The Honours Program at IE University is much more than a network set up to celebrate outstanding academic achievements. Although it is made up of bachelor’s students already in the top 5% of their program, the goal is to continue stretching these curious and talented minds to help them grow into high-impact professionals.

The annual Honours Program challenge achieves exactly this. By bringing together top students from multiple disciplines, it allows them to gain new skills as they unleash their combined potential. The second year of the challenge has recently taken place, and we got in touch with one of the participants, Lea Mathies, who’s studying the Bachelor in Politics, Law and Economics.

Here’s what she had to say about the Honour Program challenge and the program in general.

What was this year’s Honours Program challenge about?

This year’s challenge was a collaboration between IE University and Amazon Alexa. It centered around the new IE Tower and how voice technology can be used to enhance and improve the educational experience. We were split into groups, which were organized to be as diverse as possible with regard to our degrees.

There was an event to launch the challenge, which also included a set of presentations and workshops. Then we had three weeks to work in our groups and come up with a proposal of how Alexa technology could be implemented in the new tower, and how to improve one aspect of the IE University experience. It could have focused on any aspect of the educational experience and leveraged the growing interest in and opportunities of Ed Tech.

Over the three weeks, we were mentored by both an expert from Alexa and one from IE University. We then all pitched our project to a panel and were evaluated based on different criteria such as innovation, feasibility, creativity and so forth.

What were your main tasks?

In short, the project was about designing one specific project or proposal for how to integrate Alexa voice technology. My group came up with the idea of a voice teaching assistant, which we called “Alexita.” We saw such assistants both as a solution for the increasing integration of technology into the classroom, as well as a potential for making classes even more engaging.

Our pitch was that, “teachers should teach, students should learn, let Alexita do the rest.” We were a multidisciplinary team, and hence, the splitting of tasks was actually quite natural. We all just tried to jump on the areas we felt most excited about, whether that was the implementation, design, financials or the protection of privacy.

What challenges did you face when carrying it out?

I suppose there were really two main challenges. One, for sure, was that this year’s Honours Program was affected by the pandemic. When compared to last year, where the biggest part was meeting other students and really getting to know them, it was much more difficult this year. My group definitely got the best work done when we finally met in person a few days before the challenge. It facilitated a strong discussion and sharing of ideas, which gave our project a final push.

The second challenge was that with these kinds of projects you always juggle creativity and feasibility. It can be challenging to really come up with an innovative idea while making sure it is feasible from a technology and legal perspective.

Who was on your team?

I was pat of the winning team, It was made up of seven fantastic students:

 It was a perfect mix for this type of project, and it was one of my best teamwork experiences so far.

Overall, what was the main lesson you took from this challenge?

The value of interdisciplinary skill sets, 100%. Good ideas emerge from teams with complementary skills. This idea that complex solutions and products are found if a diverse group of people comes together is the most important aspect of this challenge. I am very glad that IE University designed it with that in mind. 

What do you think is the ideal student profile to get into the Honours Program?

I definitely do not think there is an ideal student profile and if you look at my previous answer, you will know exactly why. The greatest asset of the Honours Program is bringing together many different students from various backgrounds and with diverse ideas. Of course, academic excellence is a prerequisite for the Honours Program. But people achieve this excellence through different means, and with very different purposes, passions and visions.

What do you think is the key to academic success?

There is definitely an aspect of hard work, resilience and consistency—academic success centers on your ability to put in the effort. But there is also an element of knowing yourself, particularly your strengths and interests, and pursuing those. A lot of times it is also supported by having the right people around you to support, inspire and push you, whether peers or professors. That said, I guess it also depends on how you want to define success for yourself.

How has the Honours Program helped you and what do you think about it?

The Honours Program has only existed for two years and I feel very grateful to have been able to participate in it. The best part has been engaging with other students. But I have also been able to take something more specific from each year—a new skill, interest or inspiration. Last year for example, we did a great workshop on building your personal brand. I believe that the Honours Program provides an opportunity to take advantage of IE University’s interdisciplinarity and to challenge students who have proven that they want to be challenged, as well as to provide more ways for these students to grow. I hope this is something it can achieve as it improves each year.

How would you sum up the Honours Program?

The Honours Program is above all an opportunity to bring highly motivated students together and provide opportunities for both professional and personal growth, as well as being a platform for recognition.