First-Year Honors Program in London
Houghton magazine asked two graduates from the very first First-Year Honors Program (FYHP) cohort to reflect on their honors experience. Erin (Bennett ’00) Banks and Charles Phillip ’00 spent their second semester at Houghton (Spring of 1997) in London with 25 other first-year students and two Houghton faculty: Dr. Cameron Airhart and Dr. Christopher Stewart.
When did you first learn about the FYHP, and what role did it play in your decision to attend Houghton?
Erin: I was intrigued by the idea of studying abroad during my freshman year. I loved the concept of approaching academics in a fully integrated way with a Christian worldview. To this day, I strive to integrate my world and viewpoint in a similar manner. What a revolutionary way to approach higher education!
What was a typical week in London like?
Charles: A typical week included two or three morning lectures, two smaller group discussions, and a chapel time. Most afternoons, we were off on an assignment: go to a museum, listen to an opera, find a particular work of art. This placed a lot of responsibility on an 18-year-old. It made us grow up really fast!
Describe the format and content of the FYHP coursework and curriculum.
Erin: Lots of reading. Writing weekly papers that reflected on how history/literature/science/art/music worked together during a specific era. It was the most interesting and memorable approach to education that I had ever encountered, creating meaningful connections between all aspects of the humanities in a way that was relevant and engaging.
Describe the relationships among the students in the program.
Erin: My flat-mates quickly became kindred spirits, and to this day, we keep in touch. It was such a transforming experience to travel to London together, live independently, navigate the city, experience the new culture, sightsee and explore, study and learn together, and come back to Houghton together. Some of us went backpacking around Europe after the London semester ended. My FYHP roommate, Jessica (Fortt ’00) Boggs, continued to be my roommate for all of my years at Houghton.
Describe the interaction between the FYHP faculty and the students.
Charles: Faculty played the role of teacher, friend and parent. They provided a sense of family as their own children and spouses were part of our daily lives. We saw their kids grow up in front of us; when I see Dr. Airhart now, I always ask him how his kids are.
Have you been back to London since?
Erin: Not since then (sigh)! But I have traveled quite a bit, highlighted by trips to China and Korea.
Charles: I’ve been back to London many times, primarily for business. The last time, I actually went back to where we stayed, found the building, walked up and down the streets we used to go. I visited Edgeware Road and the Marble Arch tube stop and tried to find the awesome traditional fish and chips shop I used to visit occasionally.
When you think back on your FYHP experience, what comes to mind?
Erin: I have a vivid memory of walking to Kensington Palace and looking through the wrought-iron gates. Later that year (after we had returned to Houghton), Princess Diana passed away, and I remember seeing pictures of that very same spot covered with flowers.
Charles: I vividly recall the efficiency and extent of the tube system in London. My good friend Allen Hollenbach ’00 and I would occasionally splurge on an authentic fish and chips meal.
How did FYHP influence the rest of your time at Houghton and beyond?
Erin: I definitely had a broader worldview, better perspective, as a result of FYHP. I also had a richer understanding of how my college courses were connected and made an effort to integrate different areas of my education. I immersed myself in my Houghton education, added two minors (communication and sociology) and even audited classes for pure enjoyment. As an art major, I was able to incorporate aspects of literature, music, history and philosophy into my work.
Charles: FYHP helped me to have a more open mind and understand the impact of the arts and history and philosophy on our day-to-day lives. It also encouraged me to have a love of travel and to find opportunities to travel internationally. I was asked to return to Houghton to interview prospective honors students for the incoming cohort this past spring. It was interesting to see how the program has evolved to include three different streams. It’s neat to be on the other side of the table to think of the unique experience these students are going to have.
About Erin and Charles
Erin Bennett-Banks ’00
Creative Director, Gibbes Museum of Art (Charleston, SC)
Major: Studio Art
Graduate School: MFA in Illustration, Savannah College of Art and Design
Family: Married mother of three daughters
Charles Phillip ’00
Commercial Manager, Corning Incorporated
Majors: Double degree in Biology (BS) and Business Administration (BA)
Graduate Degree: MBA from Western University (Ontario, Canada)
Family: Married father of two daughters