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Episode Notes | Transcript | AskTheGuest

 Hi Fives (5 Highlights)   Click for 2.5-Minute Listen

Niels Christensen is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Radford University Honors College in Virginia.

Prof. Niels Christensen’s first experience with Honors College was as a faculty member at San Diego State University and was randomly assigned to teach the Honors Introductory Psychology course.

Prof. Christensen loved teaching these engaged, interesting students so much that he asked the Dept Chair if he could teach this honors class again.

His Dept Chair asked him to get in line!

In this podcast, Director Christensen introduces the Honors College at Radford University, Notable Programs, What they look for in their Students, Faculty, and Career Opportunities.

Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:

  1. Honors College Characteristics
  2. Notable Programs
  3. Cool Courses
  4. Students’ Profile
  5. Career Opportunities

Episode Notes

Episode Title: Dir. Niels Christensen on the Honors College at Radford University: Where Academic Excellence and Social Community Come Together.

Prof. Niels Christensen’s first experience with Honors College was as a faculty member at San Diego State University and was randomly assigned to teach the Honors Introductory Psychology course.

While the practice of using “Honors” as a Distinction started at Radford University in the 1920s, it became Honors Academy in 2001 and eventually Honors College in 2018.

In this podcast, Director Christensen introduces the Honors College at Radford University, Notable Programs, What they look for in their Students, Faculty, and Career Opportunities.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • Director Niels Christensen’s Background
  • Honors College at Radford University
  • Student Requirements
  • Career Opportunities

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introducing Dir. Niels Christensen of Honors College at Radford U [0:52]
  • Hi Fives - Podcast Highlights [2:13]
  • Professional Background [4:35]
  • About Radford Honors College [6:24]
  • Honors College Characteristics [9:22]
  • Notable Programs [11:04]
  • How to Apply [12:21]
  • Student Community Profile [13:57]
  • Faculty [15:48]
  • UG Research/Capstone [17:34]
  • Scholarships [19:01]
  • SURF - Summer Research [20:18]
  • Study Abroad [21:53]
  • Career Opportunities [24:04]
  • Wrap up [25:23]

Our Guest: Niels Christensen is Professor of Psychology and the Director of the Honors College at Radford University. Director Christensen received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Notre Dame. He then earned his Master’s and PhD in Social Psychology from Texas A&M University.

Memorable Quote: “ The honors students really liked that sort of conversational discussion, seminar approach to learning. And so all of the honors courses at Radford are capped at 20 students, and they're very small. And that gives the faculty the flexibility to maybe teach the class in somewhat unusual ways.” Director Niels Christensen.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.

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Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

<Start Snippet> Niels C  0:14  

The other program that happens during the summer that is a mixture of study abroad, and research is the rare program. And we had to take a few years of hiatus for this, but it's coming back this summer and we're very excited. This is the Radford Amazonian research expedition where students from Radford design research projects during a spring semester, they go down to the Peruvian Amazon, run those projects over the course of three weeks living in the jungle, and then they come back and present those in the fall semester.

Venkat  0:52  [Introducing Director Niels Christensen, Radford U Honors College]

That is Niels Christensen, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Radford University Honors College in Virginia.

Hello, I am your host, Venkat Raman.

Prof. Niels Christensen’s first experience with Honors College was at San Diego State University, where he was randomly assigned to teach an Honors Psychology course.

Prof. Christensen loved teaching those engaged, interesting students.  

He loved it so much that he asked the Dept Chair if he could teach this honors class again.

The Dept Chair asked him to get in line!

Today, Prof. Christensen is the Director of the Radford University Honors College.

Venkat Raman  1:44

In this podcast, Director Christensen Introduces Radford University Honors College, Notable Programs, What they look for in their Students, Faculty, and Career Opportunities.

Before we jump into the podcast, here are the Hi-Fives,  Five Highlights from the podcast:

Niels C  2:13  [Highlights - Hi Fives]

[Honors College Characteristics]

The honor students really liked that sort of conversational discussion, seminar approach to learning. And so the all the honors courses at Radford are capped at 20 students and they're very small. And that gives the faculty the flexibility to maybe teach the class in somewhat unusual ways and definitely focus more on discussion conversation about the material.

[Notable Programs]

At the upper levels for junior and senior year, they're working on individualized assignments, and then ultimately an honors capstone project where they work one on one with a faculty member in their department on a scholarly projects.

