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Chancellor’s Honors Program 2016 Fall E-Newsletter

fronThe Chancellor’s Honors Program is pleased to announce our Fall 2016 E-Newsletter. Read our stories for a glimpse into the lives of our current students and share our progress with friends, family, and supporters of the Honors and Scholars Programs at the University of Tennessee.


What’s inside:

  1. Message from the Associate Provost – Dr. Timothy Hulsey
  2. Alumni Spotlight – Joel Seligstein
  3. Undergraduate Research – Sara Poarch
  4. Ready for the World – William Lifferth
  5. Community Service – Matt Scott


The Impact of Research: How I Found My Purpose

Written by Sara Poarch

camelIn the summer of 2015, I was shoveling sand into buckets under the Jordanian sun, humming 80’s rock ballads, thinking about Ramadan. I was supposed to be thinking about fourth-century Romans, but I found my interest wandering to the fasting and feasts taking place in the Arab world. In that moment, I decided I wanted my career to focus on modern Arabs instead of long-dead Romans. This was a pivotal point in my academic career, as it put me on the path to my research topic and led to further research opportunities in my final year at UT.

In the Ayn’ Gharandal Archaeological Project, which excavates a fourth-century Roman fort in the south of Jordan, I found out so much about myself, where my interests lie and how far I could push myself, all while submerged in a vibrant culture. I also found Dr. Erin Darby, my soon-to-be mentor and honors thesis advisor.

I confided in Dr. Darby that my time in the desert had changed my career interests and that I was uncertain how to move forward. She assured me it would work itself out if I put in the work. Of course, she was right. I discovered my passion through my honors thesis research.

Upon returning to campus for my junior year, I was still clueless as to a subject to research for my honors thesis. Even with the passion and enthusiasm, I had for my coursework; it was difficult to fathom a topic I could write fifty pages on over the course of a year. So, once again I sought out Dr. Darby. We went through numerous ideas trying to find a topic I could get excited about, each one eventually finding the discard pile. Though choosing a thesis topic was a stressful task, it forced me to analyze my interests and examine what kind of research I wanted to accomplish. Picking a topic may have seemed daunting, but ultimately it was an important part of the experience of carrying out original research—an experience that has helped me grow immensely.

In the end, Dr. Darby suggested research-tripconducting research on International Service Learning. Specifically, my research would aim to help the Dig Jordan program add a service-learning component to its field school. Looking back, I could not have picked a better topic because Dig Jordan was the program that altered my academic journey.

Looking back, I could not have picked a better topic because Dig Jordan was the program that altered my academic journey. I quickly fell in love with the topic; all my interests were finally collaborating.

International service learning, which incorporates fields such as anthropology, religious studies, international relations, politics, etc., offers students the opportunity to engage in experiential learning while being submerged in a different culture. By placing the student with an organization in which they conduct service for the local community, service-learning enables students to interact more fully with a given culture than the typical study abroad experience.

Currently, I am assessing the cultural engagement techniques used and sustainability issues related to current service-learning.

When performing service in an international setting, there are many aspects to consider. What kind of relationship does the culture have with America? Does the community want our help? If they do, what kind of service would be the most beneficial to them? How can the student get the most out of the experience? These are a few of the questions I am exploring through my research.

To answer them, I have been conducting interviews with faculty and students that have participated in service-learning. My aim is to evaluate what criteria need to be met to create the best possible experience.

The most square-pictureremarkable part of my research is that I will be implementing it in Jordan in 2017. I am working with Dig Jordan to create a curriculum based on my findings, which I will then help teach to students in Jordan.

To date, I have received three grants and a paid research assistantship to facilitate my research. I have gone on a research trip to Missouri and will go to North Carolina in the spring to present my findings at a national conference. I have also used my thesis research as the basis for my Fulbright application. My research has given me opportunity beyond words, and I am so grateful to the CHP for pushing its students toward research. Pursuing research has helped me evolve as a scholar and a person. I hope my fellow honors students will think critically when considering their futures and use research as a launching board to achieve their goals. I certainly did.

