The Honors College is pleased to welcome the following individuals this fall. We look forward to working with them and to employing the talents and skills they bring to the Honors team!
Assistant Professor, Tekla Schmaus, received her PhD in Anthropology from Indiana University in 2015. She comes to the Honors College from the University of Pittsburgh where she was a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. Schmaus conducts research on social organization in nomadic groups during the Bronze and Iron Ages. She previously studied people’s mobility patterns and their relationship to the environment in Kazakhstan and is beginning a new project on community organization in Armenia.
Currently, Tekla teaches a section of Honors 390 on global issues in the sciences, examining the various ways societies have engaged with scientific research on heredity and genetics, and whether those relationships have changed through time. The course begins with scientific movements and advancements from the late 19th century and proceeds to the consequences of human genome sequencing today. Schmaus hopes students can learn from past pseudoscience and apply those lessons to critically evaluate scientific claims being made about genetics today.
In addition to teaching and research, Tekla enjoys hiking and road biking, and is looking forward to exploring trails in and around the Palouse.
Director of Development, Gary Hyatt, comes to the Honors College from Central Washington University where, most recently, he served as the Deputy Director of Athletics. He has twenty-five years of experience in higher education administration and operations in areas pertaining to fundraising, athletics, finance, and compliance. As CWU’s Deputy Athletic Director, he was a member of the senior executive staff, setting the direction, policies, strategic planning, budget, and goals for the NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic program.
Gary has significant expertise in higher education development, administering university athletics annual giving and scholarships, donor cultivation and events, and solicitation and stewardship activities.
“I’m truly honored to be a part of this esteemed institution and a member of the Honors team,” Hyatt said. “I hope to use my experiences to facilitate ways for our accomplished alumni and friends to have an impact on Honors students as they become leaders in their fields and within the communities where they live and work.”
Gary began his professional career as a high school chemistry and biology teacher and as a football assistant coach, roles that prepared him to help shape the future of the next generation. “I look forward to the opportunity to enhance the incredible work being done by our students, faculty, and staff.”
Kristin Becker is familiar with teaching outside of her discipline. She taught digital technology and culture through an art and design lens for ten years before coming to WSU’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in 2020. “It was really valuable to me as an instructor teaching in the digital realm to think about my fine art training and to try to relate it to what I was teaching to the students about technology,” said Becker, the museum’s Curator of Education and Programs.
Using the museum as her classroom, Becker teaches contemporary fine art from a humanities perspective in her Honors College course “Contextual Understanding in the Arts and Humanities.” The course introduces elements of art, art history, and curation with the goal of demonstrating how the arts inform and impact lives. It even provides students with opportunities to create art.
“It made a lot of sense to teach the humanities section with that focus; it happened very naturally once I kind of understood what the overarching goals for the course were; I felt like it was something I was already always doing,” Becker said.
Even with her experience, the position provided new challenges. “They’re bringing a diverse range of interests to the classroom,” she said of the Honors College students. “It’s outside of my comfort zone to think about students who are studying STEM topics like engineering—especially students in the hard sciences—to see how they might relate to art in regard to their own worlds and their own day to day lives.”
Becker’s students, including those from her Honors course, contributed “Common Reading Connections labels” that help to curate the exhibit. Some of those are on display at the museum beginning this month in the “Here in a Homemade Forest: Common Reading Connections” exhibition which runs through March 9, 2024. The exhibition draws inspiration from the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and includes prints from the well-known Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts on the Umatilla Reservation in Pendleton, OR.
Becker, a printmaker herself, introduced Honors College students to relief printing using linocut, the process of cutting images or designs into a block of linoleum, leaving raised images to be inked. Their work was printed in WSU’s printmaking studio.
“They’re different in the studio space,” Becker said of her students. “You see them come to life in a different way, working with messy materials like ink; some people come out of their shells in ways that you’re not expecting!” she said. “We did printmaking last semester, partly because it was very relevant to the Keiko Hara exhibition that we had on view in the museum.”
The Hara exhibit ran until June 2023, overlapping with the course. Environmental concerns are a very big part of Kimmerer’s book, Becker said, and of Hara’s work.
“Keiko Hara is very influenced by a strong connection to landscape and place and that’s made very clear in the exhibit’s labels; the idea about how place affects us—how it holds stories and history.”
Becker first challenged students to write alternate labels for the Hara’s exhibit after they read Braiding Sweetgrass, connecting ideas from the book with Hara’s art.
“The book weaves together scientific ways of knowing and indigenous ways of knowing,” Becker said. After much research and many paragraphs, students winnowed their prose to its essence, garnering a better understanding of the work involved in the curation process.
Honors student labels in the current museum exhibition are from another project that connects to the common reading book, this one drawing from the museum’s permanent collection. Becker devoted about four class periods to the museum’s permanent collection storage where students chose from about twnty selected works for one piece each that they could relate to the book.
“They’re in the museum a lot and then they’re over in our permanent collection and it’s a very different experience,” Becker said. Without the benefit of curation, they were left to devise their own connections to the selected works. “The time that we’ve spent in the museum for most of the semester that is preparing them for thinking about the choice that they’re going to make and the way that they’re going to write about the work,” she said. For some students making those connections was quite personal.
