Honors Program Newsletter

Fall 2017

Alumnus Interview: Sundance Film Director

Jared Ruga, '11 

What did you study at USD?
Majors: International Business, Philosophy, Communication Studies; Minor: Spanish

How did your undergraduate experience at USD prepare you for your career in film? How did the Honors Program contribute? Any classes that stand out or mentors who were particularly
influential?

On the law side, “Business Law” and “Cyber Law” (a special topics team-taught by “the Barkae”) were the two Honors classes that clinched my desire to go to law school. For film, all of my Comm classes with a media bent were incredibly helpful and set my moral compass for truth in storytelling. And fun fact: my first feature-length documentary was actually my Honors Thesis project, entitled CULTURA L TRANSITIVITY. It was not a Sundance film.

Can you tell us about graduate school? Why did you choose that particular program, and what was invaluable about that experience?

I took a gap year after USD to figure out what I wanted to do; ultimately I landed on studying
law and film at the University of Utah. Then, in my first semester of law school, I applied to the MBA program and got in. (I figured that if there was a chance I’d want a degree over the course of my life, I should just knock it out in one fell swoop.) Studying law, business, and film simultaneously advanced the liberal arts education I got at USD (which prepared me well for grad school). I was able to make interdisciplinary connections (and perhaps more importantly, cross-industry networking connections) that enabled me to piece together my current job.

Can you tell us about Quiet Heroes and how you got started on the film?

Check out the synopsis and Executive Producer’s statement on www.quietheroes.net.

What draws you to documentary film? What is the biggest challenge you face as a director?

I kind of fell into documentary by accident—the projects I worked on in grad school (and even QUIET HEROES ) found me. Documentary filmmaking is one of those things you just can’t quit. There’s real power in authentically representing the lives of those who are making a difference in the world, and there’s still no stronger medium than film to portray that work. Thanks to SVOD services like Netflix, there’s actually a commercial market now for documentary film, which is fantastic for documentarians.

Do you have advice for USD students interested in film?

Even though there wasn’t a film degree at USD, I was able to piece together the requisite experience I needed through the Communication Studies program and USDtv. That preparation allowed me to excel in grad school, which fostered innumerable professional opportunities. Preparing for a career in media is like playing pool: you have to plan three or four shots ahead before you line up the cue ball. Positioning where it ends increases the
likelihood of your next shot making it in the pocket. However you position yourself, though, you still need a crazy work ethic and a little talent to make it all come together.

Back to the Top


Director's Report

Dr. Jim Gump, Honors Program Director

Established thirty-eight years ago to promote interdisciplinary learning and undergraduate
research, strengthen the intellectual climate of the campus, and maintain the vision of the liberal arts as central to the college experience, the Honors Program has become the most prestigious and competitive academic program on campus. The hallmarks of the program—the first year Illluminate LLC, upper division team-taught interdisciplinary seminars, and a senior thesis—continue to define the curricular experience and help produce some of our best and brightest students. Over the past decade for example, nine Honors graduates have been recognized as class valedictorians and eight Honors students have won Fulbright Scholarships. Honors graduates have also achieved great success in nonprofits, medicine, law, business, education, and politics. In many ways, the Honors Program has been instrumental in shaping the university into a student-centered, research-focused, nationally ranked institution of higher learning.

Erin Prickett Fornelli (Honors Program Coordinator) and I are very excited about the continuing success of our Honors initiatives. This past August, staff members from Outdoor Adventures accompanied thirty incoming Honors students to Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park. In this fourth annual pre-O venture, designed exclusively for the Honors Program, our students spent a week camping, hiking, kayaking, and bonding. According to Outdoor Adventures program manager Mark Ceder, the Channel Islands excursion continues to be their most successful pre-O experience. Once the fall semester began, the first-year Honors cohort participated in our first annual Honors Induction Ceremony in the KIPJ Theatre. Honors students were also instrumental in facilitating the visit of this year’s Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, Dr. Stephen Walt. Dr. Walt, Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, provided several campus lectures and met informally with Honors students over breakfast and lunch. In addition to these activities the Honors Student Board, under the outstanding leadership of acting president Margaret Driscoll, organized a highly successful “Tea with the President” event and engaged in philanthropic ventures for Rady’s Children’s Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House. Finally, Sofia Panayides, Kayla Weston, Amanda White, Erin Fornelli and I travelled to Atlanta to participate in the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) conference. In addition to delivering a poster
presentation on justice and equity in our program, the students witnessed a stirring lecture by criminal defense attorney Bryan Stevenson and participated in a field trip to Atlanta’s outstanding Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Our program’s continued success leaves me humbled and honored to work with so many talented students, faculty, and staff. As a result, I am confident that our program will embrace all future opportunities as well as challenges with a steadfast vision, commitment, and resolve.

