BHC Spotlight: Connor Merk '23

Major/Minor: Political Science & Business with a minor in Communication
Hometown: Stafford, VA

Connor Merk

Why you chose BHC (beyond the scholarship benefit)?
I chose the BHC for many reasons including the living learning community, small class sizes, study away course opportunities, the incredible support that faculty provide for students, and the interdisciplinary honor courses. The class sizes at Virginia Wesleyan allow for engaging class discussions and professors that have the opportunity to know your background and interests. The benefit of taking part in a study away course was an incredible draw to this program. I traveled to Australia the month before my freshman year, and that experience encouraged me to travel to other parts of the world, which the BHC would assist me with while learning course content. Also, the courses specifically offered to honors students seemed incredible, and they truly are. HON 110 Complex Global Challenges provides a wonderful opportunity to learn about the environment in several different ways because it is taught by political science, biology, and philosophy professors. Additionally, HON 205 Topics in Leadership & Literature allows students to reflect on leadership in a variety of ways through analyzing literature and understanding the qualities of great leaders in the past and how we can become inspirational leaders in the 21st century.

What benefits have you gained from the BHC?
One of the many benefits from the BHC was the HON 150 course that is taken by the Batten Fellows. This course is an immersive 2-week long Washington, D.C. experience in which students explore social issues, the role of leadership, and commitment to civic responsibility with accomplished, informed leaders in diverse fields, such as government, media and communication, business, and non-profit organizations. This experience included listening to speakers at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University and inspiring site visits at historical places, companies, and nonprofits. During these 2 weeks, we visited the Capitol Building, Mount Vernon, the Embassy of Pakistan, Lincoln Memorial, Bloomberg News Washington Bureau, museums, and many other places. I will always treasure this experience because it has reaffirmed that I want my future career to be related to politics and government. Also, I learned from listening to the many impressive speakers to always try my best in all that I do and the rest will work out. Sometimes I may fail, but those failures will provide me with valuable lessons and experiences.

Highlight a specific research, internship, or study abroad experience(s).
A specific experience that I participate in is the Marlin Chronicle. I was a student journalist in high school, and I hoped to continue this passion in college, so I signed up to take the journalism workshop class at VWU. I began writing for the news and community sections and was even invited to attend the National College Media Convention in Washington, D.C. with other members of the newspaper staff. I learned many things from this conference, from how a presidential photographer works, tips for improving interviews, and advice from news reporters who are currently working in the field of journalism. At the conference I met Kathryn Watson, a CBS reporter who covers the White House, Marty Baron, the Executive Editor of the Washington Post, Marlin Fitzwater, former White House Press Secretary for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and several others. Additionally, during the spring semester of my freshman year, I was promoted to be the community editor, which meant I managed the community section and mentored the workshop writers that wrote for this section. Although COVID-19 sent us home early that semester, the newspaper team continued to create content that was posted to our website. In the fall of my sophomore year, I was promoted to be the news editor, which is an incredible honor that comes with great responsibility.

How did the BHC curriculum or program prepare you for this experience?
The Batten Honors College curriculum prepared me for these experiences because the interdisciplinary approach to the curriculum allowed me to gain knowledge regarding literature, the environment, public policy, civil rights, and leadership. These topics have assisted me in my writing for the Marlin Chronicle, for which I have written a wide variety of articles, such as about the university’s environmental programs, elections in Virginia, campus events, and many more. The BHC courses provided useful information which allowed me to gain new knowledge that does not specifically relate to my majors.

What did you hope to achieve/gain from this experience?
I hope to improve my writing and communication skills, experience a workplace environment, mentor other students who are interested in journalism, and increase my knowledge of how the media operates with my participation with the Marlin Chronicle. Also, this experience has created an opportunity for me to consider future careers. I have always been interested in the field of media because of my love for current events and political news, so it has been wonderful to become the person who is covering significant topics and stories on VWU’s campus.¬†

List of things involved with on campus (sports teams, clubs, academic competitions/teams, positions held and description of duties)
Marlin Chronicle - News Editor: In this role, I manage the news section of the newspaper. The university paper prints five issues a semester, which is approximately every two weeks. I also mentor the writers who are taking the journalism workshop course and assign them article topics for each issue. Additionally, I am responsible for writing my own stories, and editing and designing the news section pages of the newspaper.

College Republicans - Founder & Chairman: I created this club in the spring of 2020 with the help of Political Science Professor Dr. Gibson and a small group of friends. I submitted the necessary paperwork to the student activities office on campus, which allowed us to become an official organization. Then, I submitted the forms to become an official chapter of the College Republican Federation of Virginia, which involved submitting a list of our members and executive board, in addition to a letter of endorsement from the Republican Party of Virginia Beach. For each meeting, I create an agenda of what we will discuss, invite guest speakers, and facilitate an inclusive and welcoming environment.

2nd Congressional District Representative for the College Republican Federation of Virginia: I applied for this position through the CRFV and was appointed shortly after submitting the application. I am responsible for attending each 2nd Congressional District Republican Committee meeting, notifying the CRFV executive board of how the meeting went, and to advocate for the interests of the College Republicans.

BHC Office Assistant: I became one of the BHC office assistants in the fall of 2020. I am responsible for coordinating volunteers for recruitment events, calling prospective students and parents, representing the honors college at recruitment events, and general office tasks.

Participant in NATO DTex - I was recommended to participate in this event by one of my Political Science professors. This is a disruptive technology event where participants were put into small groups to assess potential future technologies and their impact on military operations and the operating environment.

List any awards, recognitions, and/or conference presentations
President’s List (Fall 2019, Spring 2020)

Anything else you would like to share about your experiences with BHC
Another benefit of being a part of the BHC is having the opportunity to select classes before most of the students at VWU. This allows us to come up with a definitive plan for our schedule with our advisors that is guaranteed. It is also such a welcoming environment where your peers and professors are truly there to help you achieve your goals and assist in any way that they can.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me using the info below:

Connor Merk
Email: ccmerk@vwu.edu
Instagram: connormerk