Growth in Honors Colleges Aided by Large Donations

Not only are new honors colleges and programs being created at universities across the nation, but, increasingly, large donations are enhancing the opportunities at programs already in existence.

One of the largest gifts ever came last year, when benefactor Tom Lewis and his wife, Jan, donated $23 million to develop the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky.

The University of Akron has received a $3 million gift from Dr. Gary and Pamela Williams for the Honors College, which was renamed in their honor.

The announcement was made at a ceremony that included appreciative thank-yous from students who stood on steps as the couple descended.

The gift will be used to fund grants for students to study abroad and undertake research.

The couple have long supported what is now the Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Honors College, and have also donated to other programs since they graduated from UA in 1968.

“We are enormously grateful that the Williamses are demonstrating their belief in and support of the University and the Honors College in this manner,” President Scott Scarborough said in a statement. The couple’s cumulative commitment of more than $10 million in giving will help advance the continued growth and expansion of the college, officials said.

The couple, who met as undergraduates, said in a statement that the university “has been and remains an important part of our lives. We appreciate the opportunity to provide this support and look forward to the great successes that we know participating students will achieve in the years ahead.”

Enrollment in the Honors College has increased 30 percent in the last five years to 1,937 in 2015.

While many faculty members at the University of Montana have struggled with cuts, there is good news for the Davidson Honor College, where a new $1.5 million gift will allow the hiring of two new specialized professors and a full time career development coordinator. Davidson Honors College President Brock Tessman has more details.

“We are going to bring in at least two full time teaching, research, and mentoring fellows,” Tessman said. “So starting next summer we will unveil a fully developed career development program. This will be staffed by a full time program coordinator. Which will be taking them all the way from a resume critique to interview prep to landing that first internship.”

During it’s 25th anniversary celebration this past weekend, The Davidson Honors College received the gift from the Davidson family that comes with a chance to bring even more staff into the program.

“The Davidson’s have also issued a challenge grant  as part of this gift,” Tessman said. “It is an open offer, and that means they will match dollar- for-dollar any additional gifts that come in to support this program and that will be up to two additional fellows.”

The UNLV Honors College received a $1 million boost to their scholarship program.

The gift was from the Bennett Family Foundation to support scholarships for entering freshmen and upperclassmen starting next fall.  This money will provide scholarship support to more than 150 Honors College students over the next four years.

Enrollment in the Honors College has nearly doubled from less than 300 in 2012 to over 500 today. The gift was made in an effort to maintain the college’s growth by offering compelling financial aid packages. This will allow the Honors College more of a capacity to recruit, support, and retain Nevada’s academic talent.

“Our students often say that the Honors College was the deciding factor in their choice to attend UNLV,” Marta Meana, the dean of the Honors College, said. “These students raise the academic standards and ultimately improve the quality of the entire university.”

The money will also fund a new mentorship program that will ensure new students will learn the ropes of college life and academic success from upperclassmen. The Bennett Family Foundation has contributed more than 10 million dollars to UNLV over the years.

University of Central Arkansas alumni and philanthropists Rush & Linda Harding have pledged $500,000 to benefit the Norbert O. Schedler Honors College.

Rush ’76 and Linda Harding ’82 have a long history of support and service to the institution.

In 2002, the Hardings established the Holloway-Hicks Scholarship to benefit African-American students. In 2004, they gave more than $1.4 million to UCA, which was the single largest gift in university history at that time. Those funds were used to support student scholarships and to construct Harding Centennial Plaza, a signature landmark on the campus.





Testimonials: University of Iowa Honors Faculty

Editor’s Note: From time to time, we publish testimonials from honors program faculty and students. Below are three contributions from honors faculty who teach at the University of Iowa. Emphases are added.

Tom Keegan: Rhetoric

Head of the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio

I am always impressed by the extent to which my Honors students view their studies as inextricable from their personal and professional lives. They don’t so much take classes as absorb and apply their learning. They want to know how what they learn today can be used today and tomorrow. They are creative pragmatists who will undertake any assignment – digitally–oriented, community–based, or research–intensive – as a means to honing skills that they can put to use in the broader world.

