Honors Students Find New Worldviews during Freshman Ventures

Groups of engineering majors discover cultural differences and experiences define 'truth'

UM students Nathan Lancaster (far left), Ariel Williams (center), Kelly Bates and Noah McKone share a moment during their Freshman Ventures trip to New York City. Submitted photo

“How do we know what is true?”

This question was posed by the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College to its freshman class. Groups of students traveled across the country to find the answer to this very important question and learn more about themselves than they ever thought possible.

Ariel Williams, a biomedical engineering major from Waynesboro, was one of the many students looking for the truth. Her group members traveled to Connecticut where they interviewed the chief mother of the Connecticut Navajo Tribe. Their travels also took them to New York City.

In an effort to gather a different perspective on their questions, they also interviewed members of local tribes in Itawamba County here in Mississippi. This allowed them to learn more about the Native American influence in their own communities, as most of the group members are from Mississippi. Williams traveled with civil engineering major Nathan Lancaster of Madison, and fellow biomedical engineering majors Kelly Bates of Collinsville and Noah McKone of McComb.

“Our group’s goal was to​ ​uncover​ ​how​ ​our​ ​society​ ​might​ ​discern​ ​what​ ​is​ ​true​ ​when​ ​the​ ​truth​ ​has​ ​been​ ​distorted​ ​throughout history, ​​specifically​ ​applying​ ​to​ ​the​ ​history​ ​and​ ​culture​ ​of​ ​Native​ ​Americans,” Williams said.

Williams was the videographer for her group and assisted in the coordination of the interviews and travel. She indicated that the greatest challenge was identifying a way to answer such a difficult question. However, she also reflected that she and her group were able to “learn so much more about ourselves and our roles in society.”

They also learned about the overt harm of cultural appropriation and its potential to deconstruct the truth as well as perpetuate misinformation and ignorance.

Chemical engineering major Jake Noll also traveled over the break to learn the answer to the Freshman Ventures question. He and his group focused on a legal approach and traveled to Miami, Florida, to find truth within the justice system. Noll served as the group leader and helped organize much of the group’s activities including travel and interviews.

“There are so many conflicting opinions, ideals and emotions surrounding the justice system,” Noll said. “We wanted to figure out (if) one can know whether their justice system is ‘correct’ and how to know whether it is too harsh or too lenient.

Jacob Noll (far right) enjoys new friends he made while on his Freshman Ventures trip. Submitted photo

“Additionally, we wanted to compare the U.S. legal system to other countries and figure out which country had the best legal system. Finally, we wanted to figure out how the lawyers separated fact from fiction and emotion from logic in their cases.”

With this in mind, the group decided to interview two lawyers: one a criminal defense lawyer and the other an immigration rights lawyer. According to Noll, the group learned that “truth” is extremely subjective and that everybody has a different definition of it.

Given the climate of the world today, it seemed evident to the group that people may need to spend more time listening to and learning from one another.

“My Freshman Ventures experience showed me that the solution to these seemingly endless conflicts is for individuals to experience the other side for themselves,” he said. “They must understand the opposing side’s definition of truth in order to see the other side’s reasoning and perhaps change their own definition of truth.”

Beyond the challenge of finding answers to a difficult question, another challenge for the group members was organizing many moving pieces months in advance. From purchasing plane tickets and hotel rooms to developing a budget for travel in the city, food and other incidentals, they needed to do a lot of planning and paperwork for the trip that they had not dealt with before.

Once all the groups have traveled, they will come together to present their findings to honors staff, faculty and peers in February during the Freshman Ventures Retreat. The winning group will be rewarded with a trip to New York City.