Honors Program Senior One of Four Nationally to be Named 2014 Portz Scholar

Sam Shearer

A member of Eastern Kentucky University’s nationally prominent Honors Program is one of only four Honors students nationally to be named a 2014 Portz Scholar, a distinction awarded each year to the best Honors student research projects in the nation.

Sam Shearer, a senior accounting major from Winchester, was honored for his Fall 2013 Honors Thesis at EKU entitled “Truman Smith’s Reports on Nazi Militarism: A Study of Domestic Political Priorities and U.S. Foreign Policy Making in Franklin Roosevelt’s First and Second Terms.” He will receive a plaque and $350 stipend at the 2014 annual meeting of the National Collegiate Honors Council in Denver, Colo., on Nov. 8. Shearer will also present his work at the conference.

“Each Honors Program or Honors College across the country is allowed to nominate only one honors thesis or research project from their campus each year, so Sam’s paper was in competition against the very best of the very best among Honors students nationally,” said Dr. David Coleman, interim director of EKU’s Honors Program and the faculty mentor for Shearer’s project. “To be judged by a national panel of Honors faculty and administrators as worthy of this award demonstrates the superior quality of Sam’s work, and it contributes significantly to the visibility and national reputation of the EKU Honors Program as a whole.”

EKU will once again lead the nation this year in the total number of students making presentations at the National Collegiate Honors Council. Thirty-nine students will attend the prestigious event, and all will make panel or poster presentations.

Coleman called Shearer’s Honors thesis “one of the finest expressions of mastery in undergraduate research that I have had the privilege to mentor in my two decades in higher education, and is richly deserving of this recognition. It is not only an outstanding exposé of a largely forgotten chapter in U.S. political history, but also a cautionary tale about the potential dangers of trite dismissal and demonization of those with whom we disagree politically.”

The work examines reports issued by Smith, who served as assistant military attaché in Germany from 1920 to 1924 and as head military attaché there from 1935 to 1939. He was the first American diplomat to interview Hitler and, with Charles Lindbergh, provided unprecedented intelligence on German military buildup. His reports, however, were largely ignored by the Roosevelt administration.

In conducting research for the thesis, Shearer identified and read significant secondary books and articles on the topic and located and inventoried the surviving primary source memoirs and letters of the major political actors associated with Smith’s reports and their reception within the Roosevelt administration. Some of the sources were published, while others were available only in archives.

The results of his work “offered a window into the political culture of the United States in the 1930s,” Coleman said. “Not unlike our own era, the late 1930s turns out upon detailed examination to have been characterized by intense political polarization and exclusionist rhetoric that dangerously led politicians of various stripes to ignore or dismiss even important factual information reported by their supposed political enemies.”

Shearer said “he could never have asked for more from a teacher and mentor” in Coleman. “I think the (EKU Honors) program is great. From the get-go, a higher level of work was expected of me. The teachers push each student to be the best they can be in a supportive and constructive way. I definitely would not have had the same success in my college experience if it were not for the Honors Program.”

He also saluted EKU Libraries employees for their assistance with his research.

Shearer, who was home-schooled, has compiled a perfect 4.0 GPA at EKU and works full-time as a staff accountant at EnsiteUSA in Versailles. The son of Steve and Jennifer Shearer, he is married to his “biggest supporter,” Rebekah. “I have been blessed with wonderful family and friends.”

The other Portz Scholars came from the University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Nevada at Reno and Kent State University.

The Portz Scholars Program, established in 1990, honors John and Edythe Portz’s many contributions to Honors education.

Published on August 15, 2014