Liberal Arts Honors Program Graduates Top Students

Last Updated on June 14, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published June 14, 2017

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP Communications

Since 2012, the Liberal Arts Honors Program (LAHP) at The University of Texas at El Paso has prepared some of UTEP’s best undergraduate students with the competitive edge they need to succeed in graduate school or the workplace.

UTEP graduate Mayra Rodarte
UTEP graduate Mayra Rodarte developed "Control Booth," a simulation game for stage management students. Rodarte was a member of the Liberal Arts Honors Project. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP Communications

Students like Mayra Rodarte, who took advantage of the LAHP’s exclusive academic enrichment opportunities to broaden her UTEP experience and graduate with top honors from the University in May 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in stage management.

Three of the UTEP’s 2017 Top Ten Seniors were LAHP members: Rodarte, Andrea Norte and Ilana Gomez.

“What got me interested in the honors program were its high standards,” said Rodarte, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in public administration. “It’s like graduate-level coursework. You write papers, do research and complete an honors project. It’s very challenging and it definitely prepared me for graduate school.”  

To date, 70 students have graduated with a minor in the program. Students complete 18 credit hours of honors-designated courses, including two theory and methodology classes taught by rotating liberal arts faculty. Previous courses include, “The 1960s,” “Feminist Theory and Drama” and “1914: A Year in History.” A class on biomedical ethics will be taught in the fall 2017 semester.

The program also requires students to complete and present an honors thesis or project during their final semester, enabling them to experience a taste of graduate school.

“We have them work with a faculty member and put together a committee so that it mimics graduate-level thesis or dissertation work,” said LAHP Program Director Michael Topp, Ph.D. “We assume that most, if not all, of our students are going to go to graduate school. So they're getting firsthand experience doing undergraduate research as a matter of routine.”

Cue Curtain

The honors project was a perfect opportunity for Rodarte and her mentor Carolyn A. Cubit-Tsutsui, a lecturer in UTEP’s Department of Theatre and Dance, to finish developing “Control Booth,” a simulation game for stage management students to practice executing cues in class before calling cues during a live show.

Rodarte started working on the game her sophomore year as part of UTEP’s Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives, or COURI.

As the stage manager for UTEP’s 2015 stage production of “Trestle at Pope Lick Creek” during her sophomore year, Rodarte was in charge of calling out the action on stage to dim the lights, change the scenery and cue the sound effects of the 7:10 train as it crossed the railroad trestle bridge.

“It was a really abstract play so it wasn't like a formal set,” Rodarte said. “We had one huge bridge on top of the audience. We also had scenes at a pond, a house and a jail. Because we lacked a specific setting, it required more help from the sounds and the lights to create that atmosphere, so there were just more cues for me to call. It was exciting. I got a lot of practice.”

During the performance, Rodarte stood backstage and followed the script in her prompt book, confidently calling out “stand by,” “warning” and “go” cues. She knew that calling a cue for a lighting change or a sound effect too early or too late could compromise the production.

For nearly three years, Rodarte collaborated with students from UTEP’s Academic Technologies to develop the program. She selected scenes from the Thornton Wilder play “Our Town” and chose which cues to insert. Actors from UTEP’s theatre and dance department recorded their voices and emotions using Xbox Kinect. The actors appear as avatars on the screen. A prototype of the game was finished in May.

“The goal was to send a package with the program and copies of the script to other universities for free so their students could use it to practice calling cues,” Rodarte explained. “It’s almost impossible to practice cue calling in the classroom because you don’t have the lights and equipment you need to practice. I think that if I were a student who hadn't done shows before in high school, a game like this would definitely have been helpful.”

New Perspectives

LAHP also encouraged students, like Andrea Norte, to take advantage of study abroad and study away opportunities.

Norte joined the honors program her junior year at UTEP.

In 2016, Norte traveled to Warsaw, Krakow and Auschwitz, Poland as part of a faculty-led program with her mentor Ezra Cappell, Ph.D., director of UTEP’s Inter-American Jewish Studies Program. Upon her return, Norte was inspired to do her honors project on how the Holocaust is represented in literature and media.

“I wanted to create a project that would not only shine light on Holocaust literature but also would teach individuals about the ethics of cultural and historical representation,” said Norte, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature in May 2017. She will pursue a graduate degree in philosophy with a concentration in European studies at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Norte reviewed Holocaust literature by Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi and Berel Lang. She also conducted a small case study to understand the perceptions of the Holocaust in El Paso and Juárez, Mexico.

“We are constantly bombarded by the media and by Hollywood with already preset notions of society and history,” Norte said. “It is the duty of those with the privilege of education to help dismantle any biases or errors found in historical representations, even more so when it comes to heartbreaking tragedies such as the Holocaust.”

Future Potential

Ilana Gomez said the LAHP played a major role in shaping her college experience and preparing her for law school. Not only did the program enable Gomez to supplement her education with honors courses, she also had the opportunity to work with her mentors Caroline Arruda, Ph.D., and Amy Reed-Sandoval, Ph.D., assistant professors in UTEP’s Department of Philosophy, on her honors project.

Arruda influenced Gomez’s project on American philosopher John Rawls’ theory of justice, which Gomez presented at the LAHP symposium a week before she graduated from UTEP in May.

“The LAHP is going to help me in multiple ways in my professional endeavors,” said Gomez, who received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. “I know how to approach a large project like a senior thesis – which requires responsibility, effective time management, and more importantly, perseverance.”

To learn more about the LAHP, click here.