[Cool Courses]

We do have upper level Special Topics seminars, which I think are a great way to sort of keep students connected in junior and senior year when they're already spending more of their time in their major. And these are topics that faculty can sort of pick the coolest thing that they want to teach about that wouldn't show up in the curriculum otherwise.

 

[Students’ Profile]

Students have done well academically in high school. Obviously, the average weight high school GPA this past class was a 4.09. So these I think, are good students. When the pandemic came through Radford University and then we sort of had to by extension go test optional. Prior to that the average SAT score was around 1200.

[Career Opportunities]

One of the things that really distinguishes honors graduates from non honors graduates at Radford is the proportion of them who are going on to graduate and professional school. So our outcomes over the past five years we have about 47% just less than half are going to graduate school right after undergraduate.

Venkat Raman  4:00

These were the Hi5s, brought to you by “College Matters. Alma Matters.”

Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Venkat Raman  4:11

Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Director Christensen.

So without further ado, here is Director Niels Christensen!

-----------------

Venkat Raman  4:21  

Wonderful. So Niels if you're ready, let's just jump right in.

Niels C  4:25  

Okay.

Venkat Raman  4:27  

Cool. So I think the best place to start would be with maybe telling us a little bit about your background, and then we can dive into the college.

Niels C  4:35  [Professional Background]

Great. Sure. So my training is as a social psychologist and my areas of expertise have been in interpersonal perception, identity and self control. And I I will say as an undergraduate, my university didn't have an honors program or an honors college so I really didn't know anything about what an honors experience was like until my First academic position as a professor at San Diego State. And I think fairly randomly, I was given the opportunity to teach an honors Introductory Psychology class. And it was certainly an eye opening experience for me I was all of these really engaged, interesting students asking the right questions.

At the end of the semester, I went to my department chair, and asked if I could teach at that again, because it was such a great experience. And he said, Sure, but get in line, because there's a lot of people in classes. And so I knew I'd get another chance at some point, but I didn't know when.

And after that first position at San Diego State, my next job was at Radford University. And when I arrived here, I had the opportunity again, to teach honors, introductory psychology, which was again, it was experience.

A few years of that, I had the opportunity to be the associate director of the Honors College, which was a very exciting opportunity. And then a few years after that, I became director. And so I've been director for about the past eight years at Radford. And I still faculty in psychology, but most of my time is as director of the Honors College.

Venkat Raman  6:13  

So maybe you could sort of kick it off with maybe an introduction to the Honors College at Radford, tell us sort of give us the highlights, and then we can talk about the various specifics.

Niels C  6:24  [About Radford Honors College]

Sure, sure. I did a little homework on the history of honors at Radford, which is obviously much older than I am, it appears that they were designating honors as a distinction on people's diplomas starting in the 1920s. And then there's the first evidence of something Honors, like in the curriculum in the 1950s, they had an honors residence hall started in the 1960s, they didn't have anything that they officially called an honors program until 1980.

Sometime around 2001, we had a president who really liked the idea of calling it something other than an honors program. And so they started calling it an Honors Academy, what, which is kind of an unusual term. And then in 2018, we had met all the criteria for being an Honors College. And so we put in a proposal to the university into the state to be renamed as an Honors College. So we've been an Honors College since 2018.

Niels C  7:25  

And I think the highlight of what we're doing, I always tell students and parents is that we are a mixture of both an academic program and social community. And so when they go to university, there are all of these exciting things that you can do on campus, both academically and socially. And the Honors College is sort of a microcosm of that where you get all of these different students from different backgrounds, different faculty coming together, who have that extra academic motivation to get the most out of their time in school. And so that's sort of the overview of how I describe representors. College.

Venkat Raman  8:02  

So how big is it? I mean, how many vis-a-vis Radford,

Niels C  8:06  

Right. So we admit, end up students coming straight out of high school. This past year, we had 120 1st time freshmen starting in the fall semester, and that was up a little bit from previous years. But we end up being somewhere between five and 10%, of the entering each entering class. With law, we have about the same in terms of overall undergraduate student population. In terms of like the total number of honors students, it's a little bit over 300. And I like to think of that as human scale. And so I don't know everybody's name or everybody's face, but I know almost everybody's name or face, and often both. And so you get a sense of these are the people who know me, they recognize me, and you can have that sense of community.

