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!



Meet the New Honors Staff

This year we’re welcoming three new members to the Honors Office Team. If you haven’t had a chance to meet them in-person yet, here’s a little bit about them!

Samantha Campa


I am the Honors GA and a student in the Masters of Experiential Education program. I recently moved to Mankato from Omaha, NE where I ran the tutoring center at a community college. My passions include peer-supported learning and professional skill development in college. In my free time, I enjoy hiking, gardening, and eating ethnic foods of all kinds!

Linh Hoang

Linh Headshot

Hi! I work as the Student Experiences Coordinator which means that I help create events and communicate opportunities to help all Honors students find meaningful experiences while in the Honors program. You can usually find me at the front desk, and I’m probably more nervous about meeting you, so don’t be afraid to stop in and say hi! I’m always open to new ideas, so I encourage you to contact me if you have any new ideas for Honors events.

Also, I’m a Psychology major, so if anyone wants to stop in and talk about Pavlov, schemas, or any other dorky psychology stuff, I would love to geek out with you! During my free time, I enjoy long walks to the fridge and spending way too much time on Netflix.

Josie Braaten

Josie Braaten

Hi there! I am the Honors Social Media Relations Coordinator and Co-Editor of the program newsletter, the Beacon. I am a junior this year (wow, that’s slightly terrifying to think about), and my major is creative writing with a minor in theatre. Along with being involved in the Honors Program, I am also on the Cross Country and Track teams here at MNSU.

In all the spare time that I don’t have, I love to read, cook, hike, impulse online shop, and do pretty much anything outside. Even though it’s only going to get crazier, I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year brings!

Next time you are passing through Morris Hall, feel free to swing by the Lounge (MH 265) and say hello!



Overcoming Challenges in Travels

by Claire Palo (Creative Writing, ’17)

While studying abroad in Northern Ireland, at Queen’s University Belfast, I took the opportunity to travel to Portugal and Spain. During the seventh week of autumn semester, Queen’s University has a weeklong break called Reading Week. I knew that I wanted to do something fun during my break, so I decided to travel across Europe with my friend, Trianne. Traveling Portugal and Spain with Trianne was one of the best experiences of my life. We saw eight cities in eleven days, and we were constantly moving. By the end of the trip we were exhausted.

In Dublin, I toured a vast library and looked at the Book of Kells. In Porto, I visited a bookstore called Livraria Lello, which is where J. K. Rowling got her inspiration for the Hogwarts library. I also tried the national dish of Portugal—a mixture of sea food over potatoes in a huge pot. It was so delicious. In Lisbon, I shopped at a flea market, visited the Sao Jorge Castle overlooking the Tejo River, and got lost in the winding streets of the Alfama district. In Sintra, I walked through a garden and climbed a hill to Quinta da Regaleira, an enormous gothic estate that we couldn’t figure how to exit. In Lagos, I saw wild dolphins on a tiny boat in the Atlantic Ocean and walked along the cliffs overlooking the ocean and the sunset. In Seville, I took pictures of a million fountains and I got nervous trying to catch a train and no one spoke English. In Granada, my breath was taken away in the Alhambra, which is an Arabic fortress in the mountains. In Madrid, I walked through a stunning garden with statues and ponds full of fish. Of all the places I visited, Granada was my favorite. There was something magical about that place. A city built in the mountains the air seemed to always be foggy and mystical. I wanted to stay there forever and breathe in the history.


The Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Not only did I have the opportunity to explore the beautiful cities of Portugal and Spain, but I became closer with Trianne. I did not know her very well before we left for our trip as we had only met in Belfast. Through the course of the travels we grew to be really good friends. As we were the only two on our trip, we talked constantly and began to figure out each other. We talked about family, politics, boyfriends, and religion, and we dove deep into each other’s personalities. By the end of the trip, Trianne was a different person to me, someone that I felt like I knew on a personal level, someone I liked for who she was.