Service and the CHP: Why I’m Here

Written by Matt Scott

My college career has been a period of many firsts. I experienced my first bowl game, my first professional conference, my first trip to Cookout, and, unfortunately, my first all-nighter in the Baker Center. More importantly, however, UT is the place where I first made service a focal point of my life. Though I volunteered and went on mission trips in high school, it wasn’t until my induction into the Chancellor’s Honors Program that I began to reflect critically on service.

As I sat through the induction ceremony daydreaming about my new college life, my ears perked up at one question: “Why are you here?”

This seemed to be a ridiculous question. Obviously, I was here to get a degree and get into medical school. Why else would I be here? I wish I could tell you I realized the importance of this question that evening, or even that year. Instead, I devoted myself to my studies at the expense of my commitment to service. I was only here to pursue my own successes, after all. Soon enough, summer break arrived and I was intent on continuing this pursuit. I began planning the next year of school and decided to become a peer mentor for other CHP students.Matt Scott serviec

Mentoring seemed like a great low-commitment way to diversify my resume and meet new people in the process. That summer, I was assigned a list of incoming students to mentor. I introduced myself and explained that I would be a point of contact for them while they were at Tennessee. I went into the experience determined to teach my mentees a thing or two about college life. Instead, they taught me about myself. I realized with every question, late-night text, and coffee date that this was what I was passionate about. They thought they were an inconvenience; I knew they were my ticket to a bigger world, one where I embraced that I was best when serving others.

Over the next year and a half, Matt Scott HabitatI nurtured this realization. I helped lead a construction-based service trip into the heart of rural West Virginia with my church. There, we re-roofed the home of a family who had lost everything when their mother’s health took a turn for the worse. I began volunteering with the Honors Program and Alpha Epsilon Delta (UT’s largest pre-health society), doing everything from collecting cans of food to cleaning out yards. I even began a regular volunteer shift at Fort Sanders Medical Center, where I still make follow-up calls to discharged patients and go to patient rooms to check on their comfort.

However, I soon found myself again considering the question I had heardMatt Scott Boo at the Zoo nearly two years before. Why was I here? I had made an impact on many people, but I had yet to go all in, to really break the barrier between student and servant.

While driving home from a fall break trip, I looked at my best friend and said that we should do something huge for our community in Knoxville.

With the help of an amazing team at Global Service Projects, we designed the Run and Walk for Mental Health Awareness, a 5K that would not only raise awareness about mental health but also raise funds for the Helen Ross McNabb Center, a local organization that provides behavioral and mental health services to the underinsured. The event was a massive success and, true to their mission to help me realize my purpose, the Chancellor’s Honors Program covered nearly one-third of our event budget.

As I begin my final year on Rocky Top I am president of Alpha Epsilon Delta, where I am refocusing the goals of our organization to emphasize service. As director of public relations for Global Service Projects, I am heading a fundraising campaign for the Helen Ross McNabb Center’s new domestic violence shelter and beginning to recruit sponsors for the Second Annual Run and Walk for Mental Health Awareness. Most recently, I have been selected to co-lead the Honors and Scholars Programs’ first Alternative Spring Break trip—check back in the spring newsletter for an update on that experience!

Over the last three years, I have gone from a self-serving student to a self-actualized servant who aims to make service a central tenet of my life.

Ultimately, I know that this would have never been possible without the support and encouragement of the Chancellor’s Honors Program. Looking back on my inattentive first-year self, I smile. I will always remember the one question that made it through my daydreaming and how it has changed my life—and hopefully the lives of many others—for the better.

Message from the Associate Provost – Dr. Timothy Hulsey

Come gather around people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

—Bob Dylan


Those of you who have visited us recently may have noticed a number of changes around the offices. Some of these changes have been physical: We remodeled our space to create offices for our new staff (more on that later) and moved the honors graduate assistants into Room 121, the former coffee lounge. We have also changed—and, I hope, improved—the student computer lounge.

These changes to our physical space were made in the service of additions to our staff and programming. As you may know, we will launch two new programs next fall: the Honors Leadership Program and the 1794 Scholars Program. The Honors Leadership Program (HLP) is for students interested in learning about and engaging in leadership on campus and in the community. HLP students will earn a minor in leadership and engage in unique service and leadership opportunities. The 1794 Scholars Program includes a living and learning community, special sections of the first-year honors seminar, and access to CHP classes, among other benefits. We have begun recruiting students for both of these programs and recently began accepting applications.

