What We Are Thankful For

With the holidays getting closer every day, it is good to take a minute and look at all of the good things we have in our lives. This past week, we asked our fellow Honors students what they are thankful for this holiday season and why. Here are some of their responses!


I am thankful for my family because they have been very supportive of my change in major, and have never showed their annoyance (I know they have it) when I continue to talk about the same problems I still have not found a solution to. They are seriously the best.

I’m thankful for my friends and family because they support and help me.

I am thankful for my support system. My family and friends are always there for me!

I am thankful for the opportunity to further my education and go to a school as nice as Mankato. I am most thankful for my friends in the Honors Learning Community. I owe a good chunk of my smooth transition to college to them. They have helped me in many ways and they have accepted me into their group of friends.

I’m thankful for the smooth transition into college.

I am thankful for my friends, because they are always there for me no matter what.

I’m thankful for all the opportunities I have been presented with at Mankato and the willingness of faculty and staff to assist students with their future. I’m also thankful for all my friends at Mankato who have made this year one of the most memorable years already, and it’s only November! I’m especially thankful for my amazing coworkers, Emily Schiltz, Josie Braaten, Amber Chrischilles, and Amily Smith for making every staff meeting a little more interesting!

My sister’s dog!

My family, they are very supportive and always there if I need them.

I am thankful for all of the new experiences I have had this year, and for all the new friends I’ve made coming to college.

A healthy family! My family has had some rough times this past year with illnesses, so I’m just happy we’re all alive and well!

I’m thankful for my amazing support system because college (and life) would be tough without people cheering you on!

I am thankful that I have a wonderful and supportive family, amazing grades, a fantastic boyfriend, great friends, a good job, the great learning opportunities presented to me on this campus, and that it looks like the Democrats are going to take back the House this next election.

I am thankful for second chances.

Family and my health! I’m thankful for having a support system to fall back on when I need to find guidance or support. I’m also very thankful for my health. I’m thankful that I do not have health issues because it would only make life harder for me and for my family. You never stop to appreciate the little things, such as being able to see or smell or taste. I’m thankful that I’m healthy both physically an mentally.

I am thankful because I spent this summer with my parents and sister

I am thankful for my family, boyfriend, and friends. I am also very thankful for the opportunities I have, especially to study at MSU.

I am thankful to the people I met during summer 2018 because they help me to understand the outside world of the university. As a international student from different culture, it was a very big deal for me.

I am thankful for my warm bed, because it makes the end of a long day worth it!

New friends!

I am thankful for my mom because she always answers my calls.

I am so thankful for bees and their ability to spread pollen and make honey 🙂

I’m thankful for the opportunities that have been gifted to me. I am also thankful for my family and friends who are there for me.

I’m thankful for having a supportive family. Though they can’t support me through college financially, they still offer love and support in other ways.

I am thankful that I was able to attend college this year, and that my family is continuing to support me in all of my endeavors.

I’m thankful for my parents. They are so supportive and I hope to be more supportive to them because they need It.

As always, I am thankful for my family, my health, and the privileges I have been given in life. This year, I am extra thankful for the opportunity to continue my education and pursue one of my dreams, and for all of the new friends I have made here at Mankato. I always knew that I would love college, but I have been so blessed with all the new experiences; I know that the friends I am making are going to be life-long, and the education I am receiving will be so helpful in giving me the skills I need to run my own business!

Family because they have been there to support me though all good and bad, ups and downs of my life.




My Homecoming Court Experience

This past September one of our Honors students, Kirsten Siebenga, had the opportunity to be a part of the Homecoming Court. Kirsten is a junior here at MSU and is majoring in Community Health Education. Below is a reflection of her experience on the homecoming court.

This past week I had the opportunity to represent MNSU on the Homecoming royalty court. Upon calling home to tell my family of what I was doing on campus, I think they were just as shocked that I was running as I was.

“You did what?”

Confused, they asked if this meant that I was helping to organize the Homecoming activities.

Being a part of the Homecoming royalty court is probably the furthest thing I have ever done outside of my comfort zone- right up there with deciding to run a marathon. But I am happy to report that I am so, so glad I did.

I think that is the beauty of college. Sometimes the growing pains are difficult (at least for me) including lots of calls home to encouraging moms, hair pulling over the big question, “what am I going to do with my life?”, and what is this thing called “adulting?” Somewhere along our journey we begin to learn who we are and slowly, we begin to learn who we are until it starts to connect. This week as part of the Homecoming royalty court I felt a piece of who I am becoming fall into place.

