because they can easily access the new ideas that come to different artists during a spur of the moment. For example, one of Kitty’s students cleared out the closet in their townhome, made a lighting studio, and did a photoshoot in it, creating beautiful photographs. Kitty noticed that her students used whatever tools were available to them to create their work. Projects that include such ad hoc resources and hands-on work are things she wishes to continue, even when the pandemic is over. Kitty said she wished she knew pre-shutdown about these resources so that she would have been able to do (and supervise for her students) these amazing projects even before COVID-19.
While talking about higher education and the pandemic, I asked Kitty if she believed that it would change the structure of higher education. She believed it would. This is because a change was already beginning to take place, involving more classes being offered remotely to meet the enrollment challenges Brockport faces due to shrinking demographics. While Kitty is doing everything she can to keep her classes in-person, she is willing to go to a hybrid model if needed to make her classes more accessible to students. The reasoning for this reticence is that art and artists require human interaction that cannot easily be executed in an online setting. This brought up the point that due to the nature of the pandemic and classes increasingly moving online, we as a society need to make technology and the internet more accessible to everyone. That burden should not be placed on students and educators alone. Kitty and I both agreed on the fact that the government and educational institutions should have the burden of getting that technology to those in need.
Throughout the pandemic, Kitty has been able to adapt her teaching and still make her classes fun and hands-on with many projects, such as creating cyanotypes and making head-mounted camera obscuras. Shehas been able to face a challenge and come out on top with new and inspiring ways of seeing the world and teaching photography. When asked about advice she has for students, faculty, and artists during these times, she had a lot to say. For students her advice is to always take a class that is fun or is a passion of yours, use the other side of your brain for a little while, and try to take at least one in-person class. For faculty her advice is to find a professional organization in your field so you can collaborate with other educators on assignments and projects that work well during these times. For artists, her advice is to go outside your local community and collaborate with others in different locations and attend things like lectures. Be sure to interact with the people and the technology that is available to you, such as social media sites. Kitty has been one of the many educators during these hard times who has risen to the occasion and has made online learning something fun and exciting. It is educators like Kitty that have made being a college student during the global pandemic worth it.
Honors Thesis Spotlight
By Makayla Barnes
The Honors undergraduate thesis is the much anticipated, frequently feared and occasionally revered pièce de résistance of the Honors College experience. For so many of us, it is the part of our education we struggle with the most. It represents a test of time management, of focus, and of passion for our area of study. It is a task that leads to sleepless nights, long calls home, and papercuts from endless stapled pages of academic journals we must read. It ends, ideally, in a project you are proud of, a better understanding of an area of interest, and for some a graduate school writing sample.
Umaima Jamal knows all that as well as anyone working on a thesis project. Umaima and I met as we all do these days, over Zoom. The pandemic has made everything much harder, and according to Umaima, the thesis is no exception. Our conversation began with a series of “Can you hear me okay” inquiries and volume adjustments. Very quickly though, as we transitioned into discussion of Umaima’s thesis, the awkwardness that mars nearly all internet-based conversations with strangers melted away. Umaima is an accounting major, a feat in and of itself, particularly to those of us who find math a nearly impossible task. But Umaima proved that the right presenter can make anything interesting.
Umiama’s thesis focuses on Islamic banking and finance, a concept I knew nothing about before our conversation. When I inquired why she had selected it, she spoke about the “dry” nature of finance in general and her aim to write about something beyond just taxes. As Umaima explained it, Islamic banking is essentially interest-free banking. It represents a style of banking that is not readily available in the US, an issue that in part motivated her decision to research the topic more. She herself has struggled to find Islamic banking options while living in the states. There are a variety of steps involved in completing an Honors thesis. The first is finding a thesis director, a step that often precedes choosing a topic. Umaima, however, chose her topic before choosing her thesis director. For Umaima, the issue became finding a professor with the time, interest, and knowledge of Islamic banking to properly advise her—a struggle at Brockport, where not many professors have expertise in Islamic culture, let alone Islamic finance.
Umaima also found starting the thesis to be quite difficult, even once she had an advisor and topic. It was the buckling down and wading through research that represented the hardest part of the process for her, a challenge shared by many Honors students embarking on this journey. She, like many of her colleagues, struggled with time management as a full-time student also dealing with numerous commitments as a young person. There is a sense of foreboding many students encounter when faced with a large project. But there is no way over it or around it; you just have to work through it, as Umaima has been doing.
The light appears at the end of the tunnel and Umaima says that while her research has been rewarding, she believes the true satisfaction will come when she gets to hold the finished product in her hand. Not fifteen pages here and seven there, but all of her research and analysis ordered and bound together. Umaima is still in the thick of her work right now, preparing her final write-up and working on a dynamic and interesting way to present Islamic banking and finance to people like me who have never heard of it. But I think it’s safe to say that if her presentation is as interesting as our conversation was, she shouldn’t have any problem.