New programs also mean new staff. Virginia Stormer, formerly our honors advisor, has been hired to direct the 1794 program. Meghan Perez has joined us from Texas A&M University to direct the Honors Leadership Program, and we have hired Natalie Stepanov to take the honors advisor role. This summer, two new full-time staff members joined us: Xylina Marshall as Communications Coordinator and Matt Blaylock as Student Engagement Coordinator.

The Chancellor’s Honors Program remains the largest university-wide honors program at UT, serving more than 1,500 students from almost every undergraduate major. The goal of the CHP remains to contribute to excellence in undergraduate education by enriching and enhancing the degree programs of selected undergraduate students. We do this through special classes, honors advising, CHP-sponsored co-curricular activities, honors organizations, and leadership and service opportunities.

The CHP launched a new curriculum this year, including an honors-only two-semester writing sequence. These classes teach students who already possess good writing abilities the skills necessary to excel in college and graduate school. Coupled with our new menu of courses, we feel that students in the CHP are receiving an excellent undergraduate education without adding significant new burdens to the credits required for graduation.

Finally, none of these improvements would have been possible without the support of the Chancellor and the Provost. I thank them both for their assistance in providing some of the best students in the world with some of the best educational experiences in the world.



Dr. Timothy Hulsey, Associate Provost

Alumni Spotlight: Joel Seligstein

Most students come to the The Alumni Board Awards Dinner for the University of Tennessee at the Knoxville Convention Center on Friday, September 16, 2016. Photo by Steven Bridges - http://stevenbridges.comUniversity of Tennessee with a plan: enroll in classes, get a degree, and land a job directly out of school. Joel Seligstein came on a mission. During his time at UT, Joel enrolled in honors coursework, declared two majors, and landed a job that allowed him to graduate ahead of schedule. That job was at a little social media company called Facebook. At the time a small enterprise with approximately 15 million users, Facebook would go on to become the mogul that it is today, reaching upwards of 1 billion avid Facebook users. During his six and a half years with the company, Joel utilized lessons he had learned as a member of the Chancellor’s Honors Program and honed his uncanny ability to tackle new and complex problems.

Since he was a child, Joel has never considered failure to be an option. He grew up believing that he was in full command of his destiny and continues to determine it by being proactive and intentional about where he invests his time. In fact, his job opportunity at Facebook emerged out of contacts he made while working on the beta for logging into other websites via Facebook during his spare time at college. By pursuing a hobby in his field and developing competency in that hobby, Joel managed to network himself into an interview that set him on a quick path to success. After writing code for about three years, Joel began leading the “Messages” team responsible for developing Facebook Messenger long before “pm me” was common social media terminology. It was in this position that Joel found his experience with the CHP particularly helpful. Joel compares his time at Facebook to his time in the CHP by saying that it felt a lot like being in honors because everyone was brilliant, motivated, and provided with excellent resources. Being surrounded by honors students in the classroom helped Joel adjust to working with people at a higher level. He views his time in the CHP as a unique training experience that helped him to realize he was no longer the smartest person in the room–a message reinforced by his workplace. This realization was incredibly motivating, and after his time at Facebook, Joel went in search of his next big challenge.

He found it by once again pursuing an interest that soon became a hobby and eventually turned into a major opportunity. That interest was sledding. After taking a renewed interest in the Olympics due to working for a high-tech sports gear company, Joel set out to conquer bobsledding, his favorite event. sleddingUpon talking to a bobsled company, he realized he was missing a key component that no amount of hard work and determination could overcome: a partner to run the brakes. Instead of hanging up his sledding hat, he decided to opt for a lesser-known event called skeleton. Skeleton is a winter sliding sport similar to bobsleigh and luge that involves a single rider sledding down a frozen track while lying face down. Though Joel’s first attempt at sliding was in his words “absolutely horrifying” he says that quitting was never an option. His goal from the beginning was only to get better. And get better he did, Joel now races for the Israel National Bobsled and Skeleton Team and hopes to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In line with using his time intentionally, Joel founded A# Capital Startup Investing in 2014 between running sprints and sliding down tracks at 80 mph. In this venture, Joel invests in small companies and mentors their management teams on taking their products to market. He works mostly with software engineers, young CEOs, and new managers and loves the human aspect that coaching brings to the engineering field. Two things Joel always incorporates into his coaching are empathy and hustle. Joel emphasizes the importance of building teams and forming partnerships through empathy and stresses that a big part of startup success is the “hustle” attitude. The entrepreneurial spirit is essential to achieve the sort of high arching goals for which Joel reaches, and he exhibits it well. A recent recipient of the UT Alumni Promise Award, Joel’s finds success by cultivating his interests and will continue to look for ways to challenge himself and grow.The Alumni Board Awards Dinner for the University of Tennessee at the Knoxville Convention Center on Friday, September 16, 2016. Photo by Steven Bridges -