Venkat Raman  8:57  

So you know, you're starting to talk about community and academic performance. So what, what do you think characterizes the honest college? I mean, you know, you said, when you taught at San Diego State, you were sort of really found engaged students. And is it the quality of the students? Is it the community? Is it more than that? I mean, what is it that you think makes Honors College stick?

Niels C  9:22  [Honors College Characteristics]

Yeah, that's a great question. I what I again, sometimes I talk to students or parents, I always tell them, we like good grades, good grades are good. And we like students who pursue academic excellence.

I think there are a lot of very good students who might not like the Honors College, there are some students who may want to sit in the back of a large lecture room and maybe copy down PowerPoint slides and do really well on multiple choice tests. And that's great, right? We're happy to have them in college and you can learn a lot, you know, through that process.

The honors students really liked that sort of conversational discussion, seminar approach to Learning. And so the all of the honors courses at Radford are capped at 20 students and they're very small. And that gives the faculty the flexibility to maybe teach the class in somewhat unusual ways. And definitely focus more on discussion conversation about the material, we know you're going to do the reading and come to class prepared.

And so we can sort of go more in depth, we can give you more feedback on writing, we can do presentations that you might not be able to do in this sort of typical large lecture for introductory courses. So I think the honors students liked that environment. We have a variety of honors curricular tracks, and many of the honor students will take more than the minimum number of honors courses just because they prefer that intellectual environment where you're discussing the material, you're going into greater depth.

Venkat Raman  10:53  

So what are some of the, you know, your seminal or headline programs that come out of Honors College in terms of academic disciplines or programs?

Niels C  11:04  [Notable Programs]

Yeah. And so I'll just quickly say, honors students at Radford can be from any department, any major, any college, they are all aiming to complete one of our two curricular tracks. So we have one track that is 27 credits that ended up being about a quarter of their overall coursework.

We have another track, that's 15 credits, that's designed for transfer students. And then they also have the opportunity to do an honors minor if they want.

For all of those, they're taking mixture of these honors courses. And then at the upper levels for junior and senior year, they're working on individualized assignments, and then ultimately an honors capstone project where they work one on one with a faculty member in their department on a scholarly project, see, which they execute from start to finish.

And most of our students do that 27 credit track, they are sort of here for years, they'll take five different honors courses. Trains are usually their first couple of years, and then they'll move on to these individualized assignments and their honors Capstone.

Venkat Raman  12:12  

So do students apply for the Honors College? Or are they? So how does that sort of admissions process work?

Niels C  12:21  [How to Apply]

Yeah, yeah, we have sort of three ways that students can participate in the Honors College.

  • The first one which is most typical, is we have students who have done especially well in high school and for us 4.0, weighted GPA. Their transcript when they apply during senior year of high school, those students will be invited to join the Honors College, we waive the application process for them, they do not have to join the honors college if they have to read for it. But if they want to, they're welcome to join us. And we know that their probability of enjoying the experience of being academically successful is very high.
  • We have another group of students who have between a 3.7 and a 4.0. GPA, those students are invited to apply. And we get them three supplemental essay choices, they only need to write those in the few deadlines to submit those to the university. We have a faculty review, and we offer admissions to some of those students.
  • There are some students coming out of high school who may for a whole host of reasons not been as academically focused as they want to be into they're not qualified yet. But they come to Radford and they earn a 3.5 their first semester, they can get invited to apply to the Honors College over winter break. And we usually will have about 30 students who will join starting in the spring semester.

Venkat Raman  13:47  

Well, what kind of community of students do you end up getting? I mean, what, in terms of this kind of distribution just to get a feel for the student community?

Niels C  13:57  [Student Community Profile]

Yeah, and so the students have done well academically in high school.

Obviously, the average weight high school GPA, this past class was a 4.09. So these are good students. When the pandemic came through Radford University and then we sort of had to, by extension, go test optional. Prior to that the average SAT score was around 1200.

Radford I think of as a wonderful, regional comprehensive public university that provides access to a lot of students. And so we have between 20 and 25% of our students are first generation 30% are low income. We do not have as many international students as we'd like and so if they're international students listening, please take a look at Radford. Come join us. We really like to have that experience. It brings a lot to our campus and a lot to our program.

I noted before that honors students come from all sorts of majors on campus and I think that adds the strength of our Honors Program and probably any one nationally is you get dancers living with management majors living with physics majors living with psychology majors, and all of them are motivated, but have very, very different academic interests.

