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Honors Program at Moravian College is Golden

Research partnership between students and their faculty mentors celebrates fifty years

Bethlehem, Pa., March 24, 2010— On April 10, Honors program alumni will return to Moravian College to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the program. Conceived at a time when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, seven Moravian students completed the Honors Program in 1960, earning the College’s first Honors designation upon graduation that year. Since its inception, more than 750 Moravian students have earned Honors designations. Moravian Honors graduates have gone on to distinguish themselves in a variety of fields, including the physical sciences, social sciences, and the arts.

To celebrate its golden anniversary, Judith Share Yaphe '66, distinguished research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies and Honors graduate in history, will present a keynote address during a dinner in Peter Hall, followed by a wind ensemble performance in Foy Hall.  After completing her Honors project, "The Politics of Vacillation: American Policy toward Palestine" advised by Dan Gilbert, professor emeritus of history, Dr. Yaphe obtained her Ph.D. in Middle East history from the University of Illinois, then became one of the CIA's top political analysts.

Through the years, the Honors program was refined but the basic model—two semesters of research that results in a paper, followed by an oral exam—has remained unchanged. "Students work independently, but the faculty member gives them the guidance, challenge, and hands-on relating that a bigger university cannot provide,” said Martha Reid, professor of English and program chair. “We enable students to do their best work—and most of them do. It's so exciting when that happens.”

"No one knew what to make of it" that first year, recalls Joe Powlette, professor of physics  and one of seven Moravian graduates to earn the College's first Honors designation in 1960. Launched in 1959-60 by a committee chaired by classics professor George Tyler, the Moravian Honors Program sought to challenge advanced students and help prepare them for graduate school.

"My advisor, physics professor Jack Ridge, asked if I wanted to participate. I went to the library stacks and read something about thermoelectricity by Abram Ioffe, the Russian physicist, and really liked it." Intrigued by the idea of studying thermocouples, Joe Powlette began experimenting in Memorial Hall's small physics lab (pre-Collier Hall of Science). But the results were not what he'd expected. "I was ready to stop, but Jack Ridge told me, 'no, keep working on it.'”

One evening, as the two sat at a table in Ridge’s home—puzzling over the problem with pencil and paper—Professor Ridge worked out an equation that explained the phenomenon. “Jack was so brilliant in thermodynamics, he was able to figure it out," recalls Professor Powlette. "He was a tremendous teacher and a talented theoretician. ... I came to teach at Moravian, basically, because of him."

As a professor of physics, Joe Powlette went on to advise thirteen Honors students of his own, including Kelly Krieble '86, who also returned to Moravian to teach physics and advise the next generation of Honors grads. Two current Honors candidates, Matthew R. Bross '10 ("Surface Profile Visualization of the Radial Hydraulic Jump") and Benjamin J. Sofka '10 ("A Study of Vibrated Granular Materials"), are advised by Professor Krieble, who now serves as chair of the Department of Physics.

Eighteen seniors are participating in the Honors program this year. "The Honors program already has benefited me in many ways," says Leslie Pope '10, a marketing major who hopes to enter graduate school this fall. "Regardless of what I do after graduation, the experience—conducting research, putting together a presentation, meeting deadlines, learning to communicate effectively—will give me a competitive advantage over my peers."  Pope is advised by Gary Kaskowitz, associate professor of economics and business.

Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America's sixth-oldest college. For more information call (610) 861-1491 or visit the web site at www.moravian.edu.