Florida Collegiate Honors Conference

Front Row (left to right): Mariana Becker, Dr. James Hawker, and Nicole Darder. Back Row: Gary Gergen, Erik Christensen, and Patrick Swafford. Not Pictured: Dr. Charlotte Pressler, Christian Reitnauer, and Dylan Whiteman.

Six Honors Program students recently represented South Florida State College (SFSC) by presenting their undergraduate research at the Florida Collegiate Honors Conference in Miami Feb. 20 – 22. Presenting on behalf of SFSC was Mariana Becker, Nicole Darder, Gary Gergen, Patrick Swofford, Christian Reitnauer, and Dylan Whiteman.

The Florida Collegiate Honors Council is a professional association of undergraduate honors programs and colleges in Florida. Since the 1990s, it has hosted an annual conference, allowing honors professionals and students the opportunity to network, to share honors expertise, and to hear presentations from across many disciplines. SFSC’s Honors Program has attended and presented at the conference every year since 2003.

“At these conferences, our students have a chance to meet and network with other honors students statewide,” said Dr. Charlotte Pressler, SFSC’s Honors Program director. “If they plan to transfer to a Florida university, they can talk with students who already attend the school of their choice, and get the students’ views. Our honors students also learn how to give an academic talk to an audience of over 250 students, professors, and honors directors from other colleges in Florida. It’s several steps up from the in-class presentation and helps them polish the skills they will need when they transfer to a competitive university setting.”

According to Dr. Pressler, students interested in presenting at the conference had to submit proposals to a conference organizing committee for acceptance, a procedure used for most academic conferences. These students had originally done their research as term projects for the courses they took and their instructors invited them to submit proposals.

Students prepared for the conference by working very closely with their instructors to edit their research papers down to a form suitable for a conference presentation. Christian Negron of SFSC’s e-Learning Department was also able to give invaluable help with creating the students PowerPoint presentations.

Becker, Darder, Gergen, and Swofford, along with their professors Erik Christensen and Dr. James Hawker, presented research on SFSC’s Fall 2014 Honors Seminar called “Introduction to Astrobiology: The Search for Life Beyond Earth.” Christensen and Dr. Hawker described the innovative pedagogy of the interdisciplinary capstone course, which used the ‘flipped classroom’ to promote undergraduate research at the two-year college level. Becker’s research asked “How Could Comets Have Contributed to Life on Earth?,” raising the possibility that elements crucial to the beginnings of life on earth were seeded here by comets. Darder described the physiological and psychological barriers to prolonged human space travel as well as potential mitigations or +solutions in “The Trip to Mars and Its Effects on Humans.” Gergen’s research described the barriers created by galactic cosmic rays to human space travel, and Swafford described methods of terraforming the planet Mars.

Through self-directed research projects on Florida themes, first-year students in the fall 2014 Honors Freshman English I course, taught by Dr. Pressler, learned to synthesize primary and secondary sources and reflect critically on their research. The course used ‘flipped classroom’ pedagogy and sponsored a service-learning project in a local museum’s archives. Whiteman, a dual-enrollment student from Sebring High School, presented critiques of Disney World from the urban studies perspective of Richard E. Fogelsong and the sociological perspective of Jean Baudrillard. Reitnauer presented “By Land and By Sea: The Construction of the Florida East Coast Railway,” focusing on the engineers, laborers, mechanics, and others who were the actual builders of “Flagler’s Railroad.”

SFSC’s Honor Program offers students intellectual development, cultural enrichment, smaller classes, scholarship opportunities, and special recognition at the graduation ceremony as well as an Honors endorsement on their Associate in Arts degree and transcript. For more information about SFSC’s Honors Program, contact Dr. Charlotte Pressler, director, SFSC Honors Program, and professor, English and Humanities, at 863-784-7247.