Mays Outstanding Junior Focuses on Lifelong Learning

March 24, 2014

College Station, TX – Each year, the officers of the Texas A&M chapter of Phi Kappa Phi (PKP), have the pleasant task of meeting with ten of the best students on campus. These students have each been selected as the Outstanding Junior for their respective colleges. The difficult part of these meetings is deciding which of these students will be selected as the TAMU Outstanding Junior.

The typical profile for PKP Outstanding Juniors includes excellent grades (junior inductees are selected from the top 7.5% of their class), extensive leadership, service, and a great deal of poise. These students often exhibit a great deal of integrity between their dreams and their plans. The best candidates elegantly describe how their interests and actions fit together.

Among the questions typically asked of these students is to apply the PKP motto “let the love of learning rule humanity,” to their own lives. 2013 Mays Business School Outstanding Junior Taylor Vestal, ’14, stands out in this amazing peer group for having already taken concrete steps in pursuing lifelong learning herself and fostering opportunities for others.

2013 Mays Business School Outstanding Junior Taylor Vestal, '14

2013 Mays Business School Outstanding Junior Taylor Vestal, ’14

Taylor, a Business Honors student, was one of five students selected to attend the Wakonse conference on College Teaching in May 2011. The Wakonse conference, which has traditionally served faculty seeking to improve their teaching, had started a new undergraduate program targeted to students who exhibited potential for leadership. The students in Taylor’s cohort from TAMU were selected for their outstanding participation in the freshman leadership organization PREP and the Freshman Business Initiative. At the time, Taylor had just finished her freshman year, and was the youngest student in the group. She described herself as the participant with the “least experience and most potential for growth.” This experience offered students, like Taylor, the opportunity to develop themselves as people and as leaders.

While some activities of the Wakonse conference remain separate for faculty and students, the student presence provides a built-in focus group for the faculty in attendance. One of the activities at the conference called “Mutual Expectations” asked faculty participants to list the ten best and worst things about students. The student participants, in turn, listed the ten best and worst things about faculty. Taylor said that the resulting conversation was “an eye-opening experience.” The student and faculty participants from Mays Business School were inspired to return to TAMU and share their epiphany with other students and faculty.

Thus, the Mays Academy of Learning and Teaching (MALT) was born in Fall 2011. Taylor describes the strength of this coalition of teachers and students, “who aren’t known to collaborate but are working toward the same thing,” as creating a space in which each can start to understand the other. Taylor has served as an event coordinator for the group: booking rooms, arranging food, and advertising the meetings to other students. Taylor is rewarded by seeing the dialogues that emerge from the MALT meetings.

“Students realize for the first time that teachers are ‘real people,’ and professors realize that what they think their students are thinking may not be quite right. [The faculty] might also learn that what they’re saying doesn’t resonate. Also, most importantly, they find what they’re doing right. Everyone in every department in every college needs to know that.”

The most recent MALT activity, a breakfast to which faculty brought student guests, and students brought faculty guests, resulted in the first non-Mays participants (faculty in chemistry and agriculture) and created some cross-disciplinary synergy. Taylor is excited for what this expanded reach might mean for students and faculty in other colleges. As she leaves, the group that Taylor described as “a fellowship of friends” has established a leadership structure, but has resisted becoming a student organization. She describes MALT as a “50/50 collaboration” between students and faculty. That shared ownership reinforces for everyone the goal of lifelong learning and constantly finding ways to improve oneself.

As a graduating senior, Taylor is sure of the impact that MALT has had on her experience. Taylor hopes that MALT might become a way for intellectually-motivated students, such as those selected to Phi Kappa Phi, to start creating dialogue about important issues related to teaching and learning. While Taylor is headed to a management consulting position with PriceWaterhouseCoopers after graduation, she sees graduate school—and perhaps teaching—in her future.

For more information about the Texas A&M chapter of Phi Kappa Phi, please visit http://pkptamu053.tamu.edu/.

More About Phi Kappa Phi
Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Baton Rouge, La., Phi Kappa Phi is the nation’s oldest and most selective collegiate honor society for all academic disciplines. Phi Kappa Phi inducts annually approximately 32,000 students, faculty, professional staff and alumni. The Society has chapters on more than 300 select colleges and universities in North America and the Philippines. Membership is by invitation only to the top 10 percent of seniors and graduate students and 7.5 percent of juniors. Faculty, professional staff and alumni who have achieved scholarly distinction also qualify.

Since its founding, more than 1 million members have been initiated. Some of the organization’s more notable members include former President Jimmy Carter, NASA astronaut Wendy Lawrence, novelist David Baldacci and YouTube cofounder Chad Hurley. The Society has awarded approximately $14 million since the inception of its awards program in 1932. Today, nearly $1 million is awarded each biennium to qualifying students and members through graduate fellowships, undergraduate study abroad scholarships, member and chapter awards and grants for local and national literacy initiatives. The Society’s mission is “To recognize and promote academic excellence in all fields of higher education and to engage the community of scholars in service to others.”

For more information on Phi Kappa Phi, please call 800/804-9880 or visit http://www.PhiKappaPhi.org.

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