Mahurin Honors College staff reflect on experience

Alexandria Anderson, Editor-in-Chief

The Mahurin Honors College is the first honors college in Kentucky, earning this distinction in 2007 after its role as an honors program since 1963. Since then, hundreds of scholars have graduated from the college, many deeply impacted by MHC staff members.

Susann Davis has served as the assistant director of the MHC since 2019, after working at WKU as a Spanish professor for 24 years. She retired from the position this semester and reflected on her time at WKU and the MHC.

Davis was hired by WKU in 1999 on a one-year contract to be a Spanish instructor, and then went into a five-year position teaching entry level Spanish courses. Soon after, Davis became the director of the high school foreign language festival, started teaching intermediate Spanish and took on advising for the Department of Modern Languages.

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“I thought to myself at the time, who wants to teach five sections of 101 and 102 in Spanish for more than five years?” Davis said. “I was completely good with that. But my position immediately started to evolve.”

Before Davis moved to the MHC in 2019, the university removed the Colonnade language requirements for courses she was hired to teach. She said she was “ready for a change,” and she is the first person in the position without a terminal degree.

In her position at the MHC, Davis oversees scholar grants, academic decisions, the advising team, colloquia and honors courses and much of the college’s programming. Throughout her time at WKU, she has also served as the president of the Kentucky World Language Association, on the board of directors for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language and on the WKU title IX committee. 

“I’m most grateful for all the opportunities for growth that I’ve had,” Davis said. “I’m fortunate that people believed in me and gave me opportunities.” 

Davis has also been involved in study abroad experiences for students and others in the Bowling Green community. She said experiences like bringing regional high school teachers to Mexico to improve language skills and bringing senior citizens to Cuba were some of her favorite memories.

“The number one experience for me has been study abroad experiences, whether that be with students or experiences that weren’t for credit with local, regional teachers and senior citizens,” Davis said.

In the MHC, Davis has valued how closely she has gotten to work with students, and said that is what she will miss the most.

“I will miss the people and the scholars, the students [and] the contact with students,” Davis said. 

Similarly, this student contact and knowledge of the MHC student experience is what will stay with Davis after her retirement.

“I think what will stick with me is the connection that I’ve had with students over the years and watching them grow and go on to do amazing things,” Davis said.

Throughout her time at the MHC, Davis hopes that she has helped guide the college through tough times.

“It’s been a crazy four years,” Davis said. “And I started with no advisors when I first started the position. We went through COVID, and Dr. Cobane’s cancer, so I can’t say that there’s been a lot of growth in my time here, but I hope that I have steadied the ship, moved it in the right direction.”

Zack Ryle has been at WKU for 17 years, completing a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting and sports management before pursuing professional opportunities within the university.

Photo provided by Zack Ryle.

For the last three years of his WKU career, which began in 2007, Ryle has served as the assistant director of enrollment and brand management at the Mahurin Honors College.

“I don’t know a time professionally without WKU,” Ryle said. “So looking back to who I was 11 years ago when I first started working part-time at the institution, then starting full time that April and now more than a decade. That Zack is very different than the Zack today.”

Ryle’s work at WKU, academically and professionally, has prepared him for his new position at US Equestrian as their director of communications. Since the position is new to the organization, Ryle will be able to form much of what it is, something he did at the MHC and at his role in Gatton Academy.

“I see a clear path to it [the position] and I know that, as we all do, what you’ve done in your past should lead to what you do in your future and I wouldn’t be where I am without [it],” Ryle said. “That’s something that, especially in these last couple of weeks, I’ve reflected on a lot of.”

He is grateful for those at WKU that have “poured into him,” and he feels continuing this act within his future opportunities is vital.

“That concept of pouring in and pouring out I think is really important, especially at an institution like WKU, where you’re going to have people who pour into you so that you can pour into others,” Ryle said. “I’m so grateful for those who took the time out to do that. And I hope that I’ve been able to do that for the students here. I look forward to the opportunities that come ahead for me to continue to do that.”

Within all of his positions at WKU, from public relations to admissions, Ryle stressed the importance of the student experience. He is glad to have helped so many students on their college paths.

“Students have always been the important part of what I do,” Ryle said. “Marketing and branding, I love the creative side, but if it’s not interacting with what students want or need, then it’s not important […] I think I’ve always loved working with students and helping them and their paths, as we say now, their ascent toward excellence in the MHC. I love getting to look back and being a small part of the journey.”

Something Ryle’s position at the MHC brought was more student interaction, as his previous role at Gatton Academy was “forward facing” and exclusive to prospective students and families. Ryle said his interactions with students in the MHC are “hands down” what he will miss the most.

“I wanted to be involved in the lives of the students,” Ryle said. “[…] I think whether it’s through the branding team, whether it’s through HonorsToppers, whether it’s through H4 counselors or whether it’s just through the daily interactions that I have with students as they come around, that I’m going to miss a lot, and I hope those students feel like I’ve poured into them in different ways.”

During his time at the MHC, Ryle said he is proud of the creation of Out in Honors and MHC Scholars of Color, two honors student organizations.

“There were these two populations that we knew that it just seemed obvious to me that need to be served, and I don’t want to take credit for anything that they have become,” Ryle said. “But I said yeah, like this is something that we need. And I’m proud of us as an institution for making those moves to get there to help scholars who identify in those areas.”

Hannah Roth, a senior biology major in the MHC, said Ryle has influenced and guided her during her time at the MHC.

“Zack has served the students of the Mahurin Honors College as a mentor and a friend,” Roth said. “He guides us to grow as leaders and to maximize opportunities at WKU. Zack consistently goes above and beyond and will leave a lasting impact on the MHC.”

Ryle knows that the future of the MHC will continue to be “student centered and student focused.” He said that since he has seen the MHC from multiple perspectives, he knows the college will continue to grow. 

“I think that this is an opportunity, as Professor Davis and I both leave, for new ideas to be infused,” Ryle said. “I would certainly hope I know that the student centered focus is going to be there and I know that the brand that we set forth is one that resonates with students and is one that is set up for future success.”

Editor-in-chief Alexandria Anderson can be reached at [email protected].