Honors College welcomes Graduate Assistant James Holden

By Kistler Hunt

The Honors College is proud to welcome our 2023-24 graduate assistant (GA), James Holden, who has been serving as GA since August of 2023. Holden is originally from Boone, and is a graduate of the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill (UNC) with Bachelors of Arts in Chinese and history and a minor in linguistics. He is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Higher Education program in the Reich College of Education with an intended graduation in May of 2025. Upon graduation, Holden looks forward to working in international education affairs in a higher education setting. As GA, one of his goals is:

“Helping promote international education at the Honors College and provide useful information to students. This has included an informational event tailored to Honors students. One project that I’ve started is to create a body of information about the various international education programs that Honors students have done in the past. The idea is that those students who haven’t yet completed their international education experience will have a starting place where they can consider some options. Stay tuned for more on that in the spring!”

Holden’s duties as the Honors College GA vary widely. He has opportunities to work in many different aspects of Honors education and to collaborate with other offices across campus. This includes administrative tasks, such as recording Honors contracts and thesis applications, advising the Appalachian Honors Association, creating promotional materials, and much more. Holden explained, “One thing that’s great about the flexibility of this GAship is that it gives me the opportunity to get involved with other offices that relate to the Honors College. I’ve helped create promotional materials and attend events for the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (NCS), which shares a hallway with our Honors academic mentors in Appalachian Hall. I’ve also been on the planning committee for Global Symposium, an annual conference that the Office of International Education and Development (OIED) puts on during International Education Week.”

Holden’s passion for international education and stretching his knowledge in a global context started in ninth grade. He shared, “When I was in ninth grade at Watauga High School, App State held its first STARTALK summer camp. It was three weeks of free food, housing and Chinese classes, which seemed like a good deal to me and my parents. That sparked an interest in the Chinese language, which eventually led to studying abroad in China during college. My time in Kunming, Yunnan, gave me a better appreciation of the challenges that people in the US face when their first language isn’t English and really instilled in me a passion for international education.” STARTALK is an annual summer program funded by the National Security Agency (NSA). Appalachian State University’s Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures has secured grant funds from the NSA to implement STARTALK on its campus. Its goal is to increase the number of students enrolled in critical language studies, the number of highly effective critical language teachers in the US, and the availability of quality teaching and learning materials.

After graduating from UNC, Holden moved to Changsha, Hunan, China to teach English to middle and high school students. Upon his return to the US, he taught high school Chinese and geography in Kentucky. These experiences have all furthered his interest in language studies and international education, guiding him to where he is today. When describing what motivates him to want to work in international education, he says, “There are a number of things that attract me to this field. For one thing, it’s fun. Despite all the challenges of travel and living in unfamiliar places, it’s also exciting to be exposed to all kinds of things that you never even knew existed. It’s also a lot of fun to show people from other countries your own home.”

Holden highlights that international education can impact a student in large and small ways. He states, “International education is an important way to build empathy and tolerance. Most people become more flexible in their lifestyles when they live and learn abroad. This starts from a place of practical or material necessity. For example, if you’re used to eating cereal for breakfast every day, you’ll likely need to change that immediately upon arrival outside the US. But it doesn’t stop there. You get more and more curious. As you are exposed to more perspectives and experiences, you come to recognize their value. This doesn’t always result in the abandonment of the perspectives you started with, and it shouldn’t. But it does allow you to say, ‘OK, I believe this one thing, and here’s why. But, I can understand that someone might object to that because of this other thing, and that’s a valid view, even though it isn’t the one that I hold.’ I think this sort of cognitive empathy is something that’s hard to develop in a traditional learning setting because there’s a focus on competition."

Holden’s time as the Honors College GA has already stretched his skills and experience beyond international education. He highlights, “For one thing, it has already given me experience working in a university office. I’ve become more familiar with the inner workings of this sort of organization. For another, this role has allowed me to make tons of connections that may not have happened otherwise. I’ve been able to learn from people not only in the Honors College but also NCS and the OIED. It’s also been interesting to work specifically with honors students and to hear the sorts of specific concerns that they have as they navigate college life and academics.” He has also gained experience in being proactive in problem-solving and teamwork. He emphasized, “My time at the Honors College has reaffirmed the importance of having a great team. The folks here are all very smart, committed professionals and do an incredible job. They are committed to the good of the student and are willing to put in whatever effort it takes to help our students succeed and flourish. That includes not only our permanent staff, but also the student employees and volunteers.”

During his time as the Honors College GA, Holden hopes to improve Honors College international education experiences through access to information and resources about opportunities and providing support to students as they apply to study abroad. He says, “I hope that my work relating to international education has and will have a deeper impact on the Honors College… Hopefully, my work both within the Honors College and in collaboration with NCS and OIED has helped raise awareness and provided useful information.”

We are so grateful for James’ contributions to the Honors College this year! His abundance of experience and background certainly serve the Honors College and its students well.

Top photo features Holden with his dog, Pogo. Photo submitted.

Published: Dec 7, 2023 2:14pm