The Knox Student: Hello, so could you introduce yourself?
Bruce Kovanen: Sure, I’m Bruce Kovanen, senior at Knox. I just completed my Honors Project. I’m a Psychology major with two minors, which are Anthropology and Sociology and a self-designed minor, which is Composition and Rhetoric, which is the field for my Honors Project.
TKS: Okay! So I’ve read the introduction of your Honors Project that you sent to me. It’s about FP [Freshman Preceptorial] classes at Knox and about varying writing abilities of incoming students and how to cope with it?
BK: You covered pretty much of most the first two chapters in my Honors Project where I designed and then implemented a survey looking at preparation for writing for the incoming first year class. I did that Fall Term. And then throughout, mostly over winter break, I actually spent a lot of time in the archives looking at old FP materials. … The focal class for me was FP because that was the only required class, right, that everyone takes. And from there I also looked at our W[riting] requirement and things about the administrative structures about writing programs at Knox.
TKS: What made you interested in that subject?
BK: It really kinda started on my Spring Term of my first year. I got closed out of a Creative Nonfiction writing class so I took [an] advanced composition class with John Haslem, who is the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. And that was a really good class. It really changed the trajectory of what I wanted to study and do in college. Because at the end of the class, he asked if I wanted to be a writing tutor so I worked with him over the summer to do the training so that I’d be ready to go next fall … [I got] interested in my project specifically after having the opportunity to sort of like sit in at an ad hoc faculty committee about writing that I went [to] with John and the topic of their conversation was … basically what are we expecting out of incoming students, what sort of stuff that we’re seeing that they are bringing in and what sorts of things that we teach, what [is] the general profile [of] students and from there I explored that as a part of my Honors Project.
TKS: What has been the highlight of your process?
BK: Getting familiar with multiple methodologies was really something that I got out of it that I want to continue doing it in graduate school. In addition, during Winter Term, [I] had focus groups with students to talk about writing. So for me that was kind of like the enriching part where I got to do all these sorts of different things and I think that was the thing I enjoy the most.
TKS: I have a question, you wrote in your introduction part that you mentioned about you “becoming” an incoming student?
TKS: That was your method?
BK: I was quoting Mina Shaunghnessy where she suggests that if we want to truly understand students that are coming in we need to be a student of them, so that was kind of my motivation for my survey, to have an understanding where they’re coming from and have the focus groups as a way for them to tell me where they are coming from rather than just sort of make assumptions about the class but actually study it and look at who exactly is coming here.
TKS: How was working with professors for an Honors Project?
BK: It was good. I really, really enjoyed my committee. The chair was Frank McAndrew in Psychology and then the rest of my committee was Mike Schneider, who is in History but also an Associate Dean of Faculty Development and head of the steering committee on FP, [and] John Haslem, the director of CTL whom I worked for basically the entire time that I’ve been at Knox. And the outside examiner was someone John had studied with when he was at Purdue, Budweiser. It’s a nickname. His name is Erwin Weiser, but he goes by Budweiser and he’s a sort of a rhetoric and composition guy so John and Bud sort of handled that aspect of my project. Frank was able to help me with designing the survey looking at data. … I really enjoyed working with all of them. I think it was a very fruitful experience.
TKS: Do you have any advice for those who are doing the Honors Project next year?
BK: Oh yeah. Sure I do. … It really is a question of scope for your project, because you don’t want it to be too large that it’s just impossible to do in a year, but you don’t want it so specific and so narrow that you can get perhaps tired of it because you’re gonna be working for entire year. So you need to find a project of moderate scope that you are really passionate about that you can pursue for an entire year and I think knowing who’s either going to be your committee chair and in the committee can really help you with that because they can sort of give you an idea of what’s an appropriate scope. … It helps to bounce ideas off your committee head and your committee to say “Here’s what I’m thinking about for my project, do you think it’s doable in a year?” Try to find something that really motivates you to study [as] you have to take other courses in the entire time. It only takes up one credit per term. … So it really is about finding the right project for you, and then being disciplined about time management making sure that you’re doing the work.
TKS: Do you feel you gained something through this Honors Project?
BK: Because I’m going into a graduate school after this, I think it was a really good preparation for the kind of work that I’m going to be expected to do when I get to grad school. I think that was the biggest thing that I really feel like I’m much more prepared for the kind of like intellectual work that graduate school will requires, so I’ll be leaving Knox and hopefully setting myself up to be very successful in graduate school.