3/1/10

Honors Program Marks 50 Years

Three generations of Moravian Honors: Ben Sofka '10 discusses the results of his project on granular materials with physics professors Kelly Krieble (his advisor) and Joe Powlette. Photo by John Kish IV.

"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."


"I was ready to stop, but Jack Ridge told me, 'no, keep working on it,'" recalls Professor Powlette.


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 and Earth Science.

Honors candidates presented posters in the HUB on Feb. 25. Top: Jessica Andersen '10, "Be this, not that: The Battle for Frenchness" (French). Above: Patrick C. Rosendale '10, "The Irish Brigade: a look at the concept of Irishness during the American Civil War" (history). Posters were created by Moravian College art students. Photos: Ed Flaherty '12.

Enabling the Best Work
That kind of close personal relationship between faculty members and their advisees characterizes the Moravian Honors Program, says Martha Reid, professor of English and chair of the program. 

"Students work independently, but the faculty member gives them the guidance, challenge, and hands-on relating that a bigger university cannot provide. We identify and deal with any problems while there is still time to make a difference. We enable the students to do their best work—and most of them do. It's so exciting when that happens."

Eighteen seniors are participating in the Honors program this year, and many of them presented posters of their projects in the Paty Eiffe Gallery of the HUB on Thursday. (Click here for 2009-10 Honors candidates.)

"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.

Celebration Planned for April 10
On April 10, Honors program alumni will return to Moravian College to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the program. Judith Share Yaphe '66, distinguished research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies and Honors graduate in history, will present the keynote address. 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 in Middle East history from the University of Illinois, then became one of the CIA's top political analysts.

A dinner in Peter Hall will be followed by a wind ensemble performance in Foy Hall. Honors alumni who would like more information about the event may contact Sylvia Doyle, director of corporate and donor relations, at 610 861-1371 or email mesmd01@moravian.edu.