Honors students’ capacity for innovation has made them a joy to teach. I often run my classes as experimental labs for new assignments. I find Honors students are eager to test out new ways of learning and new forms of analysis. They are also excellent at troubleshooting these new initiatives, and all my best assignments have been the result of the handwork and critical creativity of my Honors students.

And Honors students follow up. Months and years after they have taken my courses, students will email me, come to my office hours, stop me in the hallways to talk about a debate we had in class or a TV series we studied or trip abroad they are planning. They are among the chattiest, most engaging, and intellectually inquisitive people I have ever met. They are a tremendous boon to the University community and the great sustainers of its spirit of wide-ranging intellectual endeavor.


Waltraud Maierhofer: German

I was drawn to teaching in the Honors program by everything it advocates, especially small class sizes, interdisciplinary study, students from very different majors, creative and more in-depth course design, focus on the students and peer activities instead of lectures. Yet the rewards of teaching in Honors have far exceeded my initial expectations, and that is because of the students in the Honors program. They are not only academically gifted and often have an exceptional basic education with great speaking and writing skills; they are curious, hardworking, and highly motivated individuals who challenge each other as well as me and with whom it is a pleasure to learn. The difference between regular undergraduate non-major classes and an honors class in one of the General Education areas where all are eager to participate, is enormous and makes for a fresh and very satisfying teaching experience.

Recently, I have initiated and taught an “Honors Seminar on Global and International Issues” about contraception and unwanted pregnancy across time and cultures. The Honors course allowed me to experience and share the value of sharing ideas and approaches across disciplines. For several sessions, I invited presentations by expert colleagues not only from other languages and literatures and other disciplines within the College of Liberal Arts but also from the Colleges of Public Health and Medicine.  I have learned from them, along with the participants in the seminar. For several weeks of the seminar, the students present and discuss their research projects, allowing for diverse materials and building on individual interests and expertise. Often, they become the teacher with me more a learner than the authority behind a podium. I am confident we all benefit from the intellectual exchange. It is a pleasure to work with such gifted young minds.


Donna Parsons: Honors and Music

Honors seminars place a high emphasis on developing undergraduates’ research skills and providing students with opportunities to share their research in a wide array of venues.  Whether studying popular music or literature, lively class discussions require students to provide textual evidence to support their ideas. 

For example in discussing the level of creativity behind John Lennon’s utilization of an 1843 antique circus poster in crafting his lyrics for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” students spend 15 minutes walking around campus documenting random words and phrases that catch their eyes and ears.  In class they attempt to turn their findings into a catchy lyric and realize the difficulties in converting the mundane into the profound.

Equally important in expanding students’ critical thinking are the opportunities honors seminars give students in conducting primary and original research.  As students examine first editions of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility (1811) and Emma (1816) in the University Library’s Special Collections and Archives, they consider how Austen’s contemporaries encountered these novels via their subscription to their local lending library and then critique subsequent editions as they analyze the development of book publishing.

Testimonials: Clemson, Calhoun Honors College Faculty

Editor’s Note: From time to time, we publish testimonials from honors program faculty and students. Below are two contributions from faculty members who teach at Clemson’s Calhoun Honors College, which received a five-mortarboard rating in our recent book, INSIDE HONORS. Emphases are added.

From Michael LeMahieu,
Associate Professor
Department of English
Director, Pearce Center for Professional Communication
Faculty Fellow, National Scholars Program

I have been involved with the Calhoun Honors College for 11 of the 12 years I have taught at Clemson University. My experiences with the Honors College have been hands down my single most rewarding pedagogical experience at Clemson. I became involved with the Honors College so quickly after arriving on campus thanks to the recommendation of a student. Here’s a first point to emphasize: the Calhoun Honors College not only provides students with a superior educational experience but it also allows students to shape the vision for that educational experience.

