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University Honors Program

Sophomore presidential scholars work to promote literacy in Waterloo elementary schools

Posted on April 4, 2011

While the UNI Connection project is still going on strong, the other half of the sophomore presidential scholar class is tackling a separate issue: literacy in Waterloo elementary schools. Group member Theresa Luensmann talked to HSAB about the project and the impact she hopes it will have on Edison Elementary.


For the Think Tank project, what issue did your group decide to address?

 We are addressing the issue of literacy in elementary school students in an underprivileged school. We addressed this issue by creating a book registry based off titles we were given by teachers in Edison Elementary in Waterloo. It’s like a gift registry but with books; it’s been in the bookstore for the past month. We also did a penny war with the residence halls so that we could get people on campus involved.


How did you pick Edison?

We talked to some teachers in the Waterloo Schools, and we talked to an Elementary Education professor here at UNI about what schools in Waterloo would need the most help. We were originally going to go to Lincoln Elementary, but they didn’t respond to us when we called, so we decided to go with Edison. One of our reasons for picking Edison Elementary is that 85% of their students are on free and reduced lunch, so this is definitely a school where the kids could use some help. When we did our research, we learned that the more places kids can get books, the better readers they become. Kids at Edison don’t have the outside resources that a lot of other kids are given, so we’re really glad to give them that. We’ve loved working with Edison. We’ve had such a good response from all the teachers there, and they’re so grateful for what we’re doing. One of the faculty members at Edison told us, “When we got your email, we thought it was a joke. We feel like we’ve won the lottery.” We met one teacher who was a UNI grad that had just started in December, and it was really cool to have that connection with a recent grad. This project has been important for her because she only had about 50 books in her classroom library, so this addition was a huge help. It’s been nice to help her out and talk to them.


What has been your favorite part about working on this project?

My favorite part was meeting the teachers and being able to talk to them about their experiences and their students. They obviously love what they do, and they are so enthusiastic about it. I’ve also loved just seeing the way people respond to our project, just to see people on campus and in the community get involved. Now that it’s almost done, it’s cool to look back and see what we did. We’re easily going to complete the registry and we will most likely be able to buy some extra stuff.


What was the most challenging part of the project?

Surprisingly, finding a school to partner with was really difficult. We spent a lot of time talking to Lincoln Elementary, and they spent a lot of time not responding. We also had a kickoff event at the bookstore, and that took a lot of prep work. We wanted to give a presentation, and we had to have the registry all put together. There was a lot of work, and the bookstore helped us a ton..


You mentioned that University Book & Supply helped out a lot. What did they do?

They’re the central hub for our project; they hold our registry for us, so that we can keep track of the books. They’ve also initiated an add-a-dollar program for all their customers, which has raised a lot of money. They ordered all the books for us, and they were able to get us discounts. They also paid for all the food at our kickoff. They were fantastic. I can’t say enough about the bookstore. We would have been lost without them.


When are you planning to give the books to Edison?

Currently we’re planning to go as a group to drop the books off, and give them to the kids ourselves. We hope that the teachers can take pictures and videos of the kids, and hopefully we can send thank you notes with pictures so that people who donated can see who really benefitted from their donations. We’re going to put out statistics from the registry with how the money was used and who it benefitted. Another really cool thing is that all of the books will have labels with the names of the people who donated, which I think is cool because we can recognize those who donated.


What were some of your favorite experiences with this project?

It was just amazing to see how generous people were. Ben & Pat Allen just bought seven books, and on the labels, he just wanted them to say “UNI” and not their names. I thought that was amazing; I actually teared up a little. Some of the students were unbelievably generous too. One student heard us talking about the project, and he pulled out a fifty dollar bill for us to use to buy books. These people really care about what we’re doing. Someone from the community just wrote us a two hundred and fifty dollar check. The students on campus have helped out a ton as well; we raised over five hundred and fifty dollars from the penny wars, and that’s not even counting money from Hagemann and Dancer.


Did you enjoy working with your group?

Our group has really clicked from the beginning. We’ve been good about understanding when are going through busy times and trying to cooperate when schedules don’t always work out. We’ve become really close throughout the project as well. We didn’t always have an opportunity to get to know each other like this last year, but now we’re kind of like a family. I know that they’ll always help me if I need anything, and that’s really awesome.


Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

The registry is still going on until April 8th, so everyone should go to the bookstore and purchase a book. There are some books for as cheap as $3.99, so it won’t break your bank. And it will help the fourth graders at Edison Elementary, and they would really appreciate it. And so would we; we would love you forever!

