Honors College is a Gateway and Incubator for ALL Students

Academic Passion, Education, Essays, Higher Ed, Honor

The following is an essay I wrote this fall for publication on PublicUniversityHonors.com. The editor of that site reviews honors colleges and programs and the SHC was one of only seven to receive a five mortarboard rating in A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs. Time has passed so I am now happy to be able to post it on our blog!


“Honors programs and colleges are each as distinctive and unique as the college or university of which they are a part.” This is how I begin every presentation I make to prospective students and their parents. There is no one set definition of what an honors program is, other than that all programs have the general goal of enhancing and enriching a student’s academic experience. The mission, vision, character, nature, and experience of each program or college will vary widely even as they all achieve that single goal.

I have had the great pleasure to be the director Tulane University’s Honors Program and I am now in my tenth year as dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University. I have also been a part of and led reviews of numerous other honors programs and colleges around the country. This combination of intimate working experience and the opportunity to survey the national landscape has led me to the personal conviction that honors education should be built upon two pillars resulting in an “osmotic incubator.”

Osmotic

“Accessibility,” “permeability,” and “leaven” are all terms I have used to describe this attribute. I remained a pre-med student long enough to know that “osmosis” is the process by which molecules can pass through a membrane from one region to another. Honors education may be thought of in these terms, to a certain extent, taking in students at different stages while at the same time the college should be making contributions to the rest of the university.

This I Believe

Essays, Honor, Life

I was invited to contribute an essay for our local NPR station’s “This I Believe.” This essay is apart of a yearlong project on grieving called “Learning to Live: What’s Your Story?”  The audio can be found here and the essay is below.


We all believe many different things over the course of our lives and our beliefs shift; much as the relentless waves alter the contours of the shore, new experiences cause us to grow and adapt.

A few years ago I wrote a “This I Believe” essay about the importance of honor, of doing what is right at all times. I continue to hold that belief, but in the last few years I’ve also realized the value and importance of expressing loss.

I believe in the necessary and restorative power of grief.

On New Year’s Eve 2012 our son Mack died of sepsis, an uncontrollable blood infection that took his life in a matter of hours. While I had spent more than a decade in the academic and theological study of Jewish and Christian responses to loss, nothing could prepare me for the loss of my child. Shortly after Mack died our friend shared a slim volume on grief by Granger Westberg. It is called “Good Grief” and in it Westberg points out that we grieve all sorts of things in our lives, big and small.

We recognize and understand that when someone we love dies, we will grieve. We mourn the fact that they will no longer be in our lives. Those around us will often recognize that we are grieving, offering us support and the emotional space to express our feelings of loss. But we often do not realize that we grieve all sorts of “little things” as well.

Shortly after Mack died, a student met with me to discuss her academic future. She said, “I’m sorry to bother you Dean Brady. My changing majors is nothing compared with you and your wife losing your son.” Of course they are different categories of loss, but as I told the student, for her, at that point in her life, this was a major loss and change. She had always intended to be a physician and realizing this was not her future was truly heart breaking for her. She was grieving the loss of that intended future, just as we grieved the future we had dreamed of for our son.

In the Penn State community there are many who still grieve the events that followed the disclosure in 2011 that a Penn State football coach had sexually molested young boys. In talking with members of our Penn State community, I realized that, although few acknowledged it, we were, each in our own way, grieving. We were grieving for those young boys and the scars they carry, we were grieving that memories of past football victories would now be tarnished, we were grieving our own loss of innocence.

We all grieve and we grieve all sorts of things. I believe grief is healing. If we embrace it, its waters, which feel like they might drown us, will purify us instead.

Honors Education at Research Universities 2013 Keynote

Education, Essays, Honor

HERU 2013 – Keynote Address

Welcome to the inaugural Honors Education at Research University conference! It is a great pleasure to have you all here at Penn State. Gathered are nearly 100 representatives of 28 schools from around the nation and the world, including our colleagues from the Netherlands and the universities of Radboud and Utrecht.

I would be remiss if I did not begin our event by thanking those who have made this possible. While the idea of such a meeting arose within the annual meeting of the so-called CIC schools (the Big 10 plus Chicago), the planning committee included representatives of other schools as well. Would those on the committee please stand as I call your names?