Honors trying to keep students

Adriane Hardin

It’s said that to succeed, a person must set themselves apart from the masses.

That’s something Gail Guiling, a 2003 graduate of Harvard Law school, has learned.

Guiling, who is also a 2000 alumna of Western and its honors program, said if she hadn’t completed the honors program as an undergraduate she might have never made it to Harvard.

“You don’t have to go to Princeton if you are wanting to go to a great graduate school,” Guiling said. “You can do it at Western.”

But the honors program graduation rates indicate that most students aren’t convinced.

A total of 1,441 students have been enrolled in the program since 2001, while 34 students have graduated.

But an effort has begun to graduate more students from the program.

Western administrators are planning to devote $100,000 to the honors program in an effort to boost its graduation rate.

Their plan involves offering more incentives to encourage both students and faculty to stick with the program.

The program requires 24 hours of honors courses, an honors thesis and a 3.4 grade point average.

Some students say it isn’t worth the extra effort.

Maysville senior Sara Huss was dropped from the honors program because she failed to complete an adequate number of honors classes.

Huss, a biology and chemistry major, said the program didn’t offer enough courses that coincided with her majors.

Huss said she knew the program allows students to augment upper level courses by completing extra work.

“It’s easier not to do it,” Huss said. “Basically, it was there and I really liked the fact that they registered early.”

The thesis was also a concern for Huss.

“I didn’t find anything that would have been a good thesis topic early enough,” Huss said. ” I’ve done research just not thesis type research.”

Springfield senior Amie Abell saw it differently.

But it wasn’t the courses that drew Abell, who has been accepted to the University of Kentucky medical school, to the honors program.

The honors program allowed Abell to combine dietetics and biology into one major. Abell is about to complete her thesis.

Patricia Minter, associate director of the honor’s program, said students misunderstand the concept of the thesis.

She said honors students come from many fields and have many talents. Graduates of the program include photojournalists, dancers and artists who have shot photo essays, choreographed dances and completed works of art as their theses.

“A senior honors thesis tells you that this is a student who is able to organize a a long term project,” former honors program director Sam McFarland said.

But there’s more than easing concerns about the thesis to building the honors program.

The university is a day late and a dollar short for former honors program director James Baker who resigned as director in 1990.

When Baker was director the program’s operating budget ranged from $6,210 in 1980 to $5,408 in 1990.

The honors program is currently operating on $68,143.91 dollar budget for the 2003-04 fiscal year.

The honors program did not have a permanent space during that time and was often shuffled from one campus building to another.

The program staffed one part-time secretary during Baker’s term despite his continued requests for more staff.

Baker reached the end of his rope in 1990 when it was suggested that the honors program stage a haunted house to earn extra money.

Baker resigned a week later.

“I especially don’t miss the frustration of trying to develop a program and then not be given any kind of support or funds to do it,” he said.

McFarland became director after Baker resigned.

He directed the program until 1998 when he resigned to devote more time to teaching psychology.

McFarland said funding and support increased during his term.

When he resigned as director in 1998 the program was operating on a $60,416 dollar budget.

McFarland said Burch and Bob Hanes, both of whom served at separate times as vice president for academic affairs during his term, supported the program.

The program moved into the current honors house in 1998 and a full-time secretary was hired.

Current director Doug McElroy, who began his term in 1998, said they received a “decent” amount of support from the university.

Support is something that Faculty Regent Robert Dietle said the honors program needs.

“I think it is far more important to fund the honors program than say the athletics program,” Dietle said. “I am pleased that the university is going to put some resources into the honors program.”

Honors courses offer faculty the chance to interact with students who are more focused on learning, he said.

Administrators are signaling that the honors program is a priority.

“An honors program is also a way for a university like Western to distinguish itself from other universities,” President Gary Ransdell said. Western administrators will meet with honors committee members to discuss ways to allocate the funds.

Ransdell said Western is looking at hiring a full-time director for the program and securing better housing for students involved in the program.

Rodes-Harlin Hall, where honors housing currently is located, was once an attractive housing option, but dorm renovations brought students out of Rodes and into the McLean, Southwest and Northeast halls.

Minter wrote a proposal outlining how the academic quality funds might be used and how the existing program could be tweaked to add new incentives for students.

The proposal suggests earmarking funds for an honors lecture series, service activities and workshops.

Minter said the perks the funds will bring should cause the retention and graduation rates to increase.

The proposal calls for no changes in requirements for students. Those enrolled in the program will still need 24 hours of honors classes and an honors thesis while maintaining at least a 3.4 grade point average.

Reach Adriane Hardin at [email protected]