“One of the important things that comes up in Braiding Sweetgrass is that you learn about the author’s history, and how her Native American ancestors were displaced multiple times and ended up very far from their original homelands on a reservation in Oklahoma,” Becker said. Kimmerer focuses on that loss of Native culture in her childhood and relearning it as an adult. Two of Becker’s students chose to write about similar experiences from their own families. One student’s great great grandfather was incarcerated in Hawaii during WWII, an experience that led to his family hiding their Japanese history. Another student related how it felt to learn about his Jewish heritage only after his grandfather had died, something he would have loved to have known more about while growing up. While they weren’t asked to reveal private history, combined material from the book and the Hara exhibit resonated.
“Those two examples made me cry,” Becker said. “They had the option to choose many things, and they chose to write about those difficult, difficult experiences,” she said. “There was a connection to the art and what they learned about the artists, but also to the subject matter of the book that they were being asked to write about; they were obviously being thoughtful and making connections.”
The museum’s recent and current exhibits, Becker said, are at least in some part focused on social justice concerns. Access to visiting artists further enhances the cultural experiences the museum provides. Renowned artists like master printmaker and sculptor Alison Saar had an exhibition at the same time as a Black Lives Matter exhibition two years ago, and Jeffrey Gibson, an artist of Cherokee and Choctaw heritage and 2019 MacArthur Fellow, will visit this year.
“Those pressing social concerns in many ways are very present, I think, in our landscape, in our country right now,” Becker said. Last semester’s students also met with Juventino Aranda, who gave a public talk at the museum. “He’s a young artist who talks about searching for identity at the intersection of Mexico and of America, and about being second generation American,” Becker explained.
Both Aranda and Hara, a retired professor from Whitman College, live in the region and were able to visit the university multiple times. “One of the great things that we do is we bring in artists from all over the country; that’s a good opportunity for the students and the community here to engage with those artists,” Becker said.
Becker hopes the art experiences of her students will continue to resonate with them. She plans to invite last semester’s students back to the museum for the current exhibition. “I’ll let them know and I hope they’ll come back,” she said. “I’m pretty excited that we were able to include some of them in this professional exhibition.”
Alea Dews appreciates how her Honors classes established a foundation for the challenging curriculum she faced with WSU’s Pre-Veterinary Medicine program, even when some courses felt like a stretch.
“I took a course in technology, and, initially going in, I thought ‘Why do I care about this? It’s nothing related to my major!’” said Dews, who will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Sciences and pre-veterinary medicine. Next September Dews begins coursework at the prestigious Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in England, with the goal of becoming an equine veterinarian.
Today, Dews looks at courses like the one in technology a bit differently. “It opened my eyes that there are a lot of approaches to things, and I really need to be aware of that especially since I’ll be studying abroad next Fall,” she said. Additional honors courses, including one that examined social and political issues through film, and a current course taught by Honors Dean Grant Norton that compares plastics and recycling practices in different cities, helped to broaden and nuance her worldview.
That nuance helped her to challenge and expand her views on caring for and training horses in courses she took with CAHNRS lecturer, Angie Reitmeier. Dews has been riding and showing horses since she was seven. She joined the WSU Equestrian Team as a freshman and continued with it through her junior year. Yet, Reitmeier’s approach to rearing and caring for horses was very different from what Dews had experienced.
“I don’t know if more ‘natural’ is the word but the way she trains is very different from what I’ve grown up with in the show horse world, so that helped me a lot,” Dews said. “After I get out of vet school and I have to actually go and deal with different clients I’ll have to be open-minded to different methods, having to adapt myself to how to do things differently but still get the job accomplished.”
Dews also benefitted greatly from an internship with Dr. Dana Westerman, a mobile veterinarian she shadowed and assisted for two summers in Monroe, Washington. “I’d help her set things up then I’d watch and ask questions,” Dews said. She also helped to hold and calm horses when Westerman conducted procedures. “She’d kind of teach me ‘this is the problem, and this is how you’d go about it,’” Dews said. Westerman partners with a program called “Heartstings for Horses” an organization that “grafts” orphaned foals onto adoptive mares. Dews became interested in this procedure, pursuing it further for her thesis project with Reitmeier.
“I have had the pleasure of knowing Alea as a student in my equine classes, as a teaching assistant in horsemanship, and as her honors thesis advisor. Every step of the way, she demonstrated her passion and commitment to becoming an equine veterinarian, and now she takes a giant step into the Royal Veterinary College in London,” Reitmeier said. “I couldn’t be more proud and have no doubt she will shine as brightly there as she did during her undergraduate years at WSU.”
As Dews prepares for England, she does so with confidence and a new appreciation of the synergistic efforts that led to her degree. “As far as people, I don’t really know anyone there so that will be a full fresh start,” she said of RVC. Dews was drawn to the college for their facilities and research program. “They have a CT machine for horses, state-of-the-art operating theatres, and do more extensive surgeries than you see in other places,” she said. Dews is also interested in research into Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID). Also known as equine Cushings, PPID is caused by overproduction of pituitary hormones causing a variety of ailments in horses and ponies of advanced age. Dews saw cases of PPID while shadowing Dr. Westerman. “I thought it would be really cool to be at the university that’s at the forefront for some of this research,” she said.