Homecoming- Kirsten

After the lip sync competition with the crowned royalty

As weird as it sounds- I think sometimes we need to be pushed further than we think we can to grow.

During homecoming week, the royalty candidates were able to participate in a variety of activities including Mavs on the Mall, royalty family feud, and Maverick pride day. One of my favorite homecoming activities was watching the lip sing battle on Thursday night (we need to make an Honors lip sing next year!!). The activities were great, but the best part about being on Homecoming royalty court was the people I was able to meet.

I knew our campus was filled with some incredible people, but I am confident now that our campus is curating the ground breaking, earth-shattering, boot stomping leaders of tomorrow. On the Homecoming court, I met a diverse group of students that represented organizations like Greek Life, Black Union, Mav Fam, and Student Ambassadors. While campaigning around campus, I met students that have dreams to be English professors, doctors, teachers, and to protect our country abroad. I met people in the greater Mankato community that love and support our school.

I think next time I call home with my latest endeavor at MNSU, my family won’t be surprised.

Homecoming- Kirsten 2

A Few New Faces

Welcome back to campus for what will be another awesome semester! The past six months have been an exciting time of transition and growth for the Honors Department, and now we are ready to charge into the new semester with a team of fresh and familiar faces. Here are the new honors staff members you will be seeing around the office! Feel free to drop by anytime to say hi, grab some candy, use a computer, or curl up on a couch between classes. We can’t wait to meet you! 

Shelly Baldridge

Shelly Baldridge

Hello! My name is Shelly Baldrige, and I’m from Ames, Iowa. My major is Sports Management, and I am pursuing a minor in Human Resources Management. This year I am the Student Experience Coordinator, so I will be the one who helps plan the honors events throughout the year and communicate about them with you! I applied to the Honors Program as an incoming freshman, and after my first year, I wanted to make an effort to become more involved which led me to this position. Outside of school, I play the trumpet in the Maverick Machine Athletic Band, am a member of the Sports Management Association, and volunteer with the local Humane Society. In my free time I like to watch sports, reality TV, and Netflix. A fun fact about me is I got to work at the Super Bowl this past February in Minneapolis! This year I am most excited to meet more Honors members and create plenty of new friendships!

Pam Guss

PG 2

Hi – my name is Pam Guss, and I am the new Administrative Assistant for the Honors Program, Undergraduate Research Center and Office of University Fellowships. I am a Mankato native and a MSU, Mankato alumni. I recently celebrated my 25th anniversary with my husband Brad. I have 3 adult children – Adam, Libby and Becca. I love to spend time with my family, friends, and our dogs – Kona and Fitger. In my free time I also enjoy reading and watching Netflix, especially stand-up comedy – any recommendations are appreciated. I’m trying to learn everyone’s name, please stop by to say hi!

Emily Schiltz

Emily Schlitz

My name is Emily Schiltz, and I am a second year student here at MSU. I am majoring in exercise science with a minor in psychology, and I am also a pre-med student. I am from a town in northern Minnesota called Detroit Lakes, and I graduated from a class of about 230 people. This year I am working alongside Josie as the Social Media Relations Coordinator. After being a part of the Freshman Learning Community I wanted to become more involved with the program, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet new people and attend more events. When I have free time I like to hangout with my friends, watch Netflix, and explore the city. For this semester, I am most excited about fall weather and football games! Important things to know about me: I love Grey’s Anatomy, ice cream with my whole heart, and my planners (yes, plural) are color-coded.


Dr. White

I am the Interim Honors Program Director.  I have taught honors seminars in the past, and those have been some of my best teaching experiences.  I consider St. Paul, MN my hometown. I was a double Communication Studies/English Writing major in college.  I love to read, cook, volunteer in the community, and spend time with my family.  My kids are in 7th and 9th grade this year.  We are a loud and sarcastic family.  A fun personal fact about me is that when I was in Jr. High I did community theater with the late comedian, Mitch Hedberg.  I am extremely excited about all aspects of this upcoming year.  However, I am most looking forward to getting to know new students.

The Honors Lounge (Morris Hall 265) is open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays from 8am-5pm; Wednesdays from 8am-6pm, and Thursdays from 8am-7pm. Please come say hello!





Meet the Honors Launch LCC!