In my various efforts, I try to put the voices of the students first; it’s a lesson I learned from the Honors College and one that remains best exemplified there. I have also worked in several different capacities with the College, from teaching first-year seminars to advising senior theses to facilitating book discussions to serving on selection committees, scholarship committees, advisory committees, and as a faculty fellow for the National Scholars Program.

I highlight these areas because they instantiate the range of opportunities for faculty members to be involved with the honors college. The Calhoun Honors College benefits from the stable yet nimble vision and leadership of its director and from an ace staff that is fully invested in student success and that exhibits unwavering professionalism.

Discussions are held, books are read, and essays are written at Clemson University that would not be were it not for the honors college. Students learn more, better, and differently as a result of their work in the honors college, which continues to provide models and opportunities for my own thinking and learning. It’s the jewel in the crown at Clemson.

From O. Thompson Mefford,
Dept. of Materials Science

In evaluating the Clemson Calhoun Honors College, I have the unique prospective of being both a student and a faculty member. As a student, I enjoyed many of the honors programs including living in the honors residence hall, the Dixon Fellows Program, and the opportunity to complete a departmental honor thesis. The biggest takeaway from my experience as a student was the unique ability for the honors college to connect students and faculty in meaningful activities. What I am most grateful for is is the rich exchange of ideas and mentoring that made my “Clemson Experience”.

Since returning as a faculty member, the Honors College has been my vehicle to connect with students. My involvement to the honors college has spanned the entire student experience at Clemson, starting before the student arrives and beyond graduation. I have aided in the selection of honors students and National Scholars, where was able to have thought provoking discussions with the amazing students the College is attracting. I have assisted in the transition to Clemson through participation in the EUREKA! Program, where mentorship in research practices begins before the student even starts their Clemson academic career.

I have had the opportunity to develop curriculum including special course on nanotechnology and honors contracts to push students to explore areas beyond what is covered in the classroom. Finally, I have mentored students throughout their time at Clemson on to careers and graduate school.

Nonetheless, the greatest educational moments of my career have occurred while mentoring honors students and working with small groups in the lab. These opportunities to have a direct impact on the lives of the students have occurred through working with honors students. It is these types of interactions that are the most rewarding part of my career and keep me focused on bettering myself as an instructor.

Job Opening: Honors College Dean University of New Mexico

The University of New Mexico (UNM) invites nominations and applications for the position of Dean of the Honors College. UNM’s Honors College grew out of one of the oldest and most nationally respected honors programs in the country. For nearly 60 years, it has provided challenging opportunities for intensive interdisciplinary and cross-cultural liberal education to highly motivated, talented and creative undergraduates. The excellent instruction and individual attention offered in UNM’s Honors College create the benefits of a first-¬rate, small liberal arts college atmosphere within a flagship research university setting. It has long served as a model for many other successful programs across the nation and its faculty and administrators have been actively involved in Honors education at the national level.
The Honors College offers students the options of pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Honors Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts, a minor in Interdisciplinary Studies, or a designation in Interdisciplinary Studies. Ten fulltime, tenure-track faculty teach honors courses and pursue tenure within honors, not in other departments. The Honors College currently has 1,774 active students and has been steadily growing each year. The Fall 2016 incoming freshman class was 632 students.
Completed applications must include:
— A letter of interest addressing preferred qualifications for the position and the applicant’s interest in leadership of University and the Honors College.
— Curriculum vitae.
— Names and contact information of at least four professional references, at least one of whom should be from the candidate’s current institution or organization.
Applications must be submitted online at UNMJobs (no fax, email or mail applications will be accepted) which can be accessed through the following link:

For best consideration submit application by January 31, 2017; however the position will remain open until filled. 

For the full job description, visit:
If you have questions about this position, please contact the Search Coordinator, Jessica Ramos, at or the Search Committee Chair, Craig White (Dean of UNM Business School), at

How Alive Are the Liberal Arts in Honors Programs?