Looking for dolphins in Lagos, Portugal

Being college students, Trianne and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, and so we decided to stay in hostels for our entire trip. Neither Trianne nor I had ever stayed in a hostel before, and we didn’t know what to expect. I did extensive research before we set off to make sure that we were making the right decision. When we arrived at the hostels, I was surprised: they were really nice! Of course, some were better than others. Starting off the trip, I thought that I would prefer being in smaller rooms, but in reality I liked being a room with more people. It allowed me the opportunity to get to know more people. In some hostels there was an option for an exclusively female room, which I would recommend to any girls who are traveling alone, but since Trianne and I were together, it didn’t matter if we were in an all-female room or a mixed one: they both felt very safe. My tip for students wanting to stay in hostels while traveling is to do a lot of research before booking a hostel. There are good booking sites—such as hostelbookers.com— which have reviews of the hostels that includes ranking on cleanliness and safety. Always make sure that the hostel provides a locker, so that baggage can be locked up. 24-hour reception is also really nice, so that someone is always there. We had some problems in our hostels with hot water, but that was where our troubles ended. The hostels were clean and had mostly recent grad or college students who were traveling Europe.


Garden in Madrid, Spain

One of the most difficult aspects of traveling was the transit. We took planes, buses, and trains, and there was also a lot of walking! Right when Trianne and I thought we had figured out how something worked, we were proved wrong. It was even harder when no one spoke English and our tickets were in Portuguese or Spanish. Somehow we always arrived at our destination. I’m still not sure how we managed it. There were a couple of times I wasn’t sure we were going to get on the right train or get off at the right stop. I learned for the experience, I didn’t have to be scared to ask for help, even if I didn’t speak the language. The staff was always helpful and either told of pointed me in the right direction.

When I hit my low point in the trip, I was able to talk to Trianne about it because she felt the same way. I remember we were having lunch in Lisbon, and neither one of us was saying much. I was feeling very weird about the whole trip. Already tired, I couldn’t imagine traveling for eight more days. When Trianne and I finally talked about it, we laughed as we admitted what we were both thinking: What have we done! We had hit the hard part of traveling: the part when we wanted to go back to Belfast. We pushed through it because we had each other to lean on and by our last day in Madrid, we didn’t want to leave. We wanted to travel Europe forever!


Livaria Lello in Porto, Portugal

Trianne and I were so tired by the end of our trip, because we had been going nonstop since the beginning. We went to so many different cities in such a short amount of time that we hardly had time to explore the city we were in before we moved on to the next one. It was a great way to see a lot of things, and experience the different events of many cities, but I needed a vacation after our vacation! My advice for students who want to travel Europe is to allocate more time for each city; that way the is a chance to fully explore the city and not be worn down by traveling.


Castle in Sintra, Portugal

I would advise students who want to travel to just do it. Trianne had never been to Europe before studying abroad and I had only ever been with my family. I was a little scared before the trip, but I decided to do it and pretend I wasn’t nervous.  I am so glad that I didn’t let my trepidation stop me from having a great experience. Not only did I have to opportunity to see and experience the culture of Portugal and Spain, but I made a life-long friend and gained confidence in myself. After traveling in Portugal and Spain, I feel like I can do anything!

Australian Adventures

By Courtney Sill (Health Science, ’18) and Kellie Wong (Biochemistry, ’18)

G’day Mates!

This summer, we had the privilege to travel with the International Student Volunteers (ISV) Program to Australia for an entire month. Volunteering abroad with ISV gave us the chance to no longer be “just tourists,” but rather have the chance to go much deeper as we explored a new environment and culture. The ISV organization has been nationally recognized with several awards that value its impact on hosting countries, volunteer project designs, variety of adventure tours, and ease of planning.  Additionally, ISV provided us with the chance to earn academic credit with more opportunities for a worthwhile learning experience. ISV has certainly earned it’s place by being named as one of the “Top Ten Volunteer Organizations,” so named by the US Center for Citizens Diplomacy. One of the greatest assets to the ISV program itself is the various countries from which to choose when planning a volunteer trip. The six countries available to visit include Australia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, New Zealand, South Africa, and Thailand. Each country has as many as five different volunteer project groups, and each project lasting two weeks long. ISV projects focus on community development, wildlife, and conservation. The program provides any students a chance to earn at least 80 hours of volunteer service within their project.


Volunteers at Waterfall Springs, the wallaby sanctuary

We chose to do a conservation project in Australia where we worked on a Wallaby Sanctuary near Sydney to improve the appearance of its facility. Some of our tasks included laying mulch in flower beds, removing logs and dead branches from the wallaby enclosures, and reinforcing the perimeter fence. We also got to interact with some wallabies and kangaroos when we refilled their food stations! During the two weeks on the project, we worked with eight student volunteers along with our project leader, Steph.  As volunteers, we got the chance to stay at the project location where living quarters and food were provided within the program’s initial fees. While the project may sound like there is a lot of physical work, ISV ensures that people of all levels of fitness will be capable of contributing. The project also includes plenty of down time for volunteers to relax, spend bonding time together as a group, and enjoy the some extra fun activities planned by the project leader.


