by Rachel Casey
Ask any University of Central Florida honors student what being a member of the Burnett Honors College means to them and the most common answer comes as “opportunity.” Admitted into the program either as freshmen or transfer honors students, some join for the specialized classes, some for the smaller community, and some for the organized seminars and speakers; however, all came for different and better opportunities at UCF.
Like any club or on-campus organization, the Burnett Honors College (BHC) at UCF provides its members with a smaller circle, a family, within the larger UCF community. However, along with giving students in the University Honors program a place to build new friendships through freshman programs like peer advising and Symposium. BHC also presents avenues for professional development in research and co-curricular activities.
Take a look into the Burnett Honors College main office on any given day and you will find two honors student advisors—Mackenzie Grzesik and Marley Denierio—sitting down with other students in the college to provide help with future decisions and directions.
Starting at UCF almost one year ago, now-sophomore Mackenzie Grzesik serves as one of two peer advisors in BHC. In this position, Grzesik admits she has the opportunity to “advise honors students in their lives as college students,” as well as provide direction on course selection, co-curricular involvement, and post-graduation plans.
In the fall, as an incoming freshman seeking advice herself, Grzesik had no idea that she would be the face of honors advising only a semester later. However, after applying for summer honors orientation ambassador, Grzesik was offered the invitation to interview for this paid position, replacing Marley’s graduating advising partner. The rest is history.
So far, Grzesik has loved the the job. Working with her advising counterpart and the rest of the honors advising team, Grzesik acts in informational videos, distributes relevant information to students, and assists with daily office duties. However, Grzesik’s favorite part of the job is “definitely interacting with students, getting to know them, and attempting to help them through their college careers,” serving as both a resource and a friend.
Through her position, Grzesik has not only become more involved in the BHC community but has also gained professional work experience, earned income, and added an extra line to her resume.
Similarly, Senior William Johnson is an active member of the Burnett Honors College and currently serves in two internal leadership positions: Honors Symposium Team Leader and Honors Congress Director of Volunteer Affairs.
Taking the symposium course as a freshman, Johnson was exposed to the purpose and impact of community outreach early on in his college career. Symposium combines bonding activities with lectures promoting university involvement with the requirement of service-learning hours. While altering the specific means of implementation and facilitation each year, the symposium course persists with the common goal of encouraging students to be “active members that serve to better their communities,” according to Johnson.
For his service-learning project, Johnson taught several lessons at a local elementary school. After researching the local community poverty rate and comparing it to Orange County Public Title 1 Schools (schools primarily composed of low-income students and that receive government funding), Johnson says he became “exposed to some of the challenges faced in [his] new [Orlando] community.” In the lessons, Johnson said he encouraged the idea of college for the elementary school students, showing them that further education is a “possibility they can readily achieve.”
As Director of Volunteer Affairs, Johnson plans and implements two to three service events for honors students each month, from university-housed volunteering to local lake cleanups and invasive species removals. No matter the event, Johnson believes that Honors Congress events bring students closer together and foster a sense of community, allowing participants to meet other honors students “of different ages, majors, interests, and backgrounds—students that they might otherwise not have met,” building diversity in community.
The Burnett Honors College also provides opportunity avenues for students outside the University Honors program. BHC serves as the home to Honors in the Major (HIM), an application-based program for undergraduate thesis work described by Associate Dean Dr. Martin Dupuis as “the oldest and most prestigious undergraduate research program at UCF.”
After gaining acceptance to the program, students spend two or more semesters developing their chosen research topics and composing undergraduate theses alongside faculty advisors. Following approval and research oral defense, the HIM theses then receive publication on the UCF library website and become available to scholars worldwide.
As the Honors in the Major program holds much prestige, it opens many doors for successful undergraduate researchers. Not only do HIM students graduate with distinction and worldwide publication, they depart UCF with essential technical and analytical skills looked highly upon by both employers and members of higher education. Undergraduate thesis publication demonstrates a personal curiosity and an ability to communicate findings effectively with others, both of which are attributes that are valued in the professional world beyond UCF.
On top of the distinction and skills gained, many HIM students receive the opportunity to present at notable events, such as UCF’s Founder’s Day, a recognition of outstanding faculty, staff, and student accomplishments throughout the year.
During the 2019 Founder’s Day Convocation held this past spring semester, the HIM Outstanding Thesis award was awarded to one student in each of the four disciplines: Social Sciences, Business, and Education; Natural Sciences and Health Sciences; Engineering and Technology; and Arts and Humanities.
Progress and opportunity do not end at graduation. Students of the Burnett Honors College maintain connections with peers and faculty as they enter the next phases of academic and professional fields. The University of Central Florida’s Burnett Honors College houses opportunity and is a place for like-minded individuals to gather, gain leadership experience, and become involved community members both within UCF and the wider Central Florida area.