UL's Honors Program is the largest in Louisiana, and perennially sweeps awards at the state's annual Honors Convocation, including the Quiz Bowl Trophy. As is true of so many of UL's programs, Honors is built from, and on, a very different foundation than traditional universities use, one of service and inclusion: to the students it serves, to the University as a whole, to the community, and to the world.Tell us about yourself.<
I'm the product of two college-educated parents. I was born in 1948 in Newport News, Virginia, the first planned community in Virginia after the war... lots of little tiny homes
My father had just come back from WWII, and was one of the first in the US to use the GI Bill to go to college. He went to William & Mary, where he met my mother.
What did he study?
History, US history.
And your mother?
Theatre. I've just lost both of them this past year.
Both of them were children of the Depression, and therefore had a very strong work ethic, which they passed on to me. They also stressed education, and the responsibility that comes with it.
And love... love for other human beings.
My father was the epitome of a compassionate gentleman. Every human being was worthy of his time. I was raised in that environment, and I believe the same thing.
I was educated through junior college in the middle of the Viet Nam War. In fact, I was an activist against the war... but that's not what it sounds like. I opposed the war because we wouldn't fully commit to it. We were losing young men because the country wouldn't fully commit, and do it right.
So I grew up in what the Chinese curse calls "interesting times," which means that I grew up at the time of Viet Nam & Watergate, all of which made me keenly aware of the need for knowledge-- real knowledge, not just what other people told me. And it made me aware of the difficulty of creating morality through policy, on either side of the political spectrum.
I chose history as the focus of my eduction, because it taught me the most about the human condition, its triumphs & tragedies.
From studying humanity, what I try to do in my teaching is to be as objective as I can, so that my students can make up their own minds. As Dragnet used to say, "Just the facts, Ma'am." Because even the facts can be tremendously ironic, and that's not lost on our students. And some of the facts are just painful.
But if you want knowledge, and the wisdom that comes from knowledge, then you want the facts, and truth. Not just opinion.
So I love teaching history... particularly at this University.
Because I was allowed to teach at great breadth, as opposed to being forced to focus on one small area, which is my "specialty." That's allowed me to grow as a professor, and a person, and it has encouraged my research.
The one beautiful thing that UL offers, is that I'm not only forced to teach my primary area of colonial Latin American history, but I've also taught global problems, humanities, and special topics courses. I was also allowed to team teach. Honors continues to give me those options.
With this Honors Program, Pat Rickles gave me a remarkable opportunity at a critical point in my life. When most people look at shutting down their careers, I am opening up a new part of mine. I'm excited to come to work. I'm dreaming again. I see the University at a different level than I did when I was faculty.
Pat and her students created the foundation of a remarkable program unlike any other in the state.
This Program is student-driven, which accounts for its longevity. It is focused on active learning, vs accelerated learning. It continues to foster creative learning. It is that sort of learning that made this country different, and will continue to make this country different.
Honors as a program at this University continues to be a program of excellence, and I hope to help it grow. I think part of our purview is to enhance the overall academic caliber of the undergraduate program here at UL.
You mentioned longevity. Is continuity a problem with honors programs?
Oh yes. A lot of other programs are actually started by faculty with a grant, and when the grant runs out, so does the honors program.
Other honors program are often started by faculty with good intentions, who leave and go to other universities. There are a lot of other reasons why honors programs fail. The long life of this Program is because of its student support. It grew from a handful of students, to 900 kids.
I hope to take it to the next level. Pat guarded, tended and shepherded this program for 30 years, and she and the students built a great foundation. I want to push it to the national level.
UL has pushed academic programs to national prominence time and again-- there's no reason that Honors can't do it.
I want to strengthen the program... as Emeril says, "Kick it up a notch." I want to be more inclusive, to expand opportunities for Honors students by creating an interdisciplinary core of Honors classes that will benefit all colleges and departments.
For instance, the math department has recently agreed to create an Honors section of Statistics 214, which is taken by numerous colleges as a required course. Business, biology and math have all helped with the expansion of such courses.
I want to get our kids in the news more. I think academic achievements are extremely important, and should be publicized. I think that the community should know how great these kids are, how much they take on, how much they do. I don't think that happens enough.
UL has an Honors Program. What is the difference between and Honors Program, and an Honors College?
In an Honors College, you attend mostly honors classes within that college, and you're taught primarily by honors faculty. In some ways, that limits your experience at the university.
An Honors Program doesn't pull students out of their intended focus of education. It merely boosts it. An Honors College tends to be a separate institution which houses its students in a special area, all together, as one unit. We have Honors dormitories, but our students interact constantly with the entire University population.
An Honors Program has certain extra requirements, but it's an umbrella program over all the colleges at the University. If you are a chemistry student in the Honors Program, you remain in the chemistry program, interacting with the professors and students, people who will be professionally important later. At that the same time, you are participating in a program of excellence, which includes interacting with other Honors students and in the symposia, which boost the student's education, and desire to learn. The idea is, the chemistry student is not fenced in to a curriculum created by the Honors College, she remains in the program created by the department of chemistry.
So an Honors Program allows her to function in a program of excellence, where she can meet with other bright, creative students, question her knowledge, share that knowledge and apply it outside the classroom.
She is also given the right to take small, active learning classes which enhance her education, within his curriculum. We believe that happiness is knowledge: the more you know, the more you can think out of the box. It's what this country was founded on, and these are the minds that will change our future, hopefully for the better.
Honors enhances their experience. I've used that word 27 times, but it's what Honors does, it enhances the experience of our students, our faculty, our University, and our community.
I also strongly encourage the Roman concept of civitas for our students: it is not enough to know, it is important to do.
One of the things I constantly remind them, is that they can no longer say 'they' changed it, 'they' passed the laws... our students are the 'they' now. The society they live in, is the society they create.
People seeing you on campus struggling with a cane would be surprised to know that you were a high school athlete.
I ran track, I played lacrosse, I did gymnastics.
How does that experience inform your teaching?
I don't know... I loved it so much. It was a lot of hard physical work, but because I loved it, I didn't mind the work. I guess that it taught me to enjoy what you do, and it won't be work. That's how I feel about this job, I love what I do. I spend a lot of hours here, but I don't think of it as work.
Sports gave me a healthy sense of competition, which I don't think is bad.
How is it good?
Well, so often I hear that the competitive spirit doesn't lift people, because there has to be a winner and therefore a loser. But in reality, in fair competition even the loser stretches himself beyond his capacity. So it's possible for the victor to look back and see the growth. It can be positive for both of them; competition is not about winning or losing; it's about raising the bar.
Competition is about striving for excellence.