Kellie with kangaroo friend, Fred

We also had the chance to head out on an extra two week adventure tour traveling down the east coast of Australia. During these two weeks, we experienced the fun, adrenaline-filled activities that Australia has to offer. We went snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, white water rafting down the Tully River, surfing, and everything in between. So it’s safe to say that we got the full Australian experience in the month that we got to spend in the land down under.


Courtney at the Sydney Opera House

While we both agree that the trip was a lot of fun, we both faced individual hardships along the way. Upon arriving, we found the time change and unfamiliar settings had taken some time to get used to. We didn’t know anyone other than each other and we didn’t know what to expect for the next couple of weeks. As time went on we began to open up a bit more and became adjusted to the more relaxed Aussie lifestyle. However, we still fought the challenge of communicating effectively in our group settings. Each of the other volunteers had a very different set of beliefs, language usage, and leadership techniques. Due to these differences it forced us to learn more about each other in order to best suit one another’s needs. This resulted in better team collaboration and even new friendships. We got to learn a new way of life and found that our own lives changed because of this experience. We began to notice aspects or factors related to our own culture that we never had before. If you are like us, you will find similarities and differences between them but appreciate them just the same. You may even adopt a new custom or trait that you grew found of during the experience. The ISV program has taught us to grow more in Leadership, Research, and Global Citizenship, and we believe that this is how traveling is meant to be done.


“Before I left for my trip, all I thought about was trying to complete my global citizenship competency, but now looking back on the trip I realized I’ve learned so much more than I ever thought. I have indeed learned the traits of what it takes to be a global citizen, but I’ve also learned that global citizenship cannot be accomplished without leadership. It takes leaders and teams to make a difference, something that was very evident during our time on the project. Being a global citizen means being able to not only accept other cultures but also immerse oneself in that foreign culture. Getting the opportunity to stay in Australia for a whole month allowed me to grow accustomed to the Australian culture and hence feel less like a tourist. This trip also opened my eyes to how much of an impact we can have on this world. As global citizens, it is our job to protect and maintain the ecosystems of the world in order to provide a bright future for the generations to come. Coming back from this trip has made me more aware of other cultures and how truly fantastic it is that our world is so diverse. With this being said, I can’t wait to continue exploring these different cultures, and hopefully partnering again with ISV.”
-Kellie Wong

“All in all, I’ve realized how important research is for nearly every aspect of our lives. As a Health Science major, I’ve especially become fond of researching our diets, foods, and the companies in control of the food industry. I know now that I’ll be doing a lot of my own digging as I read nutrition labels in grocery stores and discover the quality of food products I purchase. After learning about the negative and positive effects on our environment from different manufacturing techniques I know now that my purchase is more than dinner on the table, but a decision that effects many other people. Not only will my purchasing decisions directly affect my health, but also many other communities, jobs, and resources around the globe.”
-Courtney Sill

New Honors Office Staff

A few new faces can be seen in the Honors Office this semester. Read about the new honors student workers in the Office.


Hunter Herber, ’20 (Biomedical Sciences; Lewiston, Minn.)

Hi everyone! My name is Hunter Herber and I’m one of the new student workers in the Honors Office. I’m planning to major in biomedical sciences and minor in Spanish. My goal is to someday go to med school and work at Mayo Clinic. Some of my hobbies include spending time with friends and family, running, finding and listening to new music, and going to movies. At the office, I typically run errands and do a variety of different projects for Ginny, Sadie, and Dr. Dahlman. Please stop in and say hi! I’m looking forward to meeting as many of you as possible.



Sarah Aldrich, ’18 (Spanish Education; Jordan, Minn.)