Theek Hai: Lessons from India

Written by William Lifferth

“Theek hai.”

It was the first Hindi phrase I picked up. It’s a kind of filler people use when they hit a lull in the conversation, but more than that it embodies this profound Indian sensibility of charging ahead in light of clearly prohibitive realities. While it roughly translates to “everything’s good,” it was used in essentially every scenario in which—quite clearly, it seemed to me—everything was not good.

It happened frequently enough that I started hearing it in my head every time something absurd happened.

I’ve been detained for 12 hours with no explanation.

“Theek hai.”

There’s no bed in the hotel room.

“Theek hai.”

I’ve contracted malaria.

“Theek hai.”

From frequent power outages to mixed sewage and drinking water, the infrastructure never ceased to provide opportunities for one to exclaim “theek nahi hai” (everything is not good), but from my coworkers to my host family to random strangers turned friends, everyone took these challenges in stride.

Theek Hai cows I believe it’s a great lesson to roll with the punches, grit your teeth, and say “theek hai.” What I observed opened my eyes to the deep paradigm differences between the US and India.

In the US, individualism is emphasized. We have a standard of cooperation between large groups of people and a culture of customer service. For me, this has fostered a sense that there is always a plan and that following that plan will always lead to the best outcome. If something goes wrong, we should try to fix it. If something doesn’t make sense, I should try to figure it out before moving forward. “There should always be a plan” is the dominant mentality.

From what I saw, there is no such plan in India. A population explosion and rapid industrialization have catapulted India into previously uncharted territory. The speed of ubiquitous development and change made it an amazing place to work, but it also meant you had to be ready to smile and say “theek hai” at the drop of a hat. The willingness to operate in the midst of uncertainty was admirable and a method that I had to work hard to accept. It forced me to reconceptualize the idea of efficiency outside the American context.

My work while at TNC Aviation was centered around building tools that could be used to effectively recruit 10+2 graduates (the Indian equivalent of high school) to pilot and cabin crew training programs in the United States and Canada. This frequently crossed over into marketing, and it forced me to consider the entirety of the supply chain of human labor in India.

Lifferth It allowed me to, in some small way, understand India’s place in a global economy. Things there moved fast, and the people there were mentally equipped to move fast as well.

The perfect example of how this willingness to adapt can be beneficial came when my brother and I found ourselves caught in a monsoon while searching for a connection to our great-great-grandmother’s history. w lifferthOn our search for the place of her christening, we planned to visit all the old Catholic churches in the area. Upon emerging from our first stop to find ourselves in a torrential downpour, 20 minutes from our hotel, we had to make some quick adjustments. Here the ability to roll with the punches was essential. As we started on the trek back to our hotel, an older woman named Mrs. Malik rolled down her window to offer us a ride. Once we explained our predicament, she informed us she was one of the oldest practicing Catholics in Mumbai and would be happy to take us to the only church remaining from the time our great-great-grandmother was christened. There, we were assured by a priest that all christenings of the time period would have been performed in that very cathedral. In that moment I was incredibly grateful for the kindness and flexibility of the “theek hai” mindset (and Mrs. Malik), which allowed us to touch a part of our own history.

Since being back in the States I’ve started consciously toggling in and out of “theek hai” mode; often when I’m first coming to understand a problem it’s helpful to move fast and fail often. Upon figuring out what the problem to be solved is, it’s really helpful to transition out of “theek hai” mode to plan and execute more rigorously. I don’t believe there’s any superiority in either of those ways of thinking and acting. On the contrary, I found it valuable and enriching to experience the difference between the two paradigms, because they arise to solve different problems.