And that's certainly the case at Radford. Our largest group of students are pre Nursing majors. We have a really good nursing program. But we also have a very large number of psychology majors and biology majors. Physics is making a strong run and math as well. they have great departments bring in some very engaged bright students.

Venkat Raman  15:41  

So is the faculty from across the campus? Or do you have dedicated faculty who have the Honors College setup?

Niels C  15:48  [Faculty]

Yeah, I really like our program. I think it's a it's a little bit distinctive. We have, we have two administrative faculty, so myself and an associate director, who's a biology professor.

And then we have nine honors faculty fellows, and these are faculty who apply specifically to spend part of their time working with honor students. And it's competitive process. A lot of these faculty really enjoy working with honors students, as they do come from all colleges and departments and across campus. We go through an application and interview and selection process for those faculty.

And then they serve three year terms. And during those three year terms, they do they teach at least one honors class a year, they do honors advising.

And so all of the honors students get their regular academic advisor. And then they also have honors advisor to sort of help them set big goals and navigate obstacles on campus.

And then all of these faculty are asked to host at least one event per year with their honors advisees. And again, got the goal of building community. And so we had faculty member taking students kayaking, on the New River reference, on the New River. We have another faculty member taking students to the pinball museum, we have another faculty member baking cookies with students. And so it's a variety of sort of low key interactive, a little bit of fun, a little bit of social, a little bit nerdy, trying to build that sense of community, not just among the students, but among students and faculty.

Venkat Raman  17:25  

Now, do you have undergraduate research as part of the Honors College or is that the Capstone itself?

Niels C  17:34  [UG Research/Capstone]

We very, very much want students to get involved with undergraduate research. And that's something we promote that sort of the two things that we try to, at least implicitly from like for students is undergraduate search and study abroad. And so on the undergraduate research side, any student who does independent study, so search on our campus for credit, it will automatically count toward honors requirements. So when from when basis if you earn three credits of independent study that will earn you three honors credits. The probability of doing an independent study varies a lot by major and so the biology students they are jumping in usually from freshman year and getting involved in event study. Other majors, they might not do it until junior year where they might not do it until they get to their capstone project. But it's certainly something that we promote the honor students often are presenting their research at honors conferences, or our on campus conferences. And I think those connections between faculty and students in the major, those are the things that you remember forever. There's the people that write your letters of recommendation. And they're really this were profound educational experiences in college.

Venkat Raman  18:51  

Do you guys give merit scholarships for undergraduate for your honors students? Is there a program beyond the financial aid that they can apply for?

Niels C  19:01  [Scholarships]

Here, that is a interesting topic on our campus. And currently, we do not provide any merit scholarships from the Honors College. And when I talked to families and students about this, this is this the double edged sword This is both good and bad. On the one hand, we really want to support students with merit aid. And I think any student at Radford who is qualified for the honors college should receive a very competitive financial aid package from the university and always love to do more. But that's that's what should be there to begin with.

The good side is that anybody who's participating in the Honors College is not doing it for the money. They are doing it because they really want that experience of shift small classes, building the community. And so that is the one upside that their financial aid package is not connected with any participation or outcomes in the Honors College.

Venkat Raman  19:57  

So as the students go through the different years of study, I'm assuming they are engaging in internships and summer programs and other things. Are there some opportunities that the college provides? Or is that something that they go out into the real world and get those or it's a combination?

Niels C  20:18  [SURF - Summer Research]

It's mostly that's the one that's most common for Radford honors students during the summer is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. And so this is executed through the Office of Undergraduate Research here at Radford is program that is open to any students, but honors students tend to be very competitive for it.

Many students will sort of start their honors capstone project as the surf where they're getting sort of paid to work on the research project over the summer with their faculty mentor, then they'll continue that project on through a senior year. So that is a very honor students are disproportionately represented in those service awards.

The other program that happens during the summer that is a mixture of study abroad, and research is the rare program. And we had to take a few years of hiatus for this, but it's coming back this summer. And we're very excited. This is the Radford Amazonian Research Expedition, where students from Radford design research projects during the spring semester, they go down to the Peruvian Amazon, run those projects over the course of three weeks living in the jungle, and then they come back and present those in the fall semester. I think it's really an amazing program that the university offers. And again, it's disproportionately honors students.

