This story originally appeared in the Honors Program newsletter, May 25, 2023.
Written by Hadassah Umbarger
Coming into the Honors Program, every freshman is told of some shadowy and distant senior project that they’ll have to complete. The popular option is to forget about its existence until senior year and then haphazardly realize that you want to do something, and do something worthwhile and well. Just because we procrastinate doesn’t mean we don’t still hold ourselves to Honors student standards.
After that momentary panic, the decision of what that senior project is going to look like begins to be a reality. The regular route is for a general senior thesis paper on a specific topic working with a faculty advisor, but the option is always given some other flavor, and that’s where juniors-but-seniors Samantha Holmes and Kenny Le found themselves at the beginning of the school year.
Holmes and Le are both biology majors, with Le concentrating in pre-medicine, but the Honors Program is rich in science majors and they were told early on that there wouldn’t be enough science faculty to advise them in writing a traditional thesis. When they were the only two to register for the class section for an alternative project, they ended up doing independent research and meeting with Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program Kelly McFall once a week.
In these early stages, Holmes and Le were both focusing on different aspects of health care. Emergency rooms and ER efficiency were near and dear to Holme’s heart since her job as an ER nurse aid brought her into direct contact with those problems, and Le volunteered at Guadalupe Clinic, a nonprofit that serves the impoverished in Wichita — so was researching ways that volunteers and supplies could be implemented for even greater benefit.
But their research still needed to be realized in a project of some sort, and toward the end of the fall semester McFall proposed a plan to the two students.
“Every time we met, it turned out that we were kind of looking at very similar things,” Holmes said. Le added, “We discussed what direction we kind of wanted to take, and then from there we found this joint project that suited both our interests.”
The project? Bringing in speakers from a variety of health care backgrounds to present to medical students on campus.
“We realized that we couldn’t make a direct change because that involves legislation and whatnot and it’d be a very lengthy process,” Le said, in regards to putting their research to use. “So we thought the other way to go about it was to educate our peers.”
“I work in health care, I see all of this, and I feel like a lot of my classmates who want to become doctors don’t see all of this before they start,” Holmes said. “So at least exposing them to maybe some of the problems or issues being faced right now will help them go in with a problem-solving mindset or at least a longing to help not continue to exacerbate the already broken system.”
Using pizza to help bribe people to come in, they arranged for five different presentations to take place during the spring semester. While attendance wasn’t what they hoped it would be, Le said that he heard positive feedback from his peers studying in the health care field who appreciated being able to listen and learn.
And there’s not just one branch of health care students at Newman, so the format the presentations took allowed for more students to be impacted.
“The entire project kind of turned into ‘what is the purpose of health care?’ Because health care is an umbrella,” Holmes said.
“You have emergency rooms, you have urgent cares, you have primary cares, you have hospitals, they all do their own thing, they all work together. So in choosing people to come speak, we were trying to look for people within those categories … just so that we could hear from the different fields how they work together, and how they view health care, patient care and trying to make the community a more healthy and safe place for people.”
When it comes to the non-traditional thesis route that they took, Holmes encouraged future students to have a solid idea of what they wanted to do, saying that that’s where she struggled the most.
Options can be overwhelming, so both suggest it’s best to “nail down what you want to do early in the process.” Le said that he really enjoyed taking this path instead of something more traditional.
“It helped me grow as an individual in terms of, in the professional life, reaching out to somebody who I might not know. And then establishing that networking … and then coordinating multiple events with other people. So I think it’s a great option to do.”
He added that, as time goes on, he thinks the non-traditional route will become more refined and more established as McFall and future seniors work together on it, and he thinks it’s a great option for students to have.
All in all, the Honors Program continues to provide a space for students to make tangible impacts on their community, and if future students continue to have the same drive that students like Holmes and Le have, then we’re going to continue to have a large and inspiring history of Honors students shaping their world.
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