Sophomore Presidential Scholars work to connect students to the Cedar Valley

Posted on March 23, 2011

UNI: The Connection is a new project that a group of UNI students have created to help students connect to the Cedar Falls community. Starting after spring break, students can download a ConnectCard at Students can visit the places listed on the card to receive a free t-shirt from the Center for Multicultural Education. The goal of the project is to expose students to diverse settings and encourage students to explore the Cedar Valley area. Sophomore Liz Mastalio, one of the group members that created The Connection, gave HSAB Publicity some insight on the project.


Just to start us off, can you explain what UNI: The Connection is?

“The Connection is trying to get UNI students to go out and experience some cultural locations around Cedar Falls and Waterloo. We believe that it’s important to have exposure to different cultures while in college so that when students leave college, they’re prepared to deal with all sorts of different people that they might encounter.”


Can you tell us a little bit about the group that’s working on this project? How did you ultimately come up with the idea?

“The group is the Sophomore Presidential Scholars’ class. Sophomore Presidential Scholars are required to do a class called Think Tank. Fall semester we identify an issue facing the Cedar Valley and then we design a project that will address that issue and then spring semester we implement it. The issue that we defined was that students do not get off campus much and explore the community, and we designed this project to change that.”


What do you hope students gain from experiencing these different places in Cedar Falls?

“I hope that they would be more comfortable just talking to people who are different from them and being in contact with things that they’re not used to. And I also hope that they just have fun because I think our locations are fun.”


What are a few of the restaurants that are a part of The Connection?

“The ones on the ConnectCard are Sookie’s restaurant in Waterloo, World’s Window and Scratch Cupcakery on Main Street, Las Margaritas on University, the Lampost on Seerley.”


Which one is your favorite?

“I really like Sookie’s. I didn’t even know it existed before this project, but it’s really cool. It’s run by this couple and they’re two of the nicest people you will ever meet. They make the greatest food, and it’s a completely at-home environment when you go there.”


What was your favorite part about working on this project, and what have you learned about the Cedar Falls community through this project?

“I think one of my favorite parts was just getting to know my group a lot better. We’ve become really good friends throughout all our work on this project. And I’ve also enjoyed just learning about all these places in the area. We originally had this huge group of places that we had found, and we had to narrow down to eleven. We just discovered all the things this area has to offer that we didn’t even know about.”


How can students find out more information about UNI: The Connection?

“They can “like” us on Facebook (search UNI: The Connection or go to And after spring break they can go to our website,”

Lunch and Learn with Dr. Kenneth Atkinson

Posted on December 8, 2010


On Wednesday, November 17, Honors students gathered in Maucker Union to hear about the

work of Dr. Kenneth Atkinson. Dr. Atkinson is a professor of religion, but students quickly

discerned that Dr. Atkinson’s experiences extend beyond academia. Before entering the field

of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Dr. Atkinson also spent time serving in Berlin during the Cold War,

worked on a communal farm in Israel, and participated in numerous digs in the Middle East.


The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient scrolls found in caves along the Dead Sea.

They were discovered in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Bedouin shepherds around an

ancient monastic settlement, inhabited by a small sect of Jews. Some of these scrolls were well-

preserved, proving to be great historical sources, while others were damaged and have become

more what Dr. Atkinson termed “Dead Sea Scraps.” In these instances, scholars have spent much

time piecing together the “scraps” and have attempted to extrapolate the message of the original

text. Dr. Atkinson pointed out that some of these scholars have in fact done more harm to the

scrolls. Any future scholars should know that scotch tape and Castrol oil should not be used

on ancient texts, nor should people smoke or drink coffee while working with 1,000-year-old



Dr. Atkinson’s current work is concerned with the mentioning of women in these texts. Early

scholars believed that the community responsible for these texts was exclusive to men, and that

these sections must have been mistakes. Dr. Atkinson does not believe that these are mistakes

and is working to understand the truth behind these mysterious women. The scrolls do not

include women or children in the list of people banned from the community, and the texts

mention women as being scribes, teachers, and leaders within this community.


In summarizing his work, Dr. Atkinson left the group with some words of wisdom. The basis of

his work is a reevaluating of previous work. Often scholars force the evidence to fit their own

theories. Dr. Atkinson stressed that all students must learn to think critically, ask questions, and

look at the primary source of information.

Finals Week Study Habits and Tips

Posted on December 8, 2010


It’s that dreaded time of year again. The library is full, people are buried in books, writing last

minute papers and the focus ends up on studying. You can tell it’s time for finals. So here are

some effective study habits from your peers to help make this period of studying for finals as

stress free as possible.


1. Type up, or rewrite, notes taken in class. By retyping or rewriting, it forces one to

actually take the time to look over information again and remember things better.