Back to the Top


Student News

Team-Taught Spotlight

Jack Bonacci, '18

“Dead Men Walking,” an Honors team-taught class that can be taken either for English credit or for Philosophy credit, has proven to be challenging blessing. The class is heavy, but Professor Caywood and Professor Jones do an awesome job shepherding their students through the sometimes gut-wrenching material. They balance exposure to literature on both sides of the capital punishment debate while incorporating guest speakers, which makes each
student’s journey through the course unique. One speaker might impact one student differently than the next. The same goes for a given playwright, journalist, or presiding judge- all of which are included in the course.

On the first day of class, we were asked to raise our hands indicating on which side of the debate we fell. The majority of the class began staunchly opposed to capital punishment, myself included. While I cannot speak for my classmates, I have fully entertained the other side of the argument. At times, my original views faltered as the pressure of individual stories struck chords within me which I didn’t know existed. That internal debate exposed holes in what I thought were steadfast conviction, and that is a tell-tale sign of an effective and worthwhile class.

Internship Spotlight: Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Michael Schwabe, '18

Over the past six months, I have had the opportunity to intern at Vertex Pharmaceuticals in the Discovery Core lab. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive; afflicted individuals often have difficulty breathing and getting enough nutrients. Fortunately, Vertex has taken an innovative approach to treating this disease and I have been an inside look at this process. While drug development is complex, I have begun to understand how all the parts come together as a whole. I have had the opportunity to sit in on presentations, develop meaningful connections, and been exposed to new types of chemistry. My role within the Discovery Core has been to assist in the culture of human cells. These cell supply the
company with a way to test compounds for both safety and effectiveness, thus they are crucial to the company’s mission.

As a senior Biochemistry major, I have been looking for my niche in the extensive field. Through my internship and studies, I have identified the therapeutic industry as a place I can utilize my skills as a Changemaker most effectively. Cystic fibrosis is a result of mutations in the Cystic Fibrosis Conductance Regulator, an enzyme located at the edge of certain cell types, where it passes chloride ions in and out of cells. Mutations cause the flow to be disrupted and the ions accumulate in the form of a thick mucus. I am fascinated by how a small change is able to have drastic effects on an individual. My undergraduate research revolves around understanding proteins by using mutations to derive individual amino acid function. Before I began at Vertex, I had little experience with sterile technique or the cell culture process. My internship has allowed me the time to practice these skills and gain a new perspective on the therapeutic industry. My hope for the future is to synthesize these skills and study disease-related proteins in and out of their natural environment. As my time at USD draws to a close, I hope to utilize these skills to develop potent therapeutics for different disease states.

NCHC Conference Recap

Kayla Weston, '20

On November 9th, 2017, I and two other Honors Student Board members, Amanda White and Sofia Panayides, traveled alongside Erin Fornelli and Dr. Gump to Atlanta, Georgia in order to attend the National Honors Collegiate Conference. After a restful three hours of sleep, we woke up bright and early to present our poster in front of other schools and explore what other schools presented about their programs. On our poster we featured the key things that make our program unique, including: mentorship for all first-year students and transfers, the promotion of interdisciplinary learning through team-taught classes, and our digital platform for seniors to share their thesis research.

The overarching theme for this conference was access, equity, and technology in education. This topic was chosen in order to address the issue of lack of diversity within most honors programs across the country. While attending various seminars, we got the chance to collect more ideas about how we can make our program more diverse in the future. The highlight of the trip for me was listening to the plenary speaker, Bryan Stevenson. By encouraging the audience to remain proximate with others, change the narrative of fear and anger, be willing to do uncomfortable things, and to always stay hopeful, Bryan concluded that we would then have the power to change the world.

