UK Honors Program Brings the World of 'Harry Potter' to Life


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 31, 2014) — After an October full of spells, potions and wizardry, University of Kentucky Honors Program students celebrated Halloween at a Yule Ball last night, straight from the world of Harry Potter himself.

The ball was a culmination of Harry Potter Month, a series of events sponsored by the Honors Program and the residence halls Central I and II.  Now in its third year, the themed month has proven to be quite popular with Honors students, with 94 percent of those living in the Honors residence hall participating in events last year. This year's numbers appear just as high, with nearly 600 students participating.

Jillian Faith, resident director of Central Hall, originally came up with the idea of Harry Potter Month, and has worked with the students to implement it for last three years at UK.

"It’s something they grew up with — and they just own it," Faith said. "Before this generation there was 'Star Wars' or 'Lord of the Rings,' and this group happens to love 'Harry Potter.'  And so we just capitalized on that. It works really well with the Honors Program and our student population because we can put an academic spin on it - it fits all the criteria that we would want."

The idea behind the month of activities is community building — encouraging students to get to know those in their residence hall and within the Honors Program better. Throughout October, students participate in a variety of Potter-themed events, such as a trip to Hogsmeade (the farmer's market), a workshop in "potions" (a study session for Chemistry 105 and 107) and social events like a house-sorting ceremony, among many others.

The program also works with faculty from across campus to offer an array of learning experiences that tie back to the theme.  For example, Rita Picklesimer, a dance instructor in the UK College of Education's Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion, attended the Yule Ball to teach the students the waltz dance from the movie.

"When we tell faculty it’s part of Harry Potter month, they’re usually very excited to take part in it," Faith said.

While the students all go crazy for "Harry Potter," it's not the only month of activities the program offers.  Every month centers on a timely theme. For example, November and December will offer opportunities for students to learn about community service.

Heather Carpenter, advisor and co-curricular programmer in Honors, said these themed activities get students excited and make them feel more at home within the residence hall.

"We had 98 students return this year that lived in Central last year," Carpenter said. "I think if you provide them with programming that is both interesting and fun — and also ties to their academics — then you can increase retention."

Elementary education junior Colleen Kochensparger is "very much a "Harry Potter" fan, and was in attendance at last night's ball. 

"I know a lot of the people in the Honors residence hall are fans, and I think this is a good community where you can be unashamedly passionate about nerdy things like 'Harry Potter,'" she said. "I was sorted into Gryffindor for the month, so in order to earn points we had to get with other people who were also sorted into our house. We went to programs with them and made videos about the importance of our house. It was very fun and a way to meet new people in our residence hall."

Faith said the month's programming is student-led, with residence advisors and peer mentors coming up with most of the ideas.

"I think that is what really helps get all of these students involved — the RAs and peer mentors befriend the students and are able to reach all four corners of the hall,” she said.

Samuel Burkhardt, an animal science junior, has served as a peer mentor in the program for that past two years.  He believes creating smaller programs of this nature within the university helps students acclimate more to the campus community.

"The first few months you're on campus can be really stressful if you come from a small school background like I did," Burkhardt said. "The peer mentors' roles are to create programs to help students get to know each other better. Harry Potter Month brings a great theme into the programs because I feel like everyone in Honors loves Harry Potter — it’s what we grew up with as kids. It's a really special event for a lot of people."

Carpenter thinks the world of "Harry Potter" resonates particularly well for Honors students.

"There is something special about the notion of 'I am like a wizard because I’m curious and I'm an enthusiastic learner.' Maybe they come from a high school where that's not so cool, but here it is. Everyone is an active engaged learner — and that's kind of what Hogwarts is like — everyone is passionate about learning magic."

The Honors Program is part of the Academy of Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Undergraduate Education at UK.