The short answer: very alive.

After an extended period during which more and more students have felt the need–regardless of personal interest and aptitude–to major in business, engineering, or computer-related fields, the liberal arts, especially the humanities, have faced declining enrollment.

The impact that this trend has had on personal growth and enlightened participation in civic life is evident, given the tone and outcome of the presidential election.

In the meantime, several prominent public universities have endured attacks on their humanities departments and commitment to learning for learning’s sake, most notably UT Austin, Florida universities, and, very recently, UW Madison. Most states have dramatically reduced financial support for their universities; some regents have used the real or manufactured budget crisis as a pretext for attacking non-vocational disciplines.

But the liberal arts and, yes, the core humanities that are essential to the liberal arts, have survived in public honors colleges and programs. Some students express resentment that, in order to be in an honors program, they must take a series of interdisciplinary seminars and electives in the humanities. Under pressure from parents or highly focused on their chosen vocational discipline, they want “to  get on with it” and reach a point where they can start making real money and pay back those student loans.

This is understandable. But honors educators know that almost every bright student is in many ways unformed and searching for paths of meaning in their lives. One course in history, or philosophy, or literature, or maybe in religious studies or film, can guide a student toward a lifetime of serious inquiry, self reflection, and greater compassion for others. These and other courses in the liberal arts reinforce the application of informed judgment to facts that are often contradictory or in flux.

Consensus is emerging that for many students, “We don’t need more STEM majors. We need more STEM majors with liberal arts training.” Indeed, this is one of the two or three major advantages of honors programs. STEM majors who otherwise would take few liberal arts courses (and an extremely small number of humanities classes), must take them as members of a university-wide honors college or program.

But one other major–business–could likely benefit even more from greater exposure to the liberal arts and, again, to the humanities

Recent research shows that “critical thinking,” measured after adjusting for entrance test scores, shows the greatest gains for students in the liberal arts.  Engineering and technology students have high raw entrance test scores and strong critical thinking ability, but after adjusting for the effect of the high test scores, their critical thinking skills are relatively lower.

Business majors do not receive high raw or adjusted scores in critical thinking. Given that a plurality of bachelor’s degrees are awarded in business subjects, this is a matter of significant concern.

English is the discipline most offered by honors programs. This is so because many of the required English classes have a heavy writing component, often associated with the study of rhetoric. In these classes the humanities and vocational mastery come together in a way, for the most successful and most fulfilled professionals often have outstanding communication skills and a heightened sensitivity to the thoughts and needs of others.

So what are the “liberal arts”? The answer to this question varies, but here we will include the following disciplines, all of which are traditional core offerings in liberal arts colleges (humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences):

Humanities: English, history, philosophy, fine arts, foreign languages, religious studies, film, classics. Sciences: math, biology, chemistry, physics, geology. Social Sciences: sociology, anthropology, gender studies, psychology, communications, political science, economics, and geography.

(One can see that many of these can be, and often are, “vocational” in themselves.)

Using the above as our “liberal arts,” we used data gathered for our most recent book, Inside Honors, which included 4,460 honors sections. Of these, we found that 59% were in the liberal arts, not counting interdisciplinary seminars, which accounted for another 26% of sections. Most of these seminars had a humanities focus, so about 85% of honors sections were in the liberal arts.

By discipline, English had the highest percentage of sections, even when sections in business, engineering, and technology are included. Math and business disciplines combined had about the same number of sections as English.

The STEM disciplines are strongly represented, however, accounting for 25% of honors sections. (But the science and math sections counted here are also part of the overall liberal arts group.)

Engineering and technology, considered separately, make up  8% of honors sections. Admittedly, the “regular” courses in these disciplines are usually rigorous enough in themselves.

Not all of the humanities are strongly represented, however, with classics, film, and religious studies combined counting for only 1.4% of honors sections. In fairness, the classics do feature prominently in many interdisciplinary seminars.