Batten Honors College competitions take place in virtual format

The Batten Honors College is a highly competitive program for freshman applicants during the fall admission period to be admitted for their rigorous academic curriculum and additional opportunities for experiential learning with a broad perspective. Applicants must have a 3.5 GPA, a letter of recommendation and complete the Batten Honors College application that includes an essay and resume submission.


The Batten Honors College has various program benefits such as a fully-funded study-away course experience, a full-tuition Batten Fellowship or a two-thirds tuition Shumadine Scholarship and service-learning opportunities to address real-world problems locally, regionally or abroad. 


Normally, students would be invited to come on campus for a multi-day event that includes a one-on-one meeting with a professor, a group interview with the admission committee and the opportunity to sit in on a class.


Due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns for the VWU community, the Batten Honors College decided to move the November competitions to a virtual setting. The first virtual BHC competition took place on Nov. 6 and second was on Nov. 13. Brooke Novkovic, the new director of enrollment of the Batten Honors College, shared further details on the changes in the honors program competition this November.


“We decided to host the second competition because we wanted to accommodate a large number of qualified applicants while still being able to provide them a one–on–one personal experience,” Novkovic said. “We didn’t want to overwhelm the applicants with one day and not be able to deliver them that personal experience, so we broke up the competitions into two.” 


Novkovic also shares her experience of taking on the new role and her intent of being the director of the Batten Honors College. “The BHC as a whole has really welcomed me into their community wholeheartedly and it’s been a very pleasant experience. I’m definitely excited about this new role and I’m currently just trying to work on building my relationships with current BHC students on campus as well as BHC applicants. The biggest hurdle I want to say has just been timing basically just because the first competition was two weeks after my start in the new role, but it went really well,” Novkovic said.


Lindsay White, a junior in the Batten Honors College and an office assistant for the BHC explained the differences. “We wanted to try and make the experience as similar to the normal schedule as we could this year. With COVID-19 we obviously couldn’t have applicants come on campus,” White said. “We still had a welcome session and the applicants participated in a group interview, one-on-one meeting with a faculty member, student panel and collaborative activities that were all done over Zoom during Friday. We tried to keep things mostly the same as best as we could despite the current conditions.”


Novkovic also detailed the considerations and improvements that they hope to make for the next competition. “Normally when applicants are here in person, they get that opportunity to meet with fellow applicants. We thought of potentially bringing a virtual meet and greet for applicants to the next competition, so it’s definitely something that we might consider going forward after speaking with Dr. Joyce Easter just to make it even more personal and kind of growing that camaraderie and friendships with fellow BHC applicants,” Novkovic said.


Dr. Joyce Easter, dean of the Batten Honors College, stated the qualities that the program committee is looking for will not change with the competitions being held on Zoom. “We designed a collaborative activity where applicants are broken into groups and then they’re given a challenge that they have to work through. The types of qualities that we’re looking for in our honor students are being able to work in a team, showing creative thinking and taking a leadership role in the team,” Easter said.


During the first Batten Honors College virtual competition, there were some challenges that White had encountered mainly on technological issues. “There’s always something that you can’t plan for when it comes to doing things online. You never know who’s going to suddenly lose connection or who’s going to be able to find the Zoom links to access the call or not. We ran into problems during the collaborative activity with screen sharing because Zoom only allowed a certain amount of people to be co-hosts, so that was the biggest challenge,” White said.


Current BHC students who volunteer for the competitions enjoy meeting the applicants in-person on campus, but the transition to a virtual setting has changed the way they can interact with candidates. “I would say our second biggest challenge was getting to know the prospective students like who they really are. When we have the competition in person, the current honors students love to interact with the prospective students to see who’s really interested in coming here and who’s passionate about being a member of the honors college. We’d love to get to know them one-on-one, so it was hard because we couldn’t have in-person conversations this year. We kind of lost that aspect,” White said.


Despite the transition of the Batten Honors College competition due to COVID-19, there were some benefits and positives of it being on a virtual platform with more applicants being able to attend. Novkovic shared, “We received a lot of positive feedback from the attendees. All of the applicants who were registered to compete on Nov. 6 were there, so we had full attendance. We really did try to make the experience as personal as possible and I think that really did come across to the applicants as well and overall.”


White added, “On a positive note, we received a lot more applicants for the November competition than we normally do, so we had to split the November competition into two days. I think that was one of the benefits because more people farther away were able to attend the competition because they don’t have to physically travel here.”


After the Batten Honors scholarship competition, applicants will be informed of their status in late November to early December 2020. The review process includes information gathered both on paper and in person.

By Tiffany Warren