By Chloé Margulis
Dr. Joan Digby is the current director of the Honors College at LIU Post. She is involved in the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) and was the president in 2000. One of her greatest contributions to the council was the invention of the “Partners in the Parks” program. Dr. Digby never had children, and when an Honors student had this conversation with her, the student said the honors students are her children. Dr. Digby is proud to be the mother of LIU›s cats for the past 15 years, as well as Snowball the pony. She is also interested in traveling, cuisine of all kinds, art, and artifacts. She and her husband run a small press where they print limited editions of poetry and short stories, as well as literature written by LIU faculty and students.
What is your favorite thing about the Honors program?
The students because I get to teach and connect with very goal-oriented, motivated people who go on to do great things in this world.
What is the best thing that happened in Honors recently?
It’s being converted into a college! After 45 years, we are now going to be a freestanding college which will undoubtedly attract more students. Now we will be able to expand our student body and give them even more opportunities.
What is the biggest misconception about Honors?
That it’s elitist. All of the students in this program take most of their course load in the rest of the classes we offer at LIU. Honors is about 20 percent of the work, so my students who are journalists are friends with other journalists, actors are friends with other actors. Students in this college are incredibly well rounded people who don’t just cling together like a group of elite people at all.
Do you think more people should join Honors?
Yes, because people are not in the habit of pushing themselves as much as they can, and as a result they don’t accomplish as much as they can. Some of my favorite people are people who did not absolutely qualify for admissions to the program but really wanted to do it.
What are some of the unique things that only students in Honors get to do?
Partners in the Parks, study abroad, having some of the credit apply for honors advanced electives, art shows, musical performances, act, be athletes—everything that all other students can do while taking the highest undergraduate degree we have.
Why did you get involved in the Honors College?
There have been only three to four directors since 1963 and each did it for two to three years and got bored. A friend thought this job was boring and asked me if I wanted to do it. One person’s boredom is another one’s play.
Tell us about some cool advanced electives offered only to Honors students?
The one that people really love is Tango. There will be a class in the looting of art during the Nazi period and the art looting as a continued sort of elicit enterprise of war going on to Iraq and Afghanistan and the liking.
What is the best Partners in the Parks trip you went on with Honors students from LIU?
I think the Alaska one, Denali, where we were asked to catalogue for the park the number of wolves, grizzly bears, and longhorn sheep that we saw along the road. Because Alaska in the summer stays light almost 24 hours, we headed off on hikes at 11 p.m. The other one I really liked was Virgin Islands where I learned to snorkel.
What is your best memory with Honors students?
I have thousands! The best I had recently is the alumni party they ran a few weeks ago, and seeing 120 of my former students in the same room was overwhelming. There’s one, Liza Tedesco, who used to sit in the lounge and make Christmas ornaments from beads. She said, ‘You don’t remember me,’ and I said, ‘Liza, the red and white beads? How could I forget?’ Knowing them and seeing them now after some time was very exciting.
What is your favorite class you teach?
It has become Horse and Literature because I have developed a passion for these animals and being able to explore the literature attached to them brings me back to my Ph.D. studies on animal fables in the 18th century.
BONUS QUESTION: Do you have some advice for incoming and current students at LIU?
Do everything that interests you in moderation so that you can really perform well academically.
Stephanie Watt is a concert pianist and professor of music, sight-singing, music theory, keyboard harmony, chamber music & instrumental coaching, and piano. When she isn’t teaching or performing, Professor Watt is making jewelry inspired by other cultures and selling them in local stores on Long Island and at the Rubin Museum in NYC. Professor Watt is also an award winning competitive ballroom dancer. And finally, she is the proud owner of a 6’6” dollhouse originally built by the now deceased artist Gordon H. Hampel, which she will be finishing and exhibiting in museums across the country.
What’s the most exciting class you teach?
I thoroughly enjoy all of the classes I teach. There is something wonderfully exciting about each class this particular semester because I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know so many new faces.
Tell us a little about the Tango project.
I talk about the history of Argentina as a country and how its economic growth in the 1700s fueled the creation of this amazing dance. I also arrange for [students] to have four Tango lessons with a professional dance instructor. We [also] travel to Argentina and trace the steps of the origins of the tango.
What is your favorite thing about Honors?
It is a vessel in which not only students get to explore and learn about new things but it is an instrument that faculty can use to share their expertise, passions, hobbies, adventures, and new discoveries with a learning community that is not primarily from their particular school or discipline. I would like to thank Joan Digby for all the support she has given to me and our students throughout the years. She is a fantastic colleague and friend.
When you were in high school and college what did you think you would be doing after college?
When I was in high school I was planning to become a veterinarian or a geriatric doctor. I hadn’t planned on majoring in [music] because it was simply a way of life for me and I had no intentions of stopping. Because of my passion for music I knew I had to continue my musical studies on a much more intense and larger scale.
What fun trip or class do you have in mind for honors students?
Our trip to Argentina in May 2015 is going to be a fantastic trip where we get immersed in the Argentinean culture. I’m also planning to present a new course that involves another passion of mine: stones and minerals and their spiritual, religious, and medicinal impact on mankind and how they function as adornments.
What is your favorite holiday?
I LOVE HALLOWEEN! I love decorating and transforming the house into a haunted mansion! The best memory I have was scaring several people with a talking skeleton head in the bathroom. The mouth on the skeleton moved when you talked through a wired microphone (which we would have in a different room of course). I can’t tell you how many laughs we’ve had and still have.
What is your favorite season and what has become sort of a tradition during the season?
My favorite season is summer. I love to garden and it’s wonderful to see the yard turn into a flower paradise for the birds and insects. Summer is also my time to explore and discover new places, people, and “things.”
What is your favorite book and is it tied with a certain memory, or story?
How to read the Akashich Records by Linda Howe. It teaches you to connect to the universe and our spiritual masters. My grandmother, who was a Cherokee Indian, always pointed to the stars and talked about our spirit ancestors when I was a kid. Though this book is not about Native American traditions, the information it contains speaks to me because of my spiritual training by my family.
What is your best memory with Honors students?
I have several wonderful moments. First, I love looking at each student’s face when they have their first Tango lesson. The students begin to understand that the Tango is not just a dance, but truly a way of life! Second, at the end of the semester one of the students wanted to prepare an authentic Argentinean feast for the class as part of her final research paper.