When the Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) Honors Program began in 2012, its aim was to mold a student into a future leader. Currently celebrating his seventh year of leading the program, which is now in its 10th year, Christopher J. Syrnyk, Ph.D., upholds the program's new mission by identifying the knowledge and skills students will need in the future to serve them best with the program now.
Oregon Tech's Honors Program focuses on a three-year plan, with an optional fourth year, highlighting a different concept area each year, helping students expand their knowledge beyond program coursework. It promotes a more well-rounded future career professional, a socially responsible person, and a connected and educated student. Dr. Syrnyk notes how their slogan says it best: “The Honors Program fosters the person in the future professional.”
Dr. Syrnyk, who has been teaching at Oregon Tech for 10 years, believes that in a university, educators play an important role in helping students have a greater understanding of their responsibility in society and the real value and purpose of education.
"I'm a professor; that's my profession. But I'm a professor who lives in a community. I have two daughters, Peyton and Aubrey, who have been educated in our school system. My wife, Kelly, is a Registrar for the city’s middle school, so I know I have a role to play as a contributing member of this community," he explained.
To help students create a broader picture of how they fit into the world, Dr. Syrnyk will focus more of his time on elevating the Honors Program in the upcoming years and connecting the Honors Program more clearly to Oregon Tech. With the support of Oregon Tech’s President and Provost, he has also moved into a predominantly administrative role in relation to the Honors Program, but he will continue to teach courses in the Honors Program. Part of his time in his new administrative role will also be committed to introducing Oregon Tech to "the world of national scholarships."
National scholarships are considered some of the country's more prestigious, merit-based awards. They offer students unique experiences, including studying abroad, but the application process is most effective when students have a mentor to help them. This year, Dr. Syrnyk will work with Oregon Tech faculty and staff to identify a set of these scholarships that will complement Oregon Tech’s specific degrees, programs, and students. Dr. Syrnyk stressed, “We need students and faculty to be invested in the application process and what that can do for a student’s future, rather than think of success only in terms of receiving a scholarship. We are asking students to do something very difficult, and go after something that few will receive, but the benefits of going through the process can truly be life-changing.” With help from Dr. Syrnyk and committed faculty and staff, Oregon Tech students will receive dedicated professional support to compete for these scholarships.
Dr. Syrnyk is also aligning the Honors Program more closely with Oregon Tech's mission, academic master plan, and strategic plan, which focuses on fostering student graduate success; providing hands-on learning; a commitment to diversity and leadership development; and preparing students for current and emerging needs of Oregon, as well as other national and international constituents. Dr. Syrnyk was quick to add, “But you don’t only learn by doing, you learn by thinking about what you’ve done. This is the honors way.” He also noted, “There’s great value in an Oregon Tech education, and the Honors Program significantly adds to the value of these important degrees.
"We live in a world where perhaps the most important skill set our students can cultivate is critical thinking skills: the ability to adapt, reason, connect, question assumptions, and diversify their thoughts," said Dr. Syrnyk. "I know our students will find a job easily and be gainfully and purposefully employed, but there's a rapidly changing world that I want them to be able to navigate. I believe students who graduate from the Honors Program are uniquely prepared to meet these challenges head-on."
Students currently learn about the Honors Program through a communication campaign Dr. Syrnyk has developed in conjunction with the support from Director of Admissions Josephine Ness and Admissions Communications Specialist Michael Yilek, where he offers specific messaging, and group and individual guidance to students and parents about the program and how it can help their future goals. In his new role, Dr. Syrnyk also has ambitious plans to work directly with Admissions to position the Honors Program to help recruit students who previously might not have considered Oregon Tech as a first-choice university.
The one-on-one support continues for students throughout the program with Honors Program Core Faculty, an Assistant Director for the Honors Program, Dr. Jesse Kinder, and Dr. Syrnyk. For what he calls "in-the-class and out-of-the-class growth," Dr. Syrnyk has a selection of Frisbees and Aerobie Superdiscs in his office to help students clear their heads about stressful situations or just think through a problem because, as he says, "you, me, and five minutes of Frisbee, it could change your life."
The core faculty advisors who assist with the program are Professor of Communication Studies Matt Schnackenberg, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies Vicki Crooks, and Associate Professor of Natural Science Yuehai Yang. Dr. Syrnyk would also like to reestablish the Honors Program Committee, which brought together students, faculty, and staff to create a more broadly representative advisory group.
"I keep looking at the program and asking, 'How can we make it more special for the students?'" Dr. Syrnyk said. The program currently includes honors sections of courses taught in innovative ways by select faculty to small groups of students; priority registration for all classes; advising by honors core faculty mentors who can guide students throughout their time at Oregon Tech; special activities, and educational field trips at minimal or no cost to students; and the potential to participate in community service projects. Honors Program graduates receive a special version of the Oregon Tech diploma at graduation with the designation of “Honors Program,” noting their special achievement.
"This is a community of students from all programs across campus," he shared. "They are learning things from one another outside their actual program. They are becoming better human beings because of it. And they make the Honors Program better for being in it."
The Honors Program accepts applications each year from Jan. 1 until Sept. 1. Students can learn more at www.oit.edu/academics/honors-program and apply by contacting Dr. Syrnyk at Christopher.Syrnyk@oit.edu.