As someone who lives most of his life according to plan, it can be both liberating and effective to take a step back, smile, and say “theek hai.”


Meet T’Angela Knight

T’Angela Knight
Majors: Marketing and Psychology
Hometown: Memphis Tennessee


T’Angela traversed the state from Memphis to Knoxville in order to find community within the Chancellor’s Honors Program. T’Angela has embraced the call to become inVOLved and serves as a great example for Honors students wishing to engage in the campus community.

In her short time at UT, T’Angela has participated in the Venture Living and Learning community, become an ambassador for the ME4UT program, served as a mentor in the Multicultural Mentoring Program, become a Residence Assistant, and founded her own organization! The inspiration to found the organization, named DECA, came from her participation in the high school chapter. Coming off of a stint as president for the Tennessee chapter of this marketing organization, T’Angela instantly identified a way that she could improve the greater UT community. By founding DECA with fellow Honors students, T’Angela is living out her commitment to leave a legacy at UT. Continue reading

What We Don’t Talk About

On Wednesday, September, 21 at 7pm, the University of Tennessee will present “WHAT WE DON’T TALK ABOUT – THE DOCTRINE OF DISCOVERY AND THE TRAUMATIZATION OF AMERICA.” The Chancellor’s Honors and Haslam Scholars Programs are co-sponsoring this event and will offer Becker Seminar and lecture credit for CHP and HSP students in attendance.

The following morning, Thursday September 22nd at 8:00 a.m., both programs are hosting noted speaker, writer and consultant Mark Charles for an intimate gathering in the Honors Seminar Room (HBC 118)  Students from the CHP and HSP will have an opportunity to meet with Mr. Charles to discuss issues related to his talk and other current events.  Breakfast will be provided.

Students interested in attending the breakfast should complete the form below. Space is limited to the first 20 students.


Adapted from flyer: Mark Charles is a dynamic and though-provoking public speaker, writer, and consultant who serves as the Washington DC correspondent and regular columnist for Native News Online. He is the author of the popular blog, Reflections from the Hogan. The son of an American (of Dutch heritage) woman and a Navajo ma, he speaks with insight into the complexities of American history regarding race, culture, and faith in order to help forge a path of healing and conciliation for the nation.

The Office of Honors and Scholars Programs Stance on Diversity

The Office of Honors and Scholars Programs of the University of Tennessee stands for the just treatment of all students, faculty, and staff. Diversity is a key component of a real university education. As an office that values and encourages diversity in all of our programs, we must take a stand against acts that threaten the safety and sense of belonging of anyone in the UT community.

Being an Honors student at the University of Tennessee means more than pursuing academic excellence. It also means taking responsibility for things outside of ourselves by striving to create a more engaged and inclusive community for everyone. Being an Honors student signifies that you value civil discourse and appreciate the knowledge that comes from understanding the perspectives of others.

In 2010 our Chancellor charged the university community to embrace 10 principles concerning civility and community. Number 10 was “Response.” Those of us within the Honors and Scholars community respond to this incident with compassion for all students, faculty, and staff, including those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex. It will take an active effort from all of us to mold the University of Tennessee into a place where everyone feels at home.

We challenge all Honors Vols to report any incidents of bias to the Bias Education and Response Team at When we say Vol we do in fact mean ALL.

Meet Christopher Neal

Class: Chancellor’s Honors 2018
Hometown: Murfeesboro, TN
Major: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

IMG_2760Since the Spring of 2015, I have been conducting undergraduate research in the electrochemistry field of chemical engineering. Working with Dr. Thomas Zawodzinski Jr. under the advisory of Dr. Gabriel Goenaga, I have been able collaborate with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and numerous international companies. My learning experience thus far has been phenomenal. I have had the opportunity to learn about experiments and concepts that would not normally be taught in a classroom setting while applying classroom lessons to real-life scenarios. The most impactful part of my research experience has been  working with people from across the world towards a goal that would benefit entire nations. Undergraduate research is especially important to the Honors experience because it allows the student to apply what he or she learns in the classroom to actual phenomena. The Honors program at UT has given me the chance to make further connections in the chemical engineering field and has challenged me to dig deeper and think harder about certain concepts. Continue reading

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