Revised Honors Program brings structure

Reinstated: Creates new opportunites, satisfies board

By Mariah Powell
On September 16, 2011

After the decision in spring 2011 to allow the Honors Program to phase out, the program returned in August under a new system.

Over the summer, the Board of Regents met twice and came up with a structured Honors Program. University President Dr. Joseph C. Rallo said the Honors Program is back on track and has been positively reshaped.

 "We had a very immature program before because it was not fully textured and did not have a lot of opportunities for students," Rallo said.

Students were admitted to the university and then offered the opportunity to go into the program, which was never a process of recruitment, Rallo said. Now the Honors Program has recruitment material, which will be used to recruit students rather than taking them in with their university's acceptance.

Rallo said the Honors Program never had a relationship with the other honor societies on campus.

"There were very few real honors classes, [but] mostly research," Rallo said. "Research is good, but that's not what the Honors Program is all about."

There will now be classification-based seminars for honors students to attend,

Rallo said.

"This year our topic is community engagement and internships," Rallo said. "It's a part of the Quality Enhancement Plan from SACS accreditation for every university."

The biggest change, made specifically by degree, is the increase of honors-enhanced courses, Rallo said.

"We only had about five or six of these courses before, [but] now we are up to 40 or 50," he said. "A lot more faculty members are involved so it will be almost across the board, ranging from agriculture to zoology. Students will have far more choices in their discipline to take honors."

Special classes will be identified in which professors will agree to build an honors component into their class, Honors Program Director Dr. Shirley Eoff said.

"Honor students will be embedded in a class they would be taking for their major anyways, but doing additional or different elements that are above and beyond the other students," Eoff said.

Eoff said the new system sets all students at 18 honors hours to be classified under high honor and takes away the option of earning 27 hours for highest honor. Now to earn highest honor the students will do an additional project on top of their 18 hours.

Graduates Alvin and Patricia New gave the Honors program a significant amount of money years ago that can be used to support students going to seminars, internships or conferences, Rallo said.

In addition, Rallo said the Board of Regents approved $1 per student-credit-hour per student, which will pay for undergraduate research opportunities for all students on campus who choose to engage in research.

The money will be administered by the Honors director, but will benefit everyone.

 At current rates, Rallo said that will be $180,000 for research that the program did not have before.

The university is in the process of applying for Phi Kappa Phi, which is the largest honors society in the country.

"When students graduate from the Honors Program they will also be a member of Phi Kappa Phi, which will help them on resumes and if they want to go to graduate school," Rallo said.

Students who were on the program prior to this fall can take advantage of the improved program, but will continue under the old system, Rallo said.

 Honors student sophomore Johnna Schwartz said she is excited about this year and the changes seem like great opportunities.

"It's nice to have those extra incentives of being in the program, academically and to build on my career," Schwartz said.

 Schwartz said so far there has not been much of a difference because they have only had one meeting.

 "We seem to be connected as one," Schwartz said. "Everybody realizes what we have and how easily it can be taken away so we respect it a lot more and don't take it for granted."

The program gained 34 new members this semester.

Eoff said this year the program brought in fewer students than before because of the turmoil in the spring. She said all individuals who had applied before the program was set to phase out were contacted upon its reinstatement. Some of those students had already chosen to go to different universities; a few would still be attending ASU but had chosen not to be a part of the Honors program.

"We are very happy that the administration did make the decision to reinstate the program and that 34 students still chose to enter the program despite the turmoil," Eoff said. "I am excited about the doors I think this new program will open. The community certainly supported the Honors program. Now we just have to prove that they made the right decision."

Now the Honors program is home to 135 to 140 students.

The existing program will phase out with the upper level students, Eoff said. Students who entered the program this fall are under what Eoff said to be a ‘more hybrid plan'.

Eoff said this year's 34 students will take their core honors classes this semester, in which three of those credit hours will go in the place of the new three-hour honors seminar requirement. In the spring they are required to take Honors 2302, and then follow out the complete new plan starting their sophomore year.

The first students to completely enter the new program will be those of 2012, Eoff said.

"The turmoil really gave us an opportunity to look at the program with fresh eyes and see what we were doing well and spot the areas we needed to improve on," she said. "The new curriculum is a strong, significant improvement because it is more closely tied to national standards and gives students unique opportunities within their major, retaining the interdisciplinary elements in the Honors seminars."

Rallo said the university expects to grow the Honors Program to about three percent of the total student population.

"There has always been a need for an Honors Program but we didn't have the resources and we made a conscious decision over the summer to recreate it," Rallo said. "I believe I would put this new and improved program up against any university's Honors Program. Universities have to compete, and now in addition to the financial packages, the academic and program packages are

very good."

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