Pictured: Michelle Calderon, Neida Perez, Haley Lewis and Adrilanie Gutierrez.
By: Dr. Andrew Yox, Honors Director
Amidst a dwindling pool of community-college presenters over the years, four NTCC sophomores qualified this year to present at the annual meeting of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC). Each featured research on a 10 November session dedicated to student posters in an enclosed section of the Sheraton Hotel by the Chicago Riverwalk. It was the sixteenth time that NTCC scholars have qualified for a conference dominated by university upperclassmen, as well as Honors deans and directors coming from all over the United States in addition to Singapore, Europe, and China.
NTCC’s most decorated current scholar, Neida Perez, was already an experienced presenter. As NTCC’s James and Elizabeth Whatley Scholar, Perez had presented her Caldwell-Award winning work on the Texas war with pathogens in four public venues thus far. This included a Great Plains Honors Council presentation last March, and at a recent luncheon with honors donors and college officials at the Whatley Foyer that included the other three presenters. Perez argued that the greatest all-time enemies of the Lone Star State were certainly not Yankees in the Civil War or Nazis in World War II. Microbes have been and are the greatest adversaries of Texans. Yet, Texans relative to other states, have tended to ignore them. In the three eras of her research, Texans proved especially vulnerable as well as unattuned. Texans lost tens of thousands to a terrifying yet preventable disease, Yellow Fever, in the nineteenth century. The so-called “Texas Fever” was the number-one scourge of cattle. Texas lagged behind other states during the years of a national hygiene upgrade in the early-twentieth-century. Finally, Texas, in its medical golden age of the late-twentieth century, prioritized vice-diseases with the heart and lungs, rather than seriously studying the roles played by viruses and bacteria.
Another high point for Perez during the conference was her address to the plenary body of the Great Plains Honors Council that met as one of the regional sub-bodies of the NCHC. Perez recently won the student election of the conference that stretches from Nebraska and Missouri to Texas. Perez encouraged the GPHC members to continue their support for student research as the best way to obtain student success.
Michelle Calderon, NTCC’s Russell-Mowery Scholar, presented her research on the Texas Suffragettes. Now the president of the Honors Student Council at NTCC, Calderon
in 2022 was the film scholar behind the Caldwell-Award winning film on Minnie Fisher Cunningham. Calderon argued that the heretofore authority on Cunningham and the Texas Suffragettes, the book by J. McArthur and H. Smith, under-conceptualizes the surprise victory of Suffragettism in Texas. Judith McArthur in M.F. Cunningham (Oxford UP, 2003) depicts the Texas leader as a mere workaholic, devoting untiring, youthful devotion to the cause. In fact, the Texas success resulted from a very indirect, “paraphrastic” strategy that involved volunteer service, and a quid pro quo with Texas liberals. One of the surprising details of Calderon’s story is that Cunningham’s roommate, Lavinia Engle, an attractive recruit from Maryland, offered her friendship to the young single Governor, William Hobby.
For the Second time, NTCC had a Dr. and Mrs. Bradley Witt Scholar, a special designation and funding given to an NCHC presenter with significant regional scholarship. This year’s Witt Scholar was Haley Lewis who explored the gubernatorial performance of Dolph Briscoe, Texas Governor, from 1973 to 1979. Against the backdrop of the “best” Southern Governors of the period, Lewis argued that Briscoe in a less charismatic manner succeeded in some of the fundamental ways that made Georgia’s Jimmy Carter and Florida’s Reuben Askew national leaders of the Democratic party. Briscoe distanced himself from segregationalists, while evoking enough rural empathy to
keep an old guard interested in the party. Briscoe avoided both the corruption embraced by Democratic Party leaders in Oklahoma and Louisiana, as well as the racism that lingered in Alabama and Mississippi. At the same time, he reached out to emergent groups on the left such as minorities, environmentalists, and a fast-growing professional group in the cities.
Though the first three posters had reached a finished form by NTCC’s McGraw Hill Poster contest in May of 2023, the last work by Adrilianie Gutierrez was fashioned over the period of a year. Her “The Costs of Child Abuse: Mayhem Makers of Texas” discerned a previously unexamined pattern between child abuse, and three of the worst “mayhem makers” of modern Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Whitman and David Koresh were all abused as children. Oswald went on to assassinate President Kennedy in 1963, Whitman to kill fourteen as a sniper on the tower at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966, and cult leader David Koresh caused the standoff that resulted in the death of eighty-six people in Waco in 1993. But the costs of the initial child abuse did not end there. The Kennedy assassination and resulting Warren Commission report did much to destabilize government and society in the 1960s. Whitman’s school shooting became the architype of modern mass school shootings, and terrorist Timothy McVeigh followed up the Waco disaster, which he blamed on the federal government, by
bombing a high rise in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168.
Dating back to 1966, the NCHC is the oldest intervarsity organization in the United States dedicated to Honors education. It has 900-member institutions, mainly in the United States, but inclusive of institutions on three continents.
Honors Director, Dr. Andrew Yox, notes, “in sixteen years I have never noted the community-college-student presence to be as weak as it was this year at the NCHC. I returned therefore to NTCC that much more appreciative of the unique synergy we have here between donors and our college in terms of student success. I also appreciated the high-octane efforts of Calderon, Gutierrez, Lewis and Perez. Swamped by university students on every side they were just as articulate, noteworthy, and capable of drawing groups to their posters as the others. Moreover, it was intriguing to note how unabashedly interested some university honors deans were in directing our scholars to their programs.”
Calderon and Perez are both graduates of Mount Pleasant High School. Gutierrez graduated from Pittsburg High School, and Haley Lewis, from Daingerfield High School.