Honors Program Celebrates 25th Anniversary

The all-day event included the “Serendipitous Path” panel discussion with Honors alumni.
The all-day event included the “Serendipitous Path” panel discussion with Honors alumni.

The SUNY New Paltz Honors Program, which has the mission of providing “an enhanced intellectual experience in a climate conducive to interaction among highly motivated students and faculty,” recently reached its 25th anniversary on Saturday, March 16. To celebrate the milestone, the program hosted an all-day event, with diverse opportunities for honors students, professors and alumni to learn and connect.

At the event, participants were able to drift among different activities as they pleased throughout the day. There were numerous career-oriented options such as the “Five Steps To Optimizing A LinkedIn Profile” and “Speed Resume” workshops hosted by alumni, as well as several more recreational activities, such as the “Zine Making Workshop” with professor Andrea Varga or “Trip To Historic Huguenot Street” with professor Cyrus Mulready. All events allowed participants to expand their thinking and network amongst themselves, and many activities such as the “Haiku and Nature Walk” with professors Eric Keeling and Thomas Festa and “36 Questions for Increasing Closeness” with professor Lisa Phillips allowed participants to walk away with some new skills in their back pocket.

Closing out the event was a “Serendipitous Path” panel, where Honors Program Director Pat Sullivan moderated a conversation amongst alumni discussing how the Honors Program was important to their time at SUNY New Paltz and helpful in the development of their career paths. Many of the alumni highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of the Honors Program, and how it enabled them to apply skills and knowledge across subject areas. Since all these panelists work in jobs outside of their major, they thanked the Honors Program for teaching them skills beyond what they learned in their major classes.

“I felt I was really encouraged to draw connections between classes. It didn’t matter what seminar I was doing at the Honors Program at the time, but things would come up in those discussions and those readings that enriched my experiences in my other classes,” said Honors alum Joseph Bacchi, who has a degree in philosophy and now works in law.

Alum Monica Puskuldjian added to this notion stating, “the ability to learn anything really came up in the Honors Program, being interdisciplinary. For me, most of my day is looking at servers and coordinating upgrades.”

“It’s actually not very common in the workplace that there are people who want to go outside of the box they are in and do something else. But learning that in Honors prepared me to get out of my comfort zone, and this past summer saying, ‘Hey go manage a construction site because we’re moving offices and need somebody there to project manage the move.’ This mindset of ‘I don’t know but I’m gonna figure it out and I’m open to making mistakes along the way’ is something that I think an interdisciplinary approach really builds,” she said.  

Outside of developing skills that can be applied across a wide range of fields, many alumni touched on the important connections they were able to build through the Honors Program.

“I was a commuter, and that meant I didn’t have a home base on campus. But the Honors center really became that for me. I used to spend all my time there, and some of my best friends that I made in college that I’m still in touch with were folks I met in the Honors Program and just became really close to in the seminars,” said Bacchi.

This sentiment was shared by alum Dariana Almeyda, who graduated in 2022 with a masters degree in English literature, now working in strategic communications. When asked what her greatest takeaway from the Honors Program was she stated “connections and relationships. Pat has been a huge mentor to me over the years, even after graduation. The professors that you meet and all their content areas have been a huge takeaway for me.”

For a program with the goal of fostering a welcoming and advanced learning community, it is no surprise that its members feel they learned multidisciplinary skills and met people that were able to enhance their time in college and beyond. Sullivan states that the Honors Program started because “the staff and VP for Academic Affairs were interested in having a program that would speak to students who were really passionate about their learning and wanted to do interdisciplinary courses. When Honors started, not as many majors were involved, but now we have majors from across the campus, and they’re in courses together and have really vibrant discussions.”

Discussions are a key aspect of the Honors Program at New Paltz, and honors classes typically have around 15 students to encourage conversation. In fact, Sullivan tells students and parents coming into the Honors Program that the best part about the program is the “other students in the program,” as the in-class discussions allow students to learn from each other and foster meaningful relationships. She describes the program as a “vibrant community full of intellectually curious and engaged students,” and appreciates the “many different talents that students and faculty bring to the program.”

It is clear through alumni testimony and Sullivan’s remarks that the Honors Program is a highly positive and influential part of the college experience for those involved, which is why it was important to celebrate its 25th year. According to Sullivan, “what we hope to carry away [from this event] is reinforcing those connections that people have, and encouraging people to stay connected.” It is safe to say that this goal was achieved, with many alumni and students exchanging information and making plans to connect.

“Seeing all these people that I was in class with, people that I’ve heard so much about, it’s so cool to be able to connect with them [in that way],” said Almeyda. Going forward, Sullivan hopes to host more events bringing back honors alums and plans to host more events encouraging incoming students to join the community. 

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