Students attend honors conference in Chicago

Feb 01, 2024
AJ, Isabel, Kelly with Chicago as their background
AJ, Isabel, Kelly with Chicago as their background

Two Newman University honors students, AJ Sweitzer and Isabel Porres, had several takeaways from experiencing the National Collegiate Honors Conference (NCHC) in Chicago in November. 

Porres and Sweitzer pose for a photo at the conference.
Porres and Sweitzer pose for a photo at the conference.

According to the NCHC website, “This conference is an annual event designed to support and promote undergraduate honors education.” The program also works to provide resources and training opportunities to its members. 

Kelly McFall, professor of history and director of the Honors Program, strives to provide students with quality experiences that will transcend their time at Newman.

“I believe our Honors Program is as good as it is because of the insights, energy and enthusiasm of the students in the program,” McFall said. This year, Sweitzer and Porres were invited based on their outstanding leadership in the Honors Program. 

Read on for a Q&A style interview with students of the Honors Program as they share their favorite activities and biggest takeaways from their experience.

A Q&A with Isabel and AJ

Headshots of Porres, McFall and Sweitzer (from left to right).

What did this experience mean to you?

Sweitzer: “Attending the NCHC conference was extremely beneficial not only to me but also the Honors Program here at Newman. It was a great opportunity to learn from students, faculty and staff from other universities and colleges.”

Porres: “I was really excited to go to this conference for several reasons. I am an intern for the Honors Program, this is the first year of that position being a thing and I was really eager to learn how to do my job better and really impact the program. On the same wavelength, I am on the honors council and I was very interested in learning about other Honors Programs and considering what aspects we could add to our Honors Program. I had never been to Chicago so that was also an exciting addition to the trip and similarly, I had never really gotten to know AJ and was very excited to get to know her better.”

How have you benefited from the Honors Program at Newman?

Sweitzer: “The Honors Program at Newman has given me many opportunities and experiences that have helped me grow as a person. In addition, I have met many wonderful students who have become close friends.”

Porres: “The Honors Program has taught me numerous soft skills that I use every day. If I had to choose one skill in particular that I would deem most valuable it would be communication. I think the Honors Program does a really good job at preparing us to speak well in numerous facets of life. We learn how to formulate complete thoughts, articulate ourselves well and even argue if necessary, have productive conversations and dissolve conflict whilst still getting our point across. The Honors Program also establishes this meaningful and intellectual community that I really love being part of.”

Porres participating in the "fishbowl."
Porres participating in the “fishbowl.”

What types of activities, discussions and takeaways did you have from the conference? 

Sweitzer: “Isabel and I were able to go to resume building, interview skills, scholarship application and graduate school sessions, where we learned a ton. We hope to share these takeaways with the Honors Program students. Also, I was able to see many students’ wonderful research projects that were featured at the conference. One session that really resonated with me was called ‘Putting the Art in STEAM,’ which was about how art can be applied to teaching and presenting STEM topics.”

Porres: “I was able to go to several sessions discussing social media and engagement in Honors Programs. Before the conference commenced I was selected to participate in a student ‘fishbowl.’ Myself and six other honors students were the fish, speaking about our Honors Programs and experiences, while about 60 people listened to our conversation. I also went to a workshop where I was able to give my ‘elevator pitch’ and receive feedback.”

McFall: “Isabel, AJ and I attended a variety of different sessions and came home with a variety of different ideas — everything from simple ideas about affirming student accomplishments and value to plans to revamp the senior honors thesis as a way to improve student skills in problem solving and critical thinking.” 

Where in Chicago did you get to explore?

Sweitzer: “Isabel and I were able to explore the Field Museum in Chicago and attend a jazz bar night. The food was my favorite part of exploring Chicago because we were able to try all types of cuisines.”

Porres: “I took some time to take a little walk by myself on one of the conference days. We went to the Navy Pier one night as well.”

McFall: “We were mostly in downtown Chicago — and without a car.  So we explored downtown Chicago (Navy Pier, etc.), sampled Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (and Indian food) and practiced our public transportation skills. And Isabel and AJ went to a jazz club (it was too late for me, alas).”

Sweitzer poses with the amazing Chicago views behind her.
Sweitzer poses with an amazing Chicago view behind her.

Favorite part of the trip? 

Sweitzer: “One of my favorite parts of the trip was walking with everyone around and exploring the city. The views were amazing.”

Porres: “I loved getting to know AJ. She’s a blessing and it is a gift to know her and that was my favorite part of the trip. I loved seeing new places and people, I liked hearing people speak and formulating ideas for our Honors Program, I also really enjoyed eating good food and flying to Chicago.”

McFall: “So there are lots of favorite things. But for me, my favorite thing was the same thing it always is when I travel with students — the chance to get to know AJ and Isabel better and to watch their eyes as they see new things and put what they learned at Newman into practice.”

Final thoughts? 

Sweitzer: “I am truly grateful for being chosen to go on this trip and I have learned a tremendous amount.”

McFall: “I’ve taken students to conferences for almost as long as I’ve been at Newman. In every case, I’ve been inspired by what Newman students can do. And I’ve watched them come back home and make Newman a better place because of their time away. I can’t wait to see how AJ and Isabel make a difference at Newman because of their experience in Chicago.”

Explore the Newman Honors Program

The Honors Program at Newman University empowers high-achieving students to transform society. Together, we build a strong community, hone our academic skills and learn more about our earth and the people on it.