• January 31st, 2018

Nelle Thomas knows how scary it can be to jump into new things, but personal experience has demonstrated that it’s worth it to try the new and unexpected, whether it’s going to college 500 miles from home or halfway around the world to study abroad.

The lead intern for Honors Year One (HYO) in the Honors College, Nelle tried something new when she came to UA from Davidson, NC, when so many of her friends and classmates were excited to attend the University of North Carolina. After taking an Honors Connections course her first semester, she saw the way that becoming involved in the Honors College helped her feel at home at UA, and she jumped at the opportunity to become a mentor to other incoming students through Honors Year One.

“Mentoring someone else is an experience like no other,” Nelle says. “You learn as much from mentoring someone as that student learns.”

HYO is a program composed of classes and other experiences designed specifically to ease the adjustment of first year students to UA and the Honors College. HYO began several years ago with a goal of supporting first year students; in fall 2017, it became mandatory for every freshman to have an HYO experience. As the lead intern responsible for helping the staff design and facilitate the curriculum for the program, as well as overseeing intern and mentor hiring, civic engagement, and program partnerships, Nelle is well placed to speak on the impact of Honors Year One on new students.

“We’re moving toward a model where every [Honors] student should be invested in the College,” she says, and the key to investment is an initial positive experience.  Through students’ investment, the Honors College will continue to grow as a vibrant, diverse, and active community, benefitting all students.

Nelle’s own initial positive UA experience occurred even before classes began, during a campus visit on a rainy, gloomy day. “I always say that the campus sells itself on a beautiful sunny day, but the weather was miserable on the day I visited. Nevertheless, the people I met, like [associate dean] Dr. Jacqueline Morgan made me feel that UA really wanted me.” A few months later, Nelle returned to campus and ran into Dr. Morgan, who welcomed her back and called her by name. Nelle wanted to be in a place that valued and supported her, and she says that UA has been the perfect place for her.

Similar goals of value and support help to define the purpose of Honors Year One, beginning with the relationship between upperclass mentors and freshmen taking Honors Connections courses. Nelle enjoyed her work as a mentor to freshmen, but she describes her next role as an intern, in which she was teaching the mentors, as particularly rewarding and one that best used her skills. “To see growth in others is amazing,” she says of the experience.

Today as lead intern, Nelle has few opportunities to mentor either freshmen or upperclass mentors, but her impact on the program is undeniable, and the skills she has developed will prove valuable as she begins her job search. An advertising major who hopes to work as a copywriter, Nelle says, “My major is all about creativity, and in this position I’ve definitely expanded my creative mind,” alluding to her responsibility to “create experiences” for other students. Another important skill that she has developed? Problem solving.

“Rarely in my career have I seen the combination of intellectual and social skills that Nelle has,” says Dr. Ross Bryan, assistant dean of the Honors College. “What she has accomplished here with Honors Year One is only the first of many accomplishments in her professional career, I am certain.”

Nelle’s hope for new Honors students is that they take a leap, just as she did, and explore the many opportunities the Honors College offers to become invested. They’re sure to find something as satisfying as Nelle did through Honors Year One.

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