Venkat Raman  21:41  

That's sounds awesome. You said the study abroad. Is that, what fraction of the honors college students do that?

Niels C  21:53  [Study Abroad]

it's never as many as we'd like. And certainly in the past few years, it has been not as high because of COVID, we probably have around 10 or 15 students per year, it depends on where they're going if they're going for semester one class, or assuming a semester long program, or just sort of a spring break or summer trip. So it's not a huge number, but the students who go and this is what I was telling them, I asked them to send me pictures and share their experiences because they are so meaningful. And so getting students enthusiastic about just even the possibility of studying abroad is something that we certainly push. The university has some funds through a McGlothlin Scholarship to help support those trips. And again, that's an area where when honors students apply, they tend to be very competitive.

Venkat Raman  22:42  

Now, is it because of the cost? Or is it just the pressure of coursework? Or why is, Why aren't students taking advantage of this?

Niels C  22:50  

It's a great question. And I think cost is a non trivial portion of certainly the Summer Study abroad trips that are ranging between maybe five and $7,000. And that's a substantial cost for students at an access institution. The thing that I tell students is that if they can do one of these exchange programs, they will be paying the same amount of money that they would be paying for Radford costs. They just want to get that plane ticket to get over there. And that plane ticket can often be covered by the MacLaughlin scholarship funds. And so you're getting one plane ticket and a three month experience in another country, which again, you get to my age, that that's never going to happen for me. And so taking advantage of it when they're 19 or 20. Is is the right way to do it.

Venkat Raman  23:46  

So sounds like a wonderful program. So what kind of career opportunities or post graduate work? Are they engaging in? How students you know, performing once they are done with the undergraduate degree?

Niels C  24:04  [Career Opportunities]

Yeah, I think one of the things that really distinguishes honors graduates from non honors graduates at Radford is the proportion of them who are going on to graduate and professional school. So our outcomes over the past five years, we have about 47%, just less than half are going to graduate school right after undergraduate. So that is a much larger proportion than the general student body.

We have students going to just a host of amazing programs do Cornell, Michigan State, Penn, Tennessee, Virginia Tech's Carilion Medical School, so a lot of very prominent outcomes for their graduate destinations.

In terms of going straight into the working world, half the students are doing that as well. They are very successful. I think compared to the general student body, they're probably a little bit more likely to go to more of those national corporations. We have students going to Accenture, Deloitte, Booz Allen, we have students who have been in ROTC and are going straight into service in the US Army. So those outcomes are very more of a national focus maybe than regional focus.

Venkat Raman  25:16  

Anything that we haven't talked about that you want to share about the College?

Niels C  25:23  [Wrap Up]

I think we covered most of the special pieces. The one thing that I might not have mentioned is that we do, again, most of our honors courses are at the 100, or 200 level. So these introductory level classes, we do have upper level Special Topics, seminars, which I think are a great way to sort of keep students connected in junior and senior year when they're already spending more of their time in their major.

And these are topics that faculty can sort of pick the coolest thing that they want to teach about that wouldn't show up in the curriculum otherwise. And so we've had classes on the psychology of temptation and temperance, this coming semester, we have one on the fractured history of jazz dance, weirding, archaeology, humor, and humanity, just really kind of unusual topics that are very interdisciplinary and allow students, again, to make sure they're staying excited about their education and learn things that they wouldn't do in a standard curriculum.

Venkat Raman  26:21  

That's that sounds really great. That sounds really great. So Neils, thank you so much for taking the time. Sorry, we had some technical difficulty, I'd be upset. But it's a great discussion. And sounds like you have a great program. And we'll talk again in the future, but for right now, take care. Be safe. Thank you so much.

Niels C  26:43  

Thank you so much. It was great talking to you. Thank you. Bye bye.

--------------------

Venkat  26:47 

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Director Niels Christensen about the Radford University Honors College.

Specifically, Director Christensen covered:

  • Highlights of the Radford University Honors College Programs;
  • Benefits of Studying at Honors College;
  • Profile of the Honors Student Community;
  • How to Apply for Honors College;
  • Finally, Career Opportunities for their Honors College graduates.

I hope you explore the Radford University Honors College for your undergraduate studies.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io].

Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

Podcast for High Schoolers, College Majors, US Colleges, College Podcast, High School Students, College-bound, Honors College at Radford University, Virginia, Niels Christensen, Psychology.


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