DSC_0041The 2018-2019 Learning Community Coordinator for the first-year Honors Launch Learning Community is Amber Chrischilles. Check out her introduction here:

Hello, my name is Amber Chrischilles, and I am a sophomore at MSU. I was raised in Storm Lake, Iowa, a small town about three hours away from Mankato. My older brother, who recently graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, is moving to Florida as an intern for the World Barefoot Center. My plan is to major in Mass Media and minor in both Communications and Marketing. I first thought I would major in Communication Studies, but the Public Relations route in Mass Media is what interests me more. I am figuring out which career I would enjoy the most, but right now, I hope to work in Public Relations for a non-profit company. Next year, as I take more classes in my major, I hope to create a clearer vision for my future.

Last summer, I started working at Pet Paradise, a dog and cat boarding place. I have always loved animals, and my family used to have a dog and a cat. While at work one day, I found a stray cat and eventually convinced my parents to adopt her. Her name is Willow, and she has grown into one of the sassiest cats ever. This summer, I am looking forward to working at Pet Paradise, spending time with my family and friends, and enjoying summer lake days.

However, I couldn’t be more excited to return back to school to be the Learning Community Coordinator for the first-year Honors Launch Learning Community. Last year, I was in the first-year Honors LC, and I believe it was what made my first year so fantastic. It was great to already know people, especially wonderful people who lived right next to me. The LC also helped me to become more involved in the Honors Program because we often coordinated events together with other honors students, and we were encouraged to participate in other honors events or groups. The LC also helped me to learn the importance of having fun at college and enjoying the people you’re around while also focusing on your studies. The great thing about the LC is that it is what you make of it. You are not required, only encouraged, to attend the events, so there is no need to stress about school or other obligations. However, it was nice to be able to attend fun events with other people in the LC who became some of my closest friends. I am really excited to be able help make these students’ first year a fun, exciting, and memorable time.

Interested in learning more or in joining the first-year Honors Launch Learning Community? Check out the Learning Community webpage or contact Honors at honors@mnsu.edu or 507-389-5191. 

STLF Spring Break Trip: 2018

Traditionally, spring break calls to mind images of white sand beaches and scorching sunburns or a week spent on the couch recovering from the trauma of midterms. In 2003 though, four ambitious students from the University of Minnesota saw a different vision, one in which the legendary week could be spent working with a diverse community of other college students to serve others across the country.

STLF LogoTo make this vision a reality, they formed the organization, Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF), which centers on revealing leadership in college students through service, relationships, and action. In the spring of 2004, the new members embarked on the inaugural STLF Spring Break Service Trip. Since that original journey, there have been nearly 800 subsequent service tours throughout the US!

In March of 2018, two of our Minnesota State University Mankato (MNSU) honors students, Hunter Herber and Melanie Bengston, decided to take the leap and embark on an STLF tour to Denver Colorado! The bus tour departed from MNSU and took them through South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska. Over nine days, the crew stopped in six different cities where they performed a variety of service projects which ranged from cleaning a zoo, to assisting with building a home. Along with serving each community, Melanie and Hunter had the opportunity to explore local attractions, and of course, connect with fellow students on the trip. Here are their stories!

Hunter Herber (Biomedical Sciences ’20):

My decision to go on the STLF Spring Break Trip was very spur of the moment. I only found out about it two weeks before we left. As soon as I heard about it though, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I mean, a service trip going to Denver, Colorado?! What more would a person need to hear?!


The projects that we worked on during the trip truly helped me to grow as a person. My group assisted with cleaning a summer camp, renovating a hallway house, painting a local church, renovating a low- income apartment complex, building a home for a family in need, and cleaning a park. These experiences enabled me to see that there are people all across the country who are far less fortunate than we are, and there is a lot that even just a small group of people can do to make a difference in the lives of many. Also, through working with the others, I became more confident and was able to come out of my shell. By the end of the week my team members were identifying me as a group leader. Because of this growth, I am hoping to be “bus-core” (one of the student facilitators and leaders) on the MNSU STLF trip next spring!


The best part of this trip was by far the friends I made. I know that people say this a lot, but it’s totally true. We left as strangers, but after spending 9 days on a bus with one another and sleeping together in YMCAs and churches, came back closer than any other group of people who just met. Now, it is honestly like we can’t stay away from each other! Because of this closeness, I know that I can count on these people as a support system now and in the future.


My STLF spring break trip has impacted my future in many ways. The most obvious one is that I have decided to pick up a certificate in Nonprofit Leadership. Being a part of this organization was one of the best times of my life. Being able to recreate this experience for others in my future, while also serving the underserved, would be a dream come true.