On the final day of the trip we choose to go to the Center for Civil Rights museum. This was a very emotional experience for everyone. By creating an interactive experience, such as actually sitting at a counter in protest and having harsh words screamed in your ear, the museum gave me a new found understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. Overall this trip was extremely fun, despite the bitter cold winds, and it made me realize just how special our honors program here at USD is, and how lucky we are to attend a school with such amazing resources and faculty.

Third Annual Tea with the President

Michael Dopkiss, '19

Each fall here at USD, the Honors Program and the members of the Honors Student Board including myself host Tea with the President. A relatively new tradition, it is now coming up on its fourth annual edition and is a great opportunity for the honors community to connect with President James Harris over a cup of tea or coffee and discuss relevant issues facing the USD landscape today. Past conversations have ranged from current political issues and their implications on young people to the present and future trajectory of the institution, to even simple tips and tricks to being a better, more active student. What is the role USD plays in the Linda Vista community now and in twenty years? How does USD plan to expand academically and geographically? How do I survive life after college? It is also a chance to pick Presidents Harris’ brain as the floor is wide open. He has so much to share, whether it be his insights on success and struggle or stories of his travel and experiences. It’s all certainly worth the listen. His passion for this university and its students too is clear, and it is intriguing to hear his perspective on the growing identity of the USD family.

Keep an eye our for updates and information on the next Tea with President Harris in following Honors Monday Mail and the Honors Newsletter. The Honors Program and President Harris would love to see you there!

Internship Spotlight: San Diego Magazine

Kelly Kennedy, '18

Though I am a Political Science major, I’ve always been interested in design and aesthetics, and this past summer I had the opportunity to work for San Diego Magazine as an Art Intern. I had the privilege of working alongside professional Production Artists, Creative Directors,
Copywriters, and Photographers, and did everything from working on the set of photoshoots, to putting together final layouts for the wide variety of publications that San Diego Magazine produces.

Not only did I expand my understanding of, and ability to use, Adobe Creative Suite, but I also learned about the publication process as a whole and how time intensive print and digital products can be. The team I worked with was so supportive of me taking on additional tasks and working with each of the different publications - I assisted on photoshoots for Exquisite Weddings, wrote a story for San Diego Pets, and researched world foods and food festivals for the inaugural World Eats Party. I loved my time at San Diego Magazine so much that I will be returning as an Art Intern in January for my final semester of school.

I would encourage all students to find an internship in a field that is interesting to them, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit within their major- you never know how much you might enjoy something until you try it!

Honors Program Experience

Rachel Truong, '18

When people ask me what my first experience with USD’s Honors Program was like, I wouldn’t tell them the story of the Honors Welcome Luncheon. Instead, I would tell the story of my first Honors classes: Sister Hotz’ Native American Literature and Dr. Benz’ Honors General Chemistry. When I first walked into these two classes, I was glad to see that the first thing I was greeted with was not a long-winded speech about the prestige and importance of the Honors Program and how academically gifted I was to be part of it. Dr. Benz instead greeted us with a challenge to think of an edible, food-related chemistry experiment to demonstrate for the Honors Program, like liquid nitrogen ice cream or transparent ravioli. Sister Hotz shared a little about herself and asked about our summers. Instead of launching immediately into what the class would look like and how we could be successful, these professors started first and foremost with getting to know us. This is a pattern that has endured throughout
all of my other Honors classes.

As a pre-medical student, I knew that USD’s Honors Program would do many good things for me: it was a nice award to put on my application, a good way to get letters of recommendation (or comments for a committee letter), and a way to make connections in case medical school didn’t work out. What I would later learn, however, is that USD’s Honors Program is much more than just a pretty thing to put on my application; it is a series of lessons that enhanced my undergraduate career. Through the Honors Program, I was given the opportunity to branch out beyond my pre-med requirements and my major. I was allowed to explore many different subjects and taught how to think critically about each of them. Sometimes, this critical thinking had to happen in two subjects at once. I have Dr. Robinson’s and Professor Gist’s Voice and Text class to thank for that.

