Over Coffee – Winter 2009

Published: Jan 19, 2009

For two decades, the Honors College at UMBC has offered select students an intensive and interdisciplinary approach to undergraduate education. As the college celebrated its 20th anniversary last fall, UMBC Magazine asked Mark Tyler ’99, history – an Honors College alumnus who is now an assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel County – and a current Honors College student, Allison Seyler ’11, to reflect on their experiences in the program.

Q: What attracted you to the Honors College?

Mark: It represented an opportunity to have a more up-close and in-depth interaction with peers and professors. I didn’t join the Honors College until my sophomore year, and throughout my first year and part of my second year, I was noticing that I was not getting as much of a chance as I wanted to have that interaction. Some friends of mine in the Honors College told me about their experiences – and that’s exactly what they were getting.

Allison: Through joining the Honors College, I got a sense of community that I didn’t think was here. UMBC is not a huge school, but it’s a bigger school. And I felt that in the Honors College, I wouldn’t be swallowed up. You get to know your professor personally. You know everybody personally.

Q: What Honors College courses had the most influence on you?

Mark: The Enlightenment Course I took with (Victor) Wexler of the history department. We went through many of the great political writers of the modern era: Voltaire, John Locke. I also took a course on Industrial Britain with Dan Ritschel of the history department. Out of the Industrial Revolution came lots of socialist writings like Karl Marx and the traditional liberal arguments. I feel I am better able now to put all the different political arguments from our government leaders into better perspective. What they are borrowing from when they say we need to cut taxes on the bottom 90 percent. People are borrowing and picking and choosing from all these different philosophers.

Allison: One of the courses I’m taking right now is a Chinese literature course. Honestly, I never thought I would have any interest in Chinese literature. But I have had my eyes opened. I think it’s incredible to have that kind of diversity in your academics. I’ve never read poetry by Du Fu and Su Shi before. It’s been eye-opening because there’s this universality of struggle with politics and struggle with society. It’s a great course.

Mark: The Honors College helps to facilitate an important facet of undergraduate experience: the willingness to branch out, to go out of your comfort zone, and try something that you wouldn’t have necessarily tried, solely for the chance that what you do you might actually enjoy, or that it will spark in you a new intellectual interest.

Q: How has travel fit into the Honors College experience?

Allison: I went to France this past year with the Honors College. They sponsored a trip to Normandy and Brittany, and we ended up in Paris. It incorporated my interest in the French language and in history. That was my first time flying. That was my first trip out of the country. I had to get my passport and all that stuff. For me, it was amazing. I did so much there in two weeks. I saw all these things I’ve been learning about for years in my history classes and my French classes. It confirmed for me that all these things I’m learning are actually out there and actually happened. One of my goals is to join the Peace Corps, so I want to experience as much culture and as much difference as possible.

Mark: I took a trip to Kiplin Hall, which was the ancestral home of Maryland’s Calvert family, up in Yorkshire. It was a survey of British history, culture and literature. We read everything from Tacitus to Jane Austen. It was my first time abroad. We had great meals every night cooked by an English lady – Mrs. Glue – but after she left we were alone in the house, and we wrote a murder mystery. I think some people may have dressed up a bit. But we took turns writing it, and we acted out the characters and let ourselves get lost in the experience of staying at this wealthy manor house and acting out this whodunit fiction that we wrote up. It was a blast!


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