I have so many good memories from this trip that I can’t pick a favorite. However, there were some that were extra special, like getting to see people open up about the struggles they’ve had in life. Everyone was able to feel comfortable sharing something that has been tough for them to get through, because our group was so understanding and supportive. Another really special result of this trip was getting to see the impact we made on those we served. The gratitude seemed to radiate from them. This was cool, because it showed us that what we were doing really did make a difference.

Melanie Bengston (Special Education ’20):

The STLF Spring Break Trip was such an amazing asset to my college experience. I met 32 extremely diverse people who very quickly became some of my best friends and have already taught me so many meaningful lessons about life.

Red Rock Ampitheater

Seeing the birds in Wildlife CenterWe spent every morning doing different service projects in the towns we stopped at such as cutting down honeysuckle in a forest, helping local zoos and wildlife centers prepare for their seasons, and doing yard work in public parks. These projects were such a big part of what helped the people on my bus to really get to know each other and gave us the opportunity to make memories that we will cherish forever. Most of our inside jokes and fondest memories came from the service projects. For example, a few of us were assigned to sweep out and clean a moat in “Monkey Island” at a zoo in Pueblo. While the rest of us were cleaning, some of the guys from our bus jumped over the fence, snuck into the island, and scared all of us in the moat by pretending to be monkeys!

Volunteering Wildlife Center

Each evening we would do an activity with the entire bus designed to help us get to know each other better, become closer as a group, and help us grow individually. My favorite activity was the night that we all sat in a circle and spent several hours sharing our personal stories and hardships with the group. It was very difficult to open up to a group of strangers, but doing so truly made us realize how connected we are. It was amazing to see how we all ended up on this trip with each other, no matter what our upbringing was. After talking about our hardships, we went back around and said something that we are proud of with ourselves. After this experience, we all discussed how we will be there for each other, no matter what. Since that night, my group has already made those words a reality.

Exploring Garden of the Gods

It is amazing what a group of motivated college students can do, and I am completely in awe of the passion, determination, and resilience of everyone I met on this trip. I am so grateful to have made the choice to take this journey and cannot believe see how it has expanded beyond just a week long spring break trip.

For more information on STLF Spring Break Tours, please visit stlf.net.

Portfolio Defense Reflections

Congratulations to the senior honors students who passed their Honors Portfolio Defenses last semester! The whole “Portfolio Defense” may sound a little intimidating and bring to mind images of a medieval sword fight. However, the students who are now on the other side of this honors rite of passage are ready to reflect on their personal experiences and shed some light on what the defense experience is actually likeso that you can stop panicking and start preparing!

The portfolio defense takes place in front of honors faculty, staff, and sometimes other honors students. It’s important to remember that the defense panel is often composed of people who know you and support you in your educational endeavors. “I was surprised at how relaxed and friendly the atmosphere was,” one honors senior reported. The defense panel is not meant to judge or intimidate you, rather, they’re there to learn about your experiences in the program and how you’ve grown through them. “At the point of the defense, I had already proven that I have completed the program and the defense is simply sharing all your hard work with the program and claiming your prize.”

This is not to say that the portfolio defense is without its challenges. “The portfolio defense required intense reflection of my experiences in fulfilling the honors competencies,” said one student on the experience. “These reflection truly helped me come to a deeper understanding of myself.” Throughout the program, honors students have amazing experiences and are asked to reflect on those experiences in their portfolios. “My favorite aspect of the defense was finally being able to show all that I’ve done and accomplished as an Honors Student.”

Another student shared, “In hindsight, updating my portfolio regularly every year would have made preparing for the defense a lot less stressful, because then I wouldn’t have to think back to events from two years ago. Everything would already be recorded.”

The work leading up to the defense isn’t always the most challenging part of the defense. Most of that work is done alongside your studies as an undergraduate student and accumulates over time. Other challenges with the defense might be more personal, as one student reflects, “Something I wish I would have done a little differently when preparing for my defense would have been to create my presentation farther in advance so that I could be even more comfortable with it. This would have alleviated a lot of nerves going into the defense itself.” While the challenges may vary, all can be overcome.

While the defense is meant to challenge you, it’s not meant to discourage you. As another honors student said, “Getting such positive feedback of my experiences from my advisers was definitely the most rewarding part of my defense.” Having a panel of advisers, faculty, staff, and peers is meant to encourage you.



