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Badges of honor
by Greg Russell

Badges of honorThe U of M's Helen Hardin Honors Program attracts the best and brightest students.

One of the top goals and a recent shining point at the University of Memphis is to increase the number of honors students at the University.

“Every major research university needs the best and brightest students, and that is who we are recruiting,” says University President Shirley Raines. “We know that universities with outstanding reputations have approximately 10 percent of their students in Honors Programs, which is our goal by our 100th anniversary in 2012.”

The number of honors students has risen since it became a major push early in Dr. Raines’ tenure. This past fall, the number of entering freshmen enrolled in the program was 350. Overall class enrollment of honors students is just over 1,400, putting the U of M near the 10 percent mark.

The criteria in the program are intense: incoming freshmen must graduate from high school with a minimum 3.5 grade point average and score at least a 27 on the ACT or 1,200 on the SAT.

The program received a major boost this past fall. Mrs. Helen Hardin, who passed away in November, gave a gift of $2 million to enhance the program. Because of her generous donation, the program is now the Helen Hardin Honors Program. (See page 3 for a related story on Ms. Hardin and how her gift impacts the U of M.)

So who are the students in the Helen Hardin Honors Program? They are the best, the brightest and the most motivated. Here are a few:

Mikah Meyer

Mikah MeyerIf you haven’t heard Mikah Meyer sing, you may be in for both a shock and a treat. The senior in the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music is a countertenor, meaning he has the skill to sing higher than a tenor and in a range that would be more associated with a woman’s voice.

What makes Meyer so special is his ability to sing at a level that puts him in the category with the top up-and-coming countertenors in the world. He recently was accepted into London’s Royal Academy of Music, which, he says, is “the mecca of countertenor study.”

“It is a very unique voice type,” says Meyer. “I had never heard of the term countertenor until I was in high school. Many of my friends — even music peers — haven’t heard of the term because it is such a rare voice type.”

With about 700 students enrolled, the Academy selects only the world’s most promising voice students: only one in eight applicants gains enrollment.

Meyer, who was awarded a $24,000 Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship last fall, one day hopes to sing in the award-winning a cappella ensemble Chanticleer.

The senior says the Honors Program at the U of M helped him immensely.

“The program gives you individualized attention,” he says. “It is a program that expects you to have higher academic standards. When you go to the professors in the program and say you want to do more or want to do better, they are there for you and will help you attain your goals on an individual level.”

Visit for more information on Meyer, and got to for a video of him singing.

Valerie Huery

Valerie HueryValerie Huery majors in biomedical engineering in the Herff College of Engineering with a concentration in biomechanics. That puts her in the field of orthopedics and in the middle of technology for knee, hip and other types of joint replacements. But she also has a lot to do with “heart.”

This Honors Program student volunteers at the Hope House in Memphis, a non-profit that works to improve the quality of life of HIV-impacted children and their families.

“These are a mix of kids from infancy up to 5-year-olds,” says Huery, who helps coordinate fundraising activities for the center. “These kids may be shunned from their families and from the world. I see it as the responsibility of others to makes these kids’ quality of life better. I try to show these kids unconditional love and show them that people do care about them.”

Huery also volunteers at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, where she works in an after-school tutorial program for students. She says the area typically has lower performing students and is situated in a high-crime area of Memphis.

“We bring them in and give them diagnostic tests in reading and math and try to help them run those test scores up.”

Of the Honors Program, the senior says, “It has afforded me so many opportunities that hardly a day goes by that I don’t get an e-mail from someone in the program letting me know about internships, social events, study abroad programs and just all types of opportunities to enhance my education.

“I would tell any student interested in the program that it will help them grow in more ways than they could ever imagine.”

To see a video of why Valerie chose the U of M, visit and scroll down to “Valerie.”

Shannon Hayes

Shannon HayesShannon Hayes doesn’t have her sights set on mathematics, but one might need a calculator anyway to add up her majors. Hayes has majors in international studies, political science and foreign languages with concentrations in German, Spanish and Portuguese. She even has a minor in history.

“I got a full scholarship from the University so I believed I should take full advantage of that,” she says.

Hayes, who plans to attend law school, currently is on an internship with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington, D.C.

She says becoming an ambassador in a U.S. Embassy is a goal.

“That would be an amazing opportunity. With all my fields of expertise, I believe it would be right up my alley.”

Hayes, from Bartlett, says the Honors Program has been a godsend.

“The Honors Program is a unique option for students to get that private education that a lot of people are seeking without being at a private college. I think the quality that the Honors Program brings to students is unmatched and comparable to other programs you would have to pay much more for.”

One part of the Honors Program helped her realize a life-long dream. Since middle school, she has wanted to visit Peru and Machu Picchu.

“The Honors Program takes spring-break tours of different countries. We went to Peru where we had a tour guide who had been on the Travel Channel — he took us not to just the bigger sites, but to some of the smaller places I would not have gone to like Pisac, what used to be an Indian community up in the mountains. It was breathtaking. We also went to Machu Picchu, which was amazing. It was the realization of a dream I have had for a decade.”

Kofi Martin

Kofi MartinAs a young boy, Kofi Martin (BM ’08) became interested in the clarinet after hearing a rendition of Peter and the Wolf.

“When I looked up the performer’s name, Prokofiev, and saw my name, Kofi, in the middle, I knew the clarinet was for me,” says Martin, a December graduate who now lives in Teusaquillo, Colombia, where he is enrolled in a “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” course.

As an alumnus of the Honors Program, Martin says it is easy to look back at all of its benefits.

“The Honors Program definitely makes sure students are aware of all of the opportunities within and outside of the U of M to further cultivate their experience as students in this life-long pursuit of learning.”

Because of the Honors Program, Martin was able to intern with the National Endowment for the Arts through the Washington Center.

“Through recommendations of that experience, I later interned in New York City with the Arts and Business Council of New York and with WNYC Public Radio. The internships were absolutely life changing and completely refocused and clarified my career objectives.

“I highly recommend the Honors Program because its mission is exactly the kind of educational opportunities that everyone should be afforded. It requires students to take control of their learning. There are no limits and there are no boundaries. The Honors Program makes sure that students realize that they steer their own future. The program serves as an arena for the minds that dream, think and do.”

Kyle Cheney

Kyle CheneyAt many universities, only graduate students are afforded the opportunity to do in-depth research. Not so at the U of M, especially in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Undergraduate Kyle Cheney has become an important part of a research project that sounds more sci-fi than real: he uses animated agents (talking heads) on a computer screen to optimize learning in Memphis-area middle and high schools.

Cheney says researchers enter a classroom, discuss a particular course’s content with the students and then have the class watch a 13- to 20-minute video, which consists of two talking heads: a teacher and student who are discussing the course material.

“Within the video are deep-level reasoning questions which are intended to make a student want to know how and why something works. We want them to know more about a subject rather than just be able to fill in the blanks on a test.”

The researchers do pretests and posttests to gauge how much the video improved learning.

Cheney, who volunteers with the Memphis Crisis Center’s suicide hotline, says he is “intrigued” by how the mind works. He said he has found the U of M the perfect place to get hands-on experience.

“I don’t think I would have this opportunity anywhere else. You work closely with the professors who are doing the research and they can explain from a real world point of view the ‘whys’ of the research.”

Visit to find out more about the Honors Program.


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