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 like, so 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.