Probably one of the most encouraging things about the defense is getting a good look at your own accomplishments. “Going through my presentation, I was amazed to see how much I’ve grown and changed since my freshmen year.” The defense takes an up-close and personal look at your journey and growth. One student said the defense “made me realize how all my experiences really tied together and now, significantly define me as a person.”

In the end, most students find the defense to be well worth its challenges and stresses. “After the defense, I was so proud of how well all my experiences uniquely represented me as an individual.” The defense is, at its core, for you. “As a freshman, I remember wondering, at times, if I would really get anything out of the extra work involved with the Honors Program,” said one student. After her defense, she said “Sharing all my experiences with the people who have supported and inspired me throughout my undergrad experience finally made me realize that it totally was–all the extra work was well worth the effort.”

Each Honors Student is unique, so the Portfolio Defense experience will certainly not look the same for any two people. However, finally getting to hear what the experience was really like for students goes a long way in eliminating anxiety and confusion in regards to future defenses. So stay calm, update your portfolio, and remember, the Senior Defenses are an opportunity for you to celebrate you Honors accomplishments with those who have been a part of your undergrad Honors journey.

Advice for First Year Honors Students

The first few months of college are tough. From the second you emerge from your car on move-in day, you get swept up in the “hurricane of college life”, and this wind only gets stronger as the semester goes on. Living with a total stranger, college classes, those crazy people called professors, communal bathrooms, new friends, dining hall food, an unfamiliar city… Making it all the way to winter break in one piece with your spirit still intact may seem impossible right now, but you can do it!

The following is a list college hacks and good ol’ fashioned life advice compiled by our truly inspirational upperclassmen honors students.


Honors students making hats for a service project

  1. Don’t let others tell you who to be, just be who YOU WANT to be.
  2. This is YOUR life and YOUR college career, make it what you want and don’t sweat the small stuff.
  3. Find something in the community of Mankato that allows you to engage in what you love. Maybe it’s volunteering with the old folks or maybe it’s biking along the trails. Either way, you want to make this your home so find something that you can do here that allows it to feel like home.
  4. Always keep an extra pair of dry socks, a hat and gloves in your book bag during the winter months. You’ll thank me later.


    Honors students enjoying the Kiwanis Light Festival

  5. Treat yo self (AKA practice self care). College is stressful and you need to be able to relax and put yourself first. Unless that assignment is due tomorrow, if you’re on the verge of a mental breakdown, take the night off and watch your favorite show with your cat or something.
  6. Prepare your ice breaker responses. Have a go-to response for “two truths and a lie.” You’re gonna get asked those questions a lot.
  7. If you’re renting a textbook and you damage it, turn it back in to the bookstore when they’re really busy. Chances are they’ll be more concerned with moving the line along than arguing whether or not to charge you for the damage.


    Honors students enjoying a night at the theater

  8. Attend Honors events. This is a great way to get to know more Honors students and staff who can then help you get the most out of the program.
  9. Everyone is just as much of a mess as you are. You might think that some of your classmates “have it together,” but they don’t. Fake it till you make it.
  10. Stay organized. Things are just going to get crazier and busier. Find a method of organization that works for you and keep with it. You’ll be a world-class juggler in no time.


    Honors students making friends at the Fall Retreat

  11. Find the single-toilet bathrooms on campus. The peace of mind you’ll have from knowing you can poop in peace somewhere is invaluable.
  12. Trust your gut. If something feels off about a situation, leave the situation. Too many people think that whatever it is will “never happen to them,” but it can and it will if you don’t exercise precautions and make smart decisions.


    Honors students at a Cultures of Asia event

  13. Study abroad. Even if just for a couple of weeks. The price is stupid but worth it. You will learn and grow so much. Just make sure you’re not doing voluntourism.
  14. Take selfies with your friends. Document this time. You’ll be amazed by how quickly time will pass and when you look back at these memories, you’ll see how far you’ve come.
  15. Eat a vegetable. Your body will thank you.


    Honors students becoming grill masters at the Fall Retreat

  16. Find a mom friend or be the mom friend. With great power comes great responsibility.
  17. Professors will change exam dates, friends may cancel, Trafton Hall will confuse you, but living in the moment and asking for help when needed will help you make it through it all.DSC_0955

Hopefully these bits of wisdom will help to make your first year at Minnesota State University, Mankato just a little less painful, stressful, awkward, terrifying, all those things that will prevent you from truly being able to enjoy the start of your college experience!