Honors During COVID
When the state locked down as a result of the COVID emergency a little more than a year ago now, that transition effected the Honors College profoundly, as it did the rest of New York’s higher education system. As most probably know, all classes went online without adequate preparation for that move. But much of the Honors experience takes place outside a classroom–especially the Honors thesis–and so this development only begins to explain our struggles. Many of our thesis students’ research methods were impossible to implement in a socially-distanced environment (e.g., much laboratory research, which involves teams working in tight spaces, as well as survey and field research for the social sciences). Even Humanities students whose projects involved solitary library research faced challenges. Brockport’s own library was temporarily inaccessible; nearby university libraries, which our students and faculty sometimes use for research, remain off-limits to students not their own. This created a series of mini-emergencies for students who needed to finish their theses by the end of Spring 2020 in order to graduate. They, their faculty advisors, and we at Honors central came up with dozens of ad hoc solutions leading to the successful completion of almost 40 theses in the 2019-2020 school year.
Struggles completing theses represent just one example of the challenges Honors students face in the COVID context. An Honors college education typically involves deeper and more engaged learning experiences than the general Brockport population pursues. Honors learning is not more or harder work, but it is work of a different quality—often more practical (internships, leadership experience, or community service relevant to students’ emerging expertise) and independent. It requires students to create and pursue for themselves extraordinary opportunities for educational enrichment outside the boundaries of the classroom. Completing these engaged learning goals requires impressive self-motivation even in an ideal environment. After all, Honors experiences are by definition supplemental to a student’s general college experience, and students can graduate from Brockport without them. For the past year, the formal and informal social networks of idea exchange, encouragement, and peer-to-peer support have been hampered, to say the least. Accordingly, some students have felt discouraged and alienated in pursuing their independent educational endeavors, and have been tempted to throw in the towel. Most have displayed a level of persistence of which I’m in awe. I’ve thought about it often and I really don’t know if I would have completed an Honors thesis, for example, during COVID. I might have opted to graduate without the Prometheus medal and an Honors notation on my transcript. However, our students grasp the value of what they are doing and usually find the inner motivation to continue, even when they feel isolated in their endeavors. We at Honors central have also tried to find new ways to support and encourage their efforts, including making a concentrated effort to connect our students personally with Honors alumni. While I would be lying if I said our students were thriving in this environment, they’re more than surviving and their accomplishments, always impressive, are this year inspiring.
Somewhat more mundanely, all of us in the Honors College are dealing with a host of major and minor inconveniences related to COVID: mandatory online learning, for instance, and rules regarding social distancing that makes even in-person teaching and learning hard. (Imagine the difficulties involved when teaching in-person: a professor trying to project her voice to a large room with 20 students spread out, while standing six feet away from the nearest and behind a plexiglass shield, with a mask on! Or students trying to engage in a guided discussion with one another in that same setting.) For students who live on campus, dining and other social activities have their own challenges; for everyone, most extracurriculars have been cancelled or moved online, although as the year has progressed, some sports and other activities have gradually resumed in modified, socially-distanced formats. During the Spring, Brockport’s COVID testing regime advanced considerably, so that now the entire campus population (students, faculty, and staff) is tested every week. Because of that, outbreaks have been minimal and, other than a planned shut down during the winter break, Brockport has remained open for education.
Honors student traffic in the Brown Building is still far less than normal. To be honest, Honors central is a lonely place to be. However, we’ve worked hard to create in-person experiences where and when possible. Unlike the general Brockport population’s, the Honors College first-year peer mentor program was largely in-person this year. We’ve also used the opportunities Zoom and related communication platforms have opened up to connect with our alumni in more sustained ways than ever before, including connecting them with students. We’re grateful for that opportunity and eager to see our relations with alumni continue to deepen even after the COVID emergency ends. Our hope is that next year the Honors College will be far closer to normal, and we can resume the educational practices our students value so highly, as well as consolidate some of the successful innovations to which the necessity of COVID gave birth.
Makayla Barnes is a junior majoring in English and Political Science. She is from Albany, NY in addition to writing for The Promethean, she is an editor for Jigsaw, a Resident Assistant and an Honors Peer Mentor.
Mary Geisert is a dual degree student who is working toward a BS in English and a BA in Art. They can often be seen around campus in various leadership positions and participating in events. They have a strong passion for writing and photography and love to explore new creative fields.
Evelyn Belousov is a dual major in Art and English with an additional minor in Mathematics. Her friends know her as an avid lover of Baroque organ music and Kpop musicians like ATEEZ and TAEMIN. Whenever she isn’t listening to music or singing, she can often be found listening to true crime cases while she whirls through housework.
JaVanse` Ryland-Buntley is a third-year student in the Honors College. JaVanse` is an English creative writing major with a minor in African American studies. She is excited to be writing for The Promethean.