Sarah Harris – Single-Minded Determination

At first glance, there’s nothing that makes Sarah Harris stand out in a crowd. The UConn junior resembles other undergraduates on campus in her looks and demeanor. What sets her apart is that this student is working toward achieving UConn’s highest academic distinction – University Scholar.

The prestigious academic program offers talented students the opportunity to create their own academic projects that go beyond a typical plan of study. Applicants must impress a selection committee comprising faculty members from a wide variety of disciplines with the originality of their University Scholar proposals, their demonstrated academic ability, and strong recommendations from faculty. This year’s cadre of 29 students represents one of the largest bodies of applicants accepted into the program since its inception more than 60 years ago.

Lynne Goodstein, director of the honors program and associate vice provost for enrichment, says successful applicants tend to be curious and interested in being exposed to new ideas, often going beyond their comfort zones.

She says that, although many University Scholars are also honors students, the program is open to students from across the university: “Great students from anywhere in the university are welcome and encouraged to consider applying.”

While many students use their first years in college to explore their options before deciding on a major, Sarah Harris is an exception. “I’m a little unusual because I’ve known that I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was three years old,” she says. “I did a lot of research even in middle and high school, and I learned about the Neag School of Education and its five-year Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Program. When I applied to UConn and was accepted into the Honors Program, there wasn’t any question in my mind. I knew this was where I wanted to go.”

Being in the Honors Program is not a prerequisite for acceptance as a University Scholar, but it just so happens that Harris’s honors curriculum was the catalyst behind her decision to apply. As a freshman, she volunteered at a homeless shelter in Willimantic to fulfill a requirement in an honors course. It was an eye-opening experience.

“I come from a small town and graduated from a small high school,” says Harris, a native of Portland, CT. “Of course we have a homeless population – virtually every town does – but we don’t have homeless shelters, so this was really new to me.”

A dual-degree major in secondary social studies education and history/psychology (CLAS), she was already focused on a teaching career, but her exposure to youngsters dealing with the challenges of homelessness gave her a new perspective.

Her University Scholar project will involve examining the content and quality of the preparation that public school teachers receive as they encounter homeless children in their classrooms. Her goal is to create a resource guide for teachers that will help them better identify and support the special needs of these students.

“I’m planning on working in the teacher preparation program in my final semester next year,” she says, “and I’d love to develop something for them that deals with this issue. I’m also hoping to spend time working in the State of Connecticut’s Office of the Child Advocate. I’d love to collaborate with them and get their input on what needs to be done.”

Upon graduation, Harris plans to teach social studies at the secondary school level.

Source: UConn Today