In her senior thesis four years ago, Bellarmine Honors student Molly Phelps analyzed themes of gender and spiritual possession in The Tale of Genji, an obscure medieval novel written by a Japanese lady-in-waiting. Then, like many other
Honors Program students, she submitted the thesis to ScholarWorks, a digital collection that preserves intellectual research and lets the public download it.
And download it the public did—more than 6,700 times as of March 2022.
“My mind is blown thinking about it,” said Dr. Jon Blandford, an associate professor of English who was Phelps’ thesis advisor and
is in his sixth year as director of Bellarmine’s Honors Program. “Our students are contributing to knowledge out there in the world with their undergraduate projects here at Bellarmine. That's something I'm super proud of.”
“They go above and beyond to learn as much as possible, simply for the sake of learning.”
For the 2022-23 academic year, 13.4 percent of Bellarmine’s undergraduate students are enrolled in the Honors Program, more than double the national average of 6 percent.
Honors students take specialized versions of core curriculum classes that are limited to 15 students each and focus more on discussion than lecture. They are required to take a minimum of five Honors courses but are encouraged to take more. The
capstone of the program is the senior thesis.
Because Honors students represent more than 40 majors—computer engineering, biology, environmental science and business administration among them—their research covers a wide spectrum. It’s also often more advanced than one might
expect at the undergraduate level.
St. Louis senior Lauren Henry, for example, is focusing on finding a genetic marker for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), an understudied and hard-to-diagnose women’s health issue that can have severe effects including infertility.
“The possibility of finding a genetic marker for such an enigmatic and insidious health condition has the potential to be groundbreaking from a research standpoint, and clinically relevant for so many women,” said Dr. Carrie Doyle,
assistant professor of Biology and Henry’s faculty advisor.
Other Honors students this year are exploring the effect of warming ocean temperatures on a bellwether species; the psychological and physical effects on children of a physical activity program during in-patient cancer treatment; online communities
for adults with ADHD; the effect of copyright law on modern jazz musicians; and how drinking more non-fluoridated bottled water affects dental health, among other topics.
“These are projects that are driven by the students’ own passions, their own interests,” Blandford said. “They are going to transform these students into the types of people they want to be next.
“To me, that's the starting point of thinking through what would be a good project for one of these students: Who do you want to be next? Where do you want to be next? Is it a graduate school, a professional school? Is it being a creative
artist of some sort? And what kind of project can we create to launch you into that future?”
A recent gift from two alumni is providing more rocket fuel for the journey.
The Schmidt Honors Program Fund
Joseph ’68 and Angela ’69 (Petchara) Schmidt (pictured at right) met at what was then Bellarmine-Ursuline thanks to a scholarship that brought Angela Schmidt to Louisville from her native Thailand.
“Growing up on opposite sides of the globe, we were both determined to achieve a quality higher education as the key to our futures,” the couple wrote in an email. “With our Bellarmine education as a solid foundation, leading
to law and MBA degrees from Columbia University in New York, we have achieved much success and 50-plus years of happiness together. Now, we fervently wish to help create similar educational opportunities for others.”
The Schmidt Honors Program Fund, which the couple established last year, helps students with costs associated with completing their research and traveling to conferences to present it. They had previously established the Angela Petchara and Joseph
W. Schmidt Exchange-Student Fund, an exchange program between Bellarmine and Thammasat University in Bangkok. This fund allows Bellarmine students to travel to Thailand for a semester of life-changing educational and cultural experiences and
students from Thailand to travel to the United States to study at Bellarmine.
Nearly 30 Honors students have received money from the Schmidt Honors Program Fund so far, Blandford said.
Lauren Henry used her award to purchase the lab equipment necessary to collect data for her PCOS project. “Genetic analysis requires a lot of lab work to isolate and amplify the DNA samples,” she said. “Special kits are needed,
which were all provided thanks to this fund.”
“Knowing that my research and hard work will eventually reach outside of the Bellarmine community has been a driving factor in my putting the best effort into every minute I spend on my project.”
Anne Pearson, a Louisville senior, was able to purchase books that she needed for her thesis, in which she explores the relevance today of Thomas Merton's solutions for racial inequality. “Part of my goal with this project was to parallel
Merton's solutions with more recent authors who have written on the same issues in the 21st century,” she said. “However, because many of these books have captured the popular imagination over the last few years, I wasn’t
able to find them within my price range.”
And Aditya Singh, a senior from Alpharetta, Ga., used his award to travel to Birmingham, Ala., to present his research on how cultural differences transform Western films remade in Bollywood at the Southern Regional Honors Council conference.
“Knowing that my research and hard work will eventually reach eyes and ears outside of the Bellarmine community in such a concrete way has been a driving factor in my putting the best effort into every minute I spend on my project,”
In addition to presenting their work before an external audience at conferences, Honors students can “network with really smart folks from all over the region,” Blandford said. “Their world gets a little bigger, and they get
to make some connections. I think that is a valuable part of their journey.”
Going above and beyond
In addition to research, the Honors Program provides small, discussion-based interdisciplinary seminars, experiential learning opportunities and short-term study-abroad courses in places such as Peru, Belize, London and Rome—where students
gave an Honors Program T-shirt to Pope Francis five years ago. (We hear he wears it every day.)
For each incoming Honors class, Bellarmine gives five full-ride Bellarmine Scholars Awards and five full-tuition Bellarmine Fellows Awards. Recipients are chosen during a weekend competition involving a faculty interview, an essay and a roundtable
discussion. In 2020, a record 55 percent of the students who competed ended up enrolling at Bellarmine, or 54 of 99.
Not all incoming students
see themselves as Honors Program material, though, so every spring, Blandford asks colleagues and deans for names of high-achieving first-year students and then recruits as many sophomores into the program as possible.
Project: I’m examining the film remaking/adaptation process as it occurs across cultural boundaries, with a specific focus on Western films remade in the Bollywood film industry. Using the films Once Upon a Time in the West, Rebecca and West
Side Story, along with their respective remakes Sholay, Kohraa and Josh, as case studies, I am focusing on male and female representation on screen and how the societal and cultural differences between countries act as filters through which a
lot of film language, content, and style is transformed in the process of adaptation.