Honors trio lead graduating class for Wayland commencement

December 12, 2013

PLAINVIEW — Rachel Laue, Michael Holubik and David Brosseau will each graduate this weekend from Wayland Baptist University’s Honors Program, and according to program director Dr. Niler Pyeatt, that is unusual. Not only is it rare to have three participants graduate the same semester, but each in their own way represent aspects of the program that make it a prize of the university.

The trio will join approximately 70 other graduates for commencement exercises at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Wayland’s Harral Memorial Auditorium.

Pyeatt explained that normally, one or two students will complete their research projects, fulfill all of the program’s requirements and graduate in the spring. The most he can remember ever graduating at once was four students several years ago. He went on to explain that while there are extenuating circumstances that lead to each student’s December graduation the things that mark these students are their tenacity, adaptability and creativity. One of the students ended up having to take a semester off for health reasons while the other two had to modify the scope of their research projects in order to make them manageable, and even then they took longer than expected.

Pyeatt said that part of what distinguishes students in the program is that generally they are well motivated and academically gifted. Still, he said, when faced with adversity, the common reaction has been to go ahead and graduate on time, even if it meant leaving the Honors Program.

“In this case,” he said, “we have a group of determined students who despite personal setbacks or despite research maybe not going as quickly as they would like, they were determined to get things done.”

Pyeatt said that as an advisor to the students he and his colleagues often walk a fine line between allowing them the freedom to grow and mature as critical thinkers and needing to step in and help focus their efforts. They try to do the latter as infrequently as possible, he said, adding that part of the fun of being advisors is watching students develop on their own. He used as an example, his own Honors student Rachel Laue (pronounced “Law”) who is majoring in history.

“She took on a topic, Manifest Destiny, a very familiar topic, and she developed a perspective on it here, looking at the British origins and influence that was really, I wouldn’t say it’s totally unique, but it’s a perspective that has really not been well developed,” he said.

Laue smiled when asked how she came up with that perspective.

“That was sort of accidental because I had originally planned to do (an Honors) thesis specifically in British History, particularly the British in India,” she said.

However, she continued, as she began reading through her research material she noticed that much of what the British were doing in India was similar to what Americans did in the West.

“I became intrigued to look at those two things a little closer and to see if they really were as similar as they first seemed to be and I found out that they were,” she said, adding that “it was kind of a nice thing because I was having trouble finding a topic.”

Pyeatt said that ability to look at a collection of material and develop a personal perspective is exactly the type of thing he and his colleagues work to teach their students. In Laue’s case, her ability to focus on an idea was critical to the success of her thesis and her completion of the Honors Program.

While Laue was able to focus on her subject relatively early in the process, Michael Holubik had a different experience. A political science major, his thesis topic addressed the impact of postmodernism on economics in the United States. He explained that postmodernism is a very broad subject to research because, among other things it includes two distinct tiers of scholars, those who formed the general principles of postmodernism and those who further developed them. He had to research both, as well as cross several academic disciplines as he began work on his thesis. It wasn’t long before the sheer scope of material available for research became overwhelming.

“This project could have easily taken two or three times as long as it ended up taking me,” he said. “The only reason I was able to keep it focused was because I chose to focus exclusively on economics. But even then, the scope of my research was very much limited, compared to what it could have been.”

The third student’s work included so many fields of academic discipline that Pyeatt chuckled as he tried to classify it. David Brosseau, is majoring in both English and Music and his thesis involved creating a musical system for a fictitious society, which he also had to create. Brosseau explained that he had to develop an understanding of everything from history to religion and philosophy to linguistics in order to complete his project.

For Pyeatt, whether it was the ability to bring together widely-diverse collections of information or simply have the “stick-to-it-ness” that was required to complete seemingly overwhelming projects, the three students collectively and individually represented what makes Wayland’s Honors Program special and he is glad they have completed their requirements and will graduate.

“Being able to take the students through that and get them started where they become kind of an independent thinker and scholar in their own right, and watch the way they blossom can be very rewarding,” he said.