But the Honors Program is more than a set of classes. It is a group of people, all of whom bring their own unique perspective and passion to the community. I have met fellow pre-meds, yes, but I have also met future entrepreneurs, passionate artists, and excellent scientists. Every member who contributes to the Honors Program community contributes to the Honors Program experience; we build relationships and make connections that give us opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise. There are no words to describe that feeling when you and your friends in the Honors Program get on that tram and go to Mission Beach to help clean it up, just like how there are no words to describe the laughter, tears, and overall good feelings my Honors Program peers and I have shared over these past 4 years.

It’s this community that I talked about during my application cycle for medical school. I talked about how every Honors class introduced me to a new way of thinking of the material that I had never considered before. I also talked about how the people helped build not just my med school application, but also me as a person. That is the greatest value of the USD Honors Program: the fact that no matter what background you come from or what goals you’ve set for yourself, the Honors Program will help shape you as a professional and a person. You are, in fact, helped on your journey throughout undergrad to become the best you that you can possibly be. Do you want to meet new people, conduct scholarly research, or give back to your community? The Honors Program has an opportunity for that. Do you want to conduct independent research outside of the sciences on a graphic novel and cultural mythology you are passionate about? The Honors Program gave me an opportunity for that.

When I attend medical school in the fall, I will carry with me the growth that I’ve experienced thanks to USD’s Honors Program. Every challenge in my class and every person I have met will contribute towards me becoming a physician who thinks critically in many different ways and who holds a great appreciation for the unique people I’ll meet. Some physicians want to be great clinicians - the USD Honors Program, with its community engagement and unique community, gave us an opportunity for that. Others want to be great researchers - the Hinman Grant and Honors Senior Thesis gave us an opportunity for that. As for me, when I think back on my time at USD, I will always remember that first day on USD’s campus when I sat down to listen to that long-winded speech about how great the program was and met my peers for the first time.

Back to the Top

Study Abroad Corner

New Zealand

Erin Carollo, '19

After moving from Nebraska to go to school in San Diego I was pretty much convinced that my college experience couldn’t get any better. However, this past semester I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in New Zealand, and it was definitely the best semester of my life. I spent 5 months studying at University of Otago and living in a flat in the city of Dunedin.

Throughout my time there I summited mountains, swam in glacial waters, laid on the beaches of Samoa, explored glow worm caves, and took a ride on the largest swing in the world. I made countless friends and memories and learned a lot about New Zealand and myself. I’m so thankful for how easy USD made it for me to study abroad (as well as the honors program for giving me that extra honors credit!) I would definitely encourage anyone thinking about studying abroad to take the leap.

Back to the Top

Team-Taught Descriptions and Credit Distribution

The (Social) Capital of Social Media

Drs. Bradley Bond (COMM) and Justine Rapp Farrell (MKTG)

Media platforms that allow for computer-mediated interactions and sharing of information, coined “social media,” have become important components of everyday life in an increasingly digital world. Indeed, social media are inescapable. Individuals have the power to connect with others across the world or across the table using social media. The social media evolution has also afforded businesses new and innovative ways to sell products and services. The academic study of social media is still in its infancy, though communication scholars have initiated research examining the multifaceted nature and influence of social media as they relate to our psyche, our relationships, and the way our society functions. Marketing researchers have also focused attention on the pivotal role social media play in consumer behavior and business practices. This course attempts to merge two disciplines with great interest in social media—communication studies and marketing—and, in turn, seeks to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of what it means to exist as citizens and consumers in the age of social media.

HNRS 304: 4 units COMM, Core Advanced Integration

HNRS 305: 4 units MKTG, Core Advanced Integration

Christianity, Education, and Whiteness

Drs. Karen Teel (THRS) and Lisa Nunn (SOCI)

This course pursues the questions: Is there a distinctive role for Catholic universities in working toward greater racial justice in US society? How should US Catholic universities engage the national and global struggle toward greater racial justice? The course takes up legacies of whiteness in higher education and Christianity.

HNRS 346: 4 units THRS, Core Advanced Integration and THRS

HNRS 347: 4 units SOCI, Core Advanced Integration

Bombs Away!

