• November 30th, 2021

TUSCALOOSA, AL – As graduating University of Alabama Honors College student Otavio Menezes gears up to begin his endeavors at Venture for America (VFA), he reflects on how the Honors College has impacted his studies and prepared him to pursue his dreams.

Menezes, from Louisville, KY, will graduate in December 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and a minor in math. Menezes pursued many of the opportunities that were available to him: completing a co-op through the College of Engineering, being involved in the University’s Management Consulting Academy, engaging the community through Forza Financial, playing soccer and chess and recently picking up 3D printing as a hobby.

Through the Venture for America Fellowship, Menezes will work with startups for two years in a developing city that seeks economic stimulation, such as Detroit, Baltimore or Birmingham.

“VFA encourages graduates to tread from a traditional path and be on the frontlines of cities that need growth, development and building,” said Menezes, “This fellowship allows talented students to create value, create jobs, enact change and make a direct impact on evolving areas.”

Menezes’ involvement in the Honors College contributed to this career trajectory. Through his participation in the Honors Partner Program, STEM Path to the MBA, he was able to participate in the Rural Alabama Project where he was tasked with defining a social problem in rural Alabama and developing a business plan to find a solution. Menezes researched food deserts and contacted various churches and community centers to identify the lack of available resources as the root of the issue. The notion of solving real-world problems through a business lens was nurtured through his academic experiences which aligns with VFA’s mission to empower America’s future entrepreneurs and leaders.

University Honors Program courses are designed to teach students to think more deeply through discourse, experiential learning and various course work and projects. “I took an amazing course with Dr. Eddins called ‘Identity Through Modern Literature’ that made you be introspective and think about the problems in the world as something that can be solved by challenging the status quo,” said Menezes.

The Honors College strives to recruit, retain and actively engage high-performing and high-potential students within a diverse community of scholars, and to inspire students to connect with others as they become Critical and Creative ThinkersEthical and Empathetic Citizens and Collaborative and Inclusive Leaders within their chosen fields of study and beyond.

These three Student Learning Outcomes are the foundation of the Honors College experience and are woven into all aspects of the curriculum. “During my Honors courses, I was exposed to a variety of people with different backgrounds and perspectives from the people (who are) a part of UA and the Tuscaloosa community, so it was like getting all of the puzzle pieces from different places and trying to connect them to reach valuable conclusions to what was going on in the surrounding communities and beyond,” said Menezes. Offering an experience that is comparable to a liberal arts education helps students grow in their home colleges.

“Being in the College of Engineering, you don’t often get structured opportunities to think about things through this lens, so my experiences in the Honors College provided a refreshing take to transfer to other course work,” said Menezes. “It made me more grounded and helped me to think in a human-first way rather than constantly being technical. I began to ask, ‘Why does this matter?’ and identify that there are so many human problems that exist. This is why I want to be an engineer. To create valuable solutions for people and having human-centric coursework through the Honors College reminded me of that.”

Menezes encourages current and prospective students to make the most of their Honors College experience. “If there’s a class that interests you, but may not align with your major or minor, take it, because, like me, it may end up being your favorite course at UA,” said Menezes. “And try new things because you may discover a new passion or interest and if you can glean wisdom about yourself from something, then the experience was valuable.”

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