Hello!  My name is Sarah Aldrich, and I am the Student Activities Director in the Honors Program.  You might see me when you drop by the lounge, so feel free to say hi and ask me a question if you have one!  This year I will work with students and staff alike to host fun events like theatre nights, culture nights, and informational sessions regarding leadership, global citizenship, and research.  Come to these events to get the most out of your honors experience.  Keep a look out for them on the Facebook page, events calendar on the Honors website, and in the weekly newsletter.  I would love to hear your ideas for new events, so don’t hesitate to start brainstorming! I am a junior majoring in Spanish education and minoring in Teaching English as a Second Language.  My hobbies include eating Sour Patch Kids, making bad puns, reading, and baking!

From Our Community to Yours

This year several of our students will be Learning Community Coordinators for some of Minnesota State University, Mankato’s many learning communities. Read what some of them have to say about this opportunity.

Okhumhekho Kassim, ’17

20151218_134611_HDR-2%5b1%5dMy name is Okhumhekho Kassim. I usually go by Kassim, Okhus, or Ify. I am currently a senior at Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSU), studying Bio-Medical Science and Chemistry with an emphasis in Pre-Medicine. I am from Benin City, Nigeria.  I like to engage in extracurricular activities, and I partake as a member of several Recognized Student Organizations (RSO) and societies such as the Pre-Med club, Minority Association for Pre-health Students (MAPS), Beta Beta Beta biological honor society, African Student Association (ASA). I have led few leadership positions in some of the organizations. I also love to dance, cook, bike, hike, fish, play sports, and indoor games.

During the 2016/2017 academic year, I will be the Learning Community Coordinator (LCC) for Pre-Professional students. I look forward to meeting and embracing the inspired Pre-Professional students to the Learning Community. My aim for the Pre-professional Learning Community is to assist the students with their academic and career goals as well as helping them balance academics with extracurricular activities. I aim to assist the students with any academic difficulty they may have and encourage them to utilize the university’s resources for their benefits. I will apply and share previous experiences I have gained at MSU while being the LCC. I also aim to build a strong community of motivated students who share similar goals. I believe having a great foundation during the first year enhances a student’s academic success.

Ana Leyva, ’19

12312471_1220972987929309_552152538_nMy name is Ana Leyva and I’m a sophomore Music Education student with a minor in Theater here at MSU. It is rather hard to say where I’m originally from, since I was born and raised in Mexicali, Mexico. However, I also lived a big part of my life in Calexico, California until my senior year of high school, when my family and I moved to a Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. So far, my life really has been a rollercoaster due to all the changes I’ve been through in such a short amount of time. Yet, I’ve had so many meaningful experiences along the way, including my first year experience at MSU. This academic year, I will be the Learning Community Coordinator for the Exploring Education Learning Community which focuses on students becoming secondary education teachers. This fills me up with excitement as I will be meeting new people with the same passion for education as I have. Likewise, I’ll be given the opportunity to lead them throughout their process of transition into college and, hopefully, make it as memorable and enjoyable as mine.

Liesel Theusch, ’19

My name is Liesel Theusch, and I am a sophomore Math Education major in the Honors program. In my first year as a college and Honors student, I was very involved in the music ensembles on-campus and officiating intramural sports. I think it is safe to say I found my niche and loved every minute of my first year at MSU!

This coming academic year I will be acting as the Intro to Science, Engineering, and Technology Learning Community Coordinator (LCC), and I can’t wait to get started! After living in the Honors learning community during my first year, I want to share the sense of family with other learning community members that I experienced. I highly anticipate this experience because of the impact I am able to have on other students in their social and academic pursuits. The opportunity to influence others’ experiences is one of the foremost reasons I plan to become a teacher and I think these two roles will be very closely related. Acting as an LCC will teach me skills to further my aptitude in my future career as an educator as well as the Honors competencies in a fun way.

Spencer Sulflow, ’18

Spencer SulflowMy name is Spencer Sulflow, and I am an Exercise Science Major with a Pre-Physical Therapy emphasis. I grew up in Montevideo, Minnesota, and enjoy running, disc golfing and photography. Additionally I am involved in the Honors Program, Cru, Pre-Physical Therapy/Occupational Therapy Club and Encounter. I will be coordinating the Sophomore/Junior Learning Community this year. Having been in both the Freshman and Sophomore Honors Learning Communities the last two years, I have benefited in so many ways both academically and socially. I am excited to help pass this on to new honors students through my role as an LCC. As a learning community member I learned how important a positive community can be in college, especially being involved in one right from the start. This not only helped me stay focus on academics, but also gave me other opportunities to get involved.