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University Honors Takes Lesson From Hogwarts

Freshmen in Updated Honors College Program Join Houses for Community-Building, Competition

By Karen Shih ’09

Three students pose with T-shirts

From left, Cynthia Le, Helina Zewdu and Catherine Lo show their red T-shirts indicating they're now members of Shaula, one of four "houses" in University Honors that will compete over the next year in activities designed to foster connections and pride.

Photo by John T. Consoli

The newest members of houses Altair, Denebola, Eltanin and Shaula gathered to strategize their plan for victory over the next nine months.

But these weren’t power-hungry lords from “Game of Thrones” or magical witches and wizards from the Harry Potter series—these were first-year University Honors (UH) students at the University of Maryland, kicking off the program’s second annual House Cup competition.

“Students who get involved have a better experience in college,” its coordinator of student life, Chelsea Bradford ’14, said on Friday to a colorful sea of students wearing house-specific T-shirts. “We have countless opportunities for you to do that with us with UHSB [University Honors Student Board], Student Life Council, or you can apply to be a PAL [Peer Academic Leader]. Attend events! If you go to a movie night, you get to log it for five points, just for hanging out with your friends. Try research opportunities or get a job on campus. These are all great ways for you to get involved and find your place here at UMD.”

The houses and competition are part of the revamped UH program, designed to help students build relationships as they explore existing and new academic interests through the two-year UH curriculum. Led by Director Stephan Blatti, UH is the largest of the six Honors College communities, with about 500 new students joining each year.

“​​The goal is to break down what is a really large community into four smaller communities,” says Kaleigh Mrwoka, UH’s assistant director for student engagement. “We want students to really feel like a part of a community, and the friendly competition incentivizes students to be involved in community-centered, positive behaviors.”

To earn points, students can take part in a variety of wellness, academic and career support, and campus and Honors engagement activities to gain points for their house, such as joining an intramural sports team, participating in an internship fair or taking over the University Honors Instagram account. The house with the most points at the end of the school year gets its name engraved on the sterling silver trophy cup.

During the kickoff event, the four house leaders shared the origins of their house names, which come from stars in animal-shaped constellations. They also offered words of encouragement—and some friendly ribbing—to pump up their teams.

“Since the Eltanin star is one of the two eyes of the Drago constellation, our house mascot is the dragon, which I think is the coolest mascot out there—Sorry, guys,” said biological sciences major Elizabeth Tran ’24, speaker for House Eltanin. “Just like dragons, our members are known for their bravery, wisdom, vitality and prosperity. Dragons are also well known for being committed to their well-being and well-being of others. This semester, don’t be afraid to ask for help since we’re all here to support each other. I’m looking forward to having a wonderful semester with everyone and working together to win our first House Cup.”

Students then broke off into small groups to start a campus-wide scavenger hunt—their first opportunity to earn up to 150 points.

“It’s pretty fun. It’s a creative way to get us to work toward one cause, and bond and form new relationships through the journey,” said finance major Graham Vaeth ’25. “I just moved in today, so this is my first chance to meet everyone.”

Though afternoon storms delayed students from completing the outdoor portions of the hunt, they were able to grab photos and explore the Stamp, gathering for group selfies at the Testudo statue and the Dairy.

“I’m excited to see so many students here for this welcome to the program,” said Reima Mannan ’24, a biological sciences major and UHSB member who helped organize the first-year students into small groups and answer questions. “The House Cup is a great new concept to foster identity and pride.”

Schools & Departments:

Honors College

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