Drs. Kathryn Statler (HIST) and Daniel Sheehan (PHYS)

Nuclear weapons are one of the great scientific and technological achievements of the 20th century; however, they also pose a grave existential risk to humanity. This team-taught, upper-division honors class will explore nuclear weapons -- their discovery, design, destructiveness, deployment and disarmament -- from the perspectives of history and physics. It will trace their development from early 20th-century scientific visionaries, through the Manhattan Project, from the Cold War nuclear arms race, up to the present-day specter of nuclear terrorism. The course will also explore the potential for nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses for nuclear technology.

HNRS 344: 4 units HIST, Core Advanced Integration and Historical Inquiry

HNRS 345: 4 units PHYS, Core Advanced Integration

Life and Moving Fluids

Drs. Frank Jacobitz (ENGR/PHYS) and Jennifer Prairie (EOSC/BIOL)

This course examines the physical processes of fluid motion in the atmosphere and oceans and their impact on life in these environments. The course starts with a review of the fundamentals of fluid mechanics and biology. The equations of fluid motion are discussed with a focus on the non-dimensional parameters governing environmental flows. Physical flow processes covered include turbulence, stratification, rotation, and wave motion. Biological applications studied in some detail are life at low Reynolds numbers, interactions between morphology of organisms and the fluid dynamic environment, and the effects of fluid dynamics on the distributions of organisms. Students will learn concepts through a combination of lecture, computer-based activities, and lab and field experiments. The approach taken in the course is an interdisciplinary one: physical processes are introduced, discussed, and directly related to their biological impacts. The course targets a balanced student enrollment from engineering and physics students with a strong background in mathematics and the physical sciences, as well as from environmental and ocean sciences and biology students with a strong background in the life sciences. The two student groups will engage in peer teaching activities throughout the first half of the course and eventually form interdisciplinary groups for team project assignments in the second half of the semester. This course will count as an upper-division elective for majors in Mechanical Engineering, Environmental and Ocean Sciences, Physics, or Biology.

HNRS 348: 4 units ENGR/PHYS

HNRS 349: 4 units EOSC/BIOL

Back to the Top

Future Team-Taught Courses

Fall 2018

  • Conflict Diagnosis & Dispute Resolution in a Global Environment: Craig Barkacs/ Linda Barkacs (BUSN)
  • Sound & Spirit in Monsoon Asia: Lance Nelson/Christopher Adler (MUSC/THRS)
    • Core THRS or Core FA
  • Music, Borders, Identities: David Harnish/ Alberto Pulido (MUSC/ ETHN)
    • Core Diversity
  • Versions of the Pastoral in America Art & Literature: Irene Williams/ Derrick Cartwright (ENGL/ ARTH)

Spring 2019

  • China and India: Yi Sun/Vidya Nadkarni (HIST/POLS)
  • Folding: Satyan Devadoss/ Shannon Starkey (MATH/Art and ARCH)
  • Drama from Page to Stage: Rick Seer/ Fred Robinson (Graduate Theatre/ENGL)
  • Voice and Text: Fred Robinson/ Jan Gist (ENGL/THEA)
  • Apostles and Apostates: Orthodoxy and Heresy in Science and Religion: Daniel Sheehan/Mary Doak (PHYS/THRS)
    • Core THRS and Core Integration

Fall 2019

  • Women in Islam and Confucianism: Yi Sun/ Bahar Davary (History/THRS)
    • Core THRS
  • Integration and Innovation in Disability Studies: Jillian Tullis/ Suzanne Stolz (COMM/EDUC)
  • Power and Politics: Craig Barkacs/Linda Barkacs (BUSN)
  • Plagues, Politics, and Preservation: The Environment in the Ancient World: Ryan Abrecht/ Andrew Tirrell(HIST/POLS)
    • Core Integration or Historical Inquiry

Spring 2020

  • Studies in Modern Palestinian Art & Literature: Irene Williams/ John Halaka (ENGL/ART)
  • A History of Hate” Christian Antisemitism and Western Culture: Mary Doak/ Russel Fuller (BiblicalStudies/ Constructive Theology)

Fall 2020

  • It’s about Time: Halina Duraj/Daniel Sheehan (ENGL/PHYS)
  • Queer Cinema and Theory: Ivan Ortiz/ Martin Repinecz (ENGL and Languages)
  • Apocalypse Then and Now: Vidya Nadkarni/Kathryn Statler (POLS/HIST)

Back to the Top