Photo: Jacob Boll (BA '12)
With HonorsWhen eight Honors Program graduates walked across the Commencement stage at the Chicago Theatre last spring, the moment was the culmination of a conversation that began at Columbia more than twenty-five years ago.
The question at the center of that conversation was this: How can Columbia further challenge its students academically, creatively, and intellectually, and then reward those students for their hard work? With the tireless work and support of dozens of individuals from Columbia past and present, and the leadership of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the LAS Dean, and her staff, that conversation has come full circle.
The Honors Program, located in the Liberal Arts and Sciences Core Curriculum and available to qualified students in any major at Columbia, is changing undergraduate education at Columbia College Chicago, and the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences is proud of—and thankful for—the leadership and support that brought us here and sustains us still. Most of all, we are proud of the Honors students—including the first cohort of graduates, four of whom we profile here. Each of these students came to Columbia with different passions and different interests. Each successfully embraced the advanced learning models and participatory classroom settings present in Honors courses.
Each has a unique story to tell.
Stories by Kate Silver
Photography by Danielle Aquiline (MFA '06)
BA, Film and Video
Before spending his first summer as a Columbia College Chicago graduate filming a post-apocalyptic mini-series in the industrial town of Gary, Indiana and Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula, Noah Kloor spent his childhood in an idyllic cohousing community in Boulder, Colorado.
“It was sort of like a commune,” explains the Film and Video and Honors Program graduate. While families in his neighborhood lived in their own homes, they also shared a community house, where meals were regularly cooked by, and shared among, the families in the neighborhood. Cars were not allowed, and goats, chickens, and horses roamed the land in front of a picturesque mountain backdrop.
His home was so serene and secluded that, when he was nine, Kloor began creating his own excitement by making movies, complete with exploding buildings and cars crashing into trees. “I grew up in such a peaceful and wholesome environment that I had to create my own drama,” he says. Today, that drama continues in Kloor’s filmmaking—thanks, in part, to the education and intellectual challenges he found in the Honors Program.
“The professors tend to expect more from you, and there is a higher level of learning and participation,” Kloor says. “I was really drawn to that. I feel like I’ve developed more of a love of learning about things that aren’t directly related to what I’m going into.”
After enrolling in his first Honors course his sophomore year, Kloor quickly realized that both his understanding of the world and the art he creates would benefit from the additional intellectual stimulation and challenge found in Honors courses. In “Economic Policies, Morality, and Ideology,” for instance, he says he not only gained a better understanding of how the U.S. economy works, but he also developed the knowledge and confidence to speak eloquently about important economic issues, such as equal pay legislation. Dr. Rojhat Avsar, Assistant Professor of Economics in the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences, teaches “Economic Policies, Morality, and Ideology."
In another Honors course, “Emotions,” which is co-taught by Dr. Stephen Asma, Professor of Philosophy, and Dr. Rami Gabriel, Assistant Professor of Psychology, both of the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences, Kloor delved into human nature, the philosophy of our emotions, and the role that emotions play in our inner lives. Taking that course, he says, has had a direct and positive impact on his filmmaking. “That class was just fascinating,” he says. “In terms of film, I want to go into directing and it’s all about interpersonal relationships, dealing with people and emotions. I really found myself applying what I learned to a whole lot of my work outside of academia.”
In addition to the added intellectual stimulation and challenge his Honors courses provided, Kloor says the constant energetic discussions provided room to freely exchange opinions and ideas in a collaborative manner. After each class, he says, he left with a deeper respect for his classmates and their diverse perspectives. “In film, there’s so much collaboration and learning from others—the mantra is that everything is better when you collaborate because you have two minds working on something instead of one,” he says. “The Honors classes were a lot like that.”
Most of all, Kloor says the Honors Program instilled a thirst for knowledge that will always stick with him—whether he is shooting another post-apocalyptic mini-series in the Midwest, working as a film director in Hollywood, or pursuing a different kind of intellectual endeavor. Says Kloor, “I’ve realized that you can never know enough, you can never learn it all, and you can never learn too much.”
