Kelli Jayn Nichols
Academic Services Director
Bioengineering departmental honors was shaped by the students who helped redesign our undergraduate curriculum. We wanted to offer something that would be a distinctive experience for our honors students. It couldn’t be research, because all BIOE majors are required to complete a substantial research project and thesis, and additional coursework didn’t make sense in a high-credit major, especially for students completing interdisciplinary honors. Our students proposed a solution: they asked to do a service project, which quickly morphed into a leadership seminar and project to align with our educational objectives.
In the seminar, which takes place fall quarter of senior year, we debunk some leadership myths, expand the idea of leadership strengths, identify personal strengths, and consider how those strengths combine effectively or ineffectively in groups. Students simultaneously form project groups, proposing projects to their peers and giving and receiving peer critiques. Project groups have until the end of spring quarter to complete their honors project, after which they post an evaluation to the class website. The evaluation asks them to consider how the leadership strengths and weaknesses of their group affected the project’s success. Students also submit personal reflections that place the departmental honors experience within their overall education.
Honors students have free rein to create projects that interest them, but to date most projects involve service or outreach to bioengineering, engineering, or prospective engineering students. Here are two current projects.
B.S. in Bioengineering, 2013
Bioengineering has not only been my department but become my home during my time at the University of Washington. I have been able to work with amazing and extremely caring professors and advisors and made friendships and connections with peers that I hope will last a lifetime. As a culmination of this journey, I took the Bioengineering Departmental Honors seminar with my classmates during the fall. The seminar kicked off with a fabulous dinner and discussion at one of our professor’s houses. There, we began focusing on intangibles that are just as important to our success as the engineering and lab skills we learn through our curriculum. Informed by the book Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, we worked to get an idea of how each of us leads best.
We are now in the process of applying these traits to team leadership projects. My team hopes to help new bioengineering students find the best research fit within our broad department. BIOE requires research as part of our senior capstone project, so finding a good match is crucial to our education and career aspirations. We are creating a new advising tool that describes in detail the types of projects available in each faculty lab, the science and skills that can be learned there, and the culture of the lab. This information goes beyond what lab websites typically provide and should help students find the best match.
Success in this project so far has been directly influenced by a strong sense of community, which enables easy communication and delegation, and by a new awareness of what each of us does best in a group, which we learned or refined during the Honors seminar. In seminar we discussed the leading from strengths as a means to best achieve success, and it is fascinating to see this approach work in a real project. It is a lesson I will definitely apply when I am working with and managing people in my future job.
B.S. in Bioengineering, 2013
Everyone in my honors project group is motivated by the same goal: to better integrate international students within the bioengineering department. Community is one of the highlights of our department, and if our international students can join in fully, it will maximize the experience for international and domestic students alike. As a domestic student, I never realized how hard it was for my fellow international classmates, including my group members, to find research scholarships and support services until my group started researching available scholarship opportunities, support services, and student organizations for international students. In an effort to make finding the above information easier, my group hosted a special discussion section to share our experiences and findings. We are also creating a written version of this information to add to our BIOE advising website so that information is in a more localized space. We found senior mentors for those students who wanted them and answered questions about finding research and establishing good relationships with faculty. Finally, we are working with the leadership of BMES, our student organization, to be more aware of our international students and more purposeful about involving them in student run social and academic activities.
The group has a common goal, yet our personalities are not one and the same. Each of us likes to lead and to be led in different, even opposite styles. Prior to the honors seminar, I had never really considered that a group dynamic I find discouraging could be someone else’s ideal group situation. This attention to different working styles of group members has actually allowed us to create a more cohesive team. I personally like quite a bit of independence, even in group projects, and I don’t need or even like a lot of verbal approval and assurance. But I now find myself more willing to provide verbal assurance for group members who want it, and I am less irritated when I receive it. What the honors seminar has done for me is not change my own preferences, but rather make me a better, more flexible group member by teaching me to see and take into account other people's preferences.