2. Begin looking over the subjects that may be more difficult than others one or even two

weeks ahead of time. A little studying over a longer period of time helps to keep the

information stuck in your head. It can also help with prioritizing and allow you to see

which class you feel the most unprepared for. 


3. Eat healthy foods and get plenty of sleep before finals. The more nutritious the food, the

better the brain’s going to spit out the information you need! Sleeping longer will allow

the body to feel well-rested and “up to the test.”


4. Study in ways that you know will help you. Study groups can be helpful but if you know

you don’t study well in groups you can try something else. Try making notecards and

keeping them with you so you can study whenever possible.


5. If you have a lot to get done before finals week, make a checklist, schedule or even a to-

do list. Make sure to include studying and if it will be more helpful schedule a certain

time for studying each night.


6. While studying is important, don’t let it be the ONLY thing you do. Make sure to leave

yourself some free time. If you strictly think about studying it will probably stress you

out more. Don’t have too much fun…but don’t be too studious either.


Hopefully some of these tips and suggestions will hit home with you. If you have your own

method of studying that works for you then keep it up, but for those of you who may need a little

help, take your pick. Good luck and happy studying!

Peer Groups celebrating Service Day

Posted on November 16, 2010

On Saturday, October 16, Honors Peer Groups celebrated the nationwide Make a Difference Day by volunteering at the newly finished Big Woods Lake Campground north of Cedar Falls, Iowa.   The honors students who participated were awarded with a free t-shirt and lunch consisting of pizza and drinks.  The t-shirts were worn by everyone during the event and depicted the slogan “Volunteers do it for free” on the front and “I did it” on the back.

Upon arrival at the campground students were given gloves, trash bags, wheelbarrows, and buckets as their supplies.  Everyone split up into smaller groups of about ten or twelve and were given an area of the campground to work.  Volunteers picked up rocks, and gathered sticks and others scrap wood and put them in to the fire rings.  Additionally, all the trash surrounding the sites was picked up.

The staff of Big Woods Lake Campground expressed gratitude for the effort put in by the students on Make a Difference Day.  The staff mentioned they were expecting about ten, and were very excited to see over five times that number show up.

This activity was not only a great way to volunteer and help the community, but also a way to solidify relationships among the peers groups, as well as develop new friendships.  The students were able to playfully interact while simultaneously cleaning up the campground.  Baseball with the rocks and sticks was played, wheelbarrow rides were given, and competitions were held to determine who could find the biggest rock.  These and several other activities made the day memorable and enjoyable.

“Service Day was a lot of a fun,” said Lisa Stoecken, a peer group leader, “It was great to see so many Honors students involved in the community! It was also a great way to get to know a lot of my Honors peers. The group I cleaned up with had a good time."

Lunch and Learn (October 27)

Posted on November 11, 2010

On Wednesday, October 27, fifteen Honors students enjoyed a presentation from Dr. Kim MacLin over the lunch hour. A professor of psychology who specializes in forensic memory, Dr. MacLin spoke primarily about eyewitness memory lweading to wrongful convictions. The presentation was part of a series of ‘Faculty Lunch and Learn’ lectures organized by the Honors Student Advisory Board.

More than 250 convicted felons have been exonerated by DNA evidence in U.S. history. Eyewitness misidentification causes the majority of wrongful convictions. “Memory is a biological process that we know a lot about,” said MacLin, “and we need to convince judges that eyewitness memory is trace evidence of a crime that needs to be treated as carefully as blood evidence.”

Through some basic exercises, Dr. MacLin showed attendees just how fragile memory can be. In one example, she listed a set of words that had a common theme and asked the audience to write down as many of those words as they could remember immediately after she listed them. A few people were able to recall as many as eleven of the words. However, many of the students wrote down a word that fit in with the theme, but was never said.  Dr. MacLin explained that similar phenomenon occur with eyewitness memory when eyewitnesses recall details of the crime that are incorrect.

“Eyewitnesses are great, unless they’re wrong,” said MacLin, “they are not lying, they are just wrong.” Dr. Kim MacLin and her husband, also a forensic psychologist, frequently testify in court as memory experts. They explain the science behind memory and use basic exercises to show judges and juries how easily memory can be misleading. The two were approached by the Discovery Channel to be featured in an upcoming special to demonstrate problems with eyewitness memory. The MacLin’s helped to stage a mock crime and explain the fallacies that can occur with eyewitness identification. Discovery Channel filmed the entire process and the segment is slated to appear in January 2011.

Dr. Atkinson will give the next Faculty Lunch and Learn lecture on Wednesday, November 17 at noon. Contact to RSVP—seating is limited.