BA, Creative Writing – Nonfiction
Deb Durham broke a lot of barriers when she walked across the Commencement stage at the Chicago Theatre last May, graduating from the Honors Program and with a BA in Creative Writing – Nonfiction. For one thing, she was the first person in her family to graduate from college. And if that weren’t enough of an accomplishment, she finished her degree having excelled at the highest academic level for undergraduate students at Columbia.
Excelling in an academic setting wasn’t always the case for Durham, who grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University (IU). After graduating high school she enrolled at IU, but attending an overwhelmingly large university with lecture-hall learning and classes with two-hundred other students didn’t match Durham’s idea of college life. Feeling uninspired, uninterested, and without a support system, she left after two semesters.
“I always said, ‘Oh, some day I’m going to finish this Bachelor’s degree,’” says Durham, who is forty-seven. “And then life just got in the way, so I never went back.” That is, until she found Columbia College Chicago and, eventually, the Honors Program.
Compared to IU, Durham’s experience at Columbia couldn’t have been more different. Here, she felt like an individual in Honors and non-Honors classes that often had no more than twelve students; she received constructive criticism from her professors and peers for her warm and witty personal essays and memoir-style writing; she found courses in her field of study that complemented her passions; and she found an Honors Program that challenged her. Durham also consistently received A’s in her classes.
Fully applying herself in her education and excelling academically at Columbia led Durham to the Honors Program, where the first Honors course she took was “Reviewing the Arts” with Jim DeRogatis, music critic, author, journalist, and full-time Lecturer in the Department of English. Durham says she immediately gravitated toward the open discussions in that Honors course. “He encourages free discussion in his class, and he’s not afraid to say when your work is not great,” she says. “But, at the same time, if you do well, he’s not stingy about telling you.”
Although Durham admits she prefers writing creative nonfiction to traditional academic writing, four of the five Honors classes she took were literature courses—classes in which she felt compelled to “weigh each word more carefully to ensure that I made my points with clarity and eloquence.” Those Honors classes were “Literature and the Culture of Cyber-space,” taught by Dr. Terence Brunk, Associate Professor in the Department of English; “Literature and Visual Culture,” taught by Dr. Karen Lee Osborne, Professor in the Department of English; “Shakespeare: Shakespeare & Cinema,” taught by Dr. Sam Park, Associate Professor in the Department of English; and “Contemporary Global Novel,” taught by Dr. Madhurima Chakraborty, Assistant Professor in the Department of English. These courses, she says, “definitely made me more attentive to the details. Students are held to a higher standard in Honors.”
The writing and story-telling skills Durham developed in the Creative Writing – Nonfiction program and in the Honors classes she took were put to use in a nonfiction essay she wrote titled “The Legacy of Pie,” which she narrated for the “Eight Forty-Eight” program on Chicago’s WBEZ radio station. The nonfiction essay, which aired the day before Thanksgiving, 2010, tells a touching story about the significance of pies and pie-making in her family, and how her grandmother used making pies as a way of expressing her love, even in the months before her death as she was battling cancer.
Whether she is reading essays on the radio or writing memoir, Durham says the education she received at Columbia helped her find her own voice and gave her the tools to express it. She has several ideas for books in mind, and she would eventually like to earn an MFA in writing. “Ultimately, what I want is to have my voice heard,” she says. “I want to tell my stories and, hopefully, affect people. That sounds kind of sappy, but there it is.”
BA, Fiction Writing (Literature Minor)
Sam Uliano grew up in the small town of Nine Mile Falls, Washington, population 9,042. The rural town, located in the eastern part of the state just outside Spokane and near the Idaho state line, is filled with hikers, bikers, and kayakers—adventurists who live for outdoorsy activities. It is the kind of town where it is not uncommon to encounter a moose walking through your back yard.
Yet Uliano, who graduated last Spring from the Honors Program and with a BA in Fiction Writing, never quite seemed to fit in there. “I love the outdoors,” she says, “but I like to look at it from the inside. That’s why I moved to Chicago.”
Whether living in a small town or making her home in a bustling city like Chicago, Uliano has always preferred to find her own adventures in books and in writing her own fiction, which often blends magical realism with other genres to create “character-driven pieces, usually with some degree of humor.” This passion for reading and writing, combined with a desire to discover new adventures, led her to Columbia. “I felt like I could take a class in just about anything, which isn’t the case at most schools,” she says.