The process for getting into the Royal Veterinary College was arduous. It included a second application to accompany the veterinarian common application, supplemental essays, and, once she was invited to interview, a group activity with four other applicants and a series of six individual interviews in Dallas, Texas.
“It was nerve-wracking!” Dews said. But she’s also quick to point out how the presentation-based nature of her honors courses prepared her for the process.
“Coming out of high school I was definitely a lot more shy than I am now. Public speaking helped me to come out of my bubble a bit and that ultimately helped me with my interviews to vet schools,” she said. “Honors College professors teach really specific issues in their classes but the concepts behind what they are teaching relate to a lot of different things.”
When students in Samantha Noll’s Honors College course on philosophy and technology raised the issue of Chat GPT and academic cheating, she knew she had to address it. Noll, associate professor in the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, is the newly appointed Elma Ryan Bornander Honors Distinguished Chair. Recipients are outstanding WSU faculty at the forefront of research, pedagogy, and scholarship, and spend two years in residence at WSU’s Honors College developing courses and teaching and mentoring students.
Teaching for Honors
Chat GPT, the AI program introduced late last fall, caused widespread concern among educators at all levels. Capable of scouring the Web and compiling information, it produces plausible essays even at the college level. Noll had her students ask the chatbot itself about the dangers it might pose and discuss their findings. “One of the things I love about teaching a class on technological innovations is that they’re coming fast and furious and have huge impacts on what we do.” Noll designed her course around another technology with profound impact, the cellphone, using it to illustrate philosophical concerns about outsourcing mental capacity. “Socrates worried that if we used writing as a crutch to put down all of our stories, we would no longer have the capacity to create or remember them,” Noll said. “Fast forward to today and we still confront the question of what capacities we want to outsource.” To help address this issue, Noll turns to the Extended Mind Theory of current philosophers David Chalmers and Andy Clark who argue that technologies like smartphones have essentially become extensions of our minds. “Lose your phone, and your contacts, pictures, and navigation tools are gone,” said Noll. “It’s like you are literally unplugged from a part of your capacity.” She is also designing a new honors course on food movements or on philosophy of food and agriculture, using the plate as her starting point. “Philosophy can be very abstract and even intimidating for students,” Noll said. “Using something they are incredibly familiar with like their phones or the food on their plates provides a touchstone to begin thinking philosophically about our lives.”
The endowment provides salary enhancement and research support for the recipient. Noll’s highly interdisciplinary research focuses on philosophy of food, environmental ethics and emerging technologies. Her work has been published in dozens of peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and in two co-authored/edited books. Her next book “What should I eat?” will focus on the ethical omnivore movement. Based on a pluralist food ethic, it recognizes the importance of honoring thoughtful, diverse food choices. “This is about producing food in more sustainable, thoughtful ways that improve animal welfare, soil health, etc. without necessarily taking anything off the plate so to speak,” Noll said.
Catalyst for Student Support and Community Outreach
The endowment also supports Honors College students working with the recipient. Noll is planning a public-facing project with students called “Philosophy Eats,” examining food-related issues from humanities perspectives. It will include a journal of short, publicly accessible articles on timely food-related issues and a podcast featuring guest speakers. “I want to use this as a platform to share the work we’re doing with the public,” she said. “Samantha is an exceptional scholar, teacher and author, and the Honors College is delighted to bring her into our classrooms and help support her research through this endowed chair,” said M. Grant Norton, Honors College dean.
Honors College alumnus Eric McElroy’s (‘13 Music) debut album, Tongues of Fire, released by Somm Recordings this March, includes songs that he says draw connections to his student days at WSU. Financial support from the Honors College allowed him to study abroad in Vienna before he graduated in 2013.“That incredible experience was only meant to be a six-month adventure, but I’m still in Europe ten years later,” McElroy said.
The album features McElroy on piano for four connected song-cycles and a single song. Each of the song cycles explores distinct introspective themes inspired by modern day poets, including former US Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin, transforming their ideas and meanings from the written word to music. Performing with McElroy is the celebrated English tenor, James Gilchrist.
The album takes its title from the third song cycle, which is based on the works of poet Grevel Lindop. McElroy credits his Honors English professor Robert Eddy with introducing him to Lindop’s work. That introduction and the education and encouragement he received from WSU music professor Gerald Berthiaume continue to influence his work as a performer, teacher, and researcher today.“Simply put, none of my subsequent achievements would have been possible without the support of WSU,” McElroy said.
In 2014, McElroy completed a master’s degree at The Music and Arts University of the City of Vienna. He earned an Advanced Diploma in Professional Performance with distinction at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in 2017 and is currently a doctoral candidate at Oxford University. He has written for solo piano, voice, choir, orchestra, and various chamber ensembles and his works have been performed across Europe and the United States.
Read more about his debut recording and sample the new album in Opera Todayhere. An interview with McElroy will appear in an upcoming issue of BBC Music Magazine.