Halfway through completing her BA in Fiction Writing, Uliano discovered the Honors Program. The first Honors course she took was “Victorian Illustrated Poetry,” a dynamic and highly interdisciplinary course taught by the Chair of the Department of English, Dr. Kenneth Daley, which examines the interplay between images and words, and provides students with the skills and resources to create an illustrated book of poetry that looks and feels as if it were from the Victorian Age. She loved the course.
“I feel like in a lot of college courses you kind of skim over a lot of things because you have a lot to cover,” Uliano says. “But we would spend so much time on every little thing that it made me feel like I knew the subject really well.” Uliano says she also noticed a difference in the discussions with—and engagement among—her peers in the class. “They were really invested in what they were doing.”
Throughout her five Honors courses, all of which revolved around literature, Uliano says that the exposure to different genres and authors expanded her mind as both a writer and a reader. “Any writer will say that half of being a writer is being a reader, and that you should absorb as much as possible,” she says. “The Honors Program not only introduced me to writers I might not otherwise have had a chance to experience, but the discussion with other students really gave me a reason to look into books I might not otherwise have read.”
Uliano isn’t finished studying at Columbia. She has plans to apply to the college’s MFA Fiction Writing program for the 2013–14 academic year. In the meantime, she is taking a year off to work on a novel—an experience she will be blogging about on her Web site, samuliano.com. “My mantra at this point is leap and a net appears,” she says.
BA, Interdisciplinary: Journalism/Film & Video
A central theme to the Honors Program is thinking critically. For David Orlikoff, that has always come naturally.
When most of his preteen peers were learning how to read and write, Orlikoff was already critiquing films. Naturally drawn to film, the Hyde Park native participated in a program called “Viewing Media Critically” when he was just eleven, which led him to be selected to join the children’s jury for the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. It wasn’t long before the budding film critic toured as a teenage juror at international film festivals. At thirteen, he served on the jury of the Giffoni International Children’s Film Festival in Giffoni Valle Piana, Italy. At seventeen, he was part of the American delegation at the Seoul International Youth Film Festival in South Korea.
Through it all, Orlikoff decided that the ultimate career would be getting paid to watch and critique films, which is why he enrolled at Columbia College Chicago to earn an interdisciplinary degree in Film and Video and Journalism. While a student, he attended movie screenings alongside Roger Ebert, wrote film reviews for the Columbia Chronicle, and expanded his critical thinking skills by enrolling in Honors courses. “They were more intellectually stimulating; more fun for me, really,” he says.
A self-described radical who is active in the Occupy Chicago Movement, Orlikoff took Dr. Avsar’s “Economic Policies, Morality, and Ideology” Honors class and found that it helped give him a vocabulary to better express his political and social beliefs. “The professor presented a paper comparing the Great Recession to the Great Depression,” he says. “The thesis of the paper was that wealth inequality was actually a useful metric to predict crisis in capitalism. That fit totally with Occupy and everything I was working on. I’d actually been saying the same things, just not totally articulated. The class was a testing and proving ground for me that both benefited from my work in Occupy and reinforced and aided it.”
What Orlikoff gained in “Economic Policies, Morality, and Ideology” carried over into his work in the Occupy Movement. During his final year at Columbia, he participated in numerous discussions centering on wealth equality, including a roundtable discussion held in Chicago last February and hosted by America’s Future Foundation. The round table was titled, “Is America Still a Meritocracy?” Says Orlikoff, “My goal when speaking, and in general with Occupy, is to expand the national dialog and conversation, both in terms of getting more issues on the table and expanding the conversation and possibilities within specific issues, like economic policy.”
Orlikoff may be an active occupier, but he is still passionate about film. Just before graduating, he was hired as the submissions manager for the International Children’s Media Center, an organization dedicated to changing how children use and view media. There, he combines much of what he learned at Columbia—writing press releases, film criticism, and thinking critically—with what he loves: watching movies. He spends his days working on media projects with young students in Chicago Public Schools and searching for films to include in the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.
For Orlikoff, working at the International Children’s Media Center is like coming full circle; however, he is still looking forward. “My career goal is to transform society so that I can enter into any industry and apply myself knowing my efforts will contribute to the overall well being of society rather than its degradation,” he says. “Being able to live in the world is much more important than being able to live in one industry.”