SRU’s honors program grows into an Honors College
Slippery Rock University Honors College Director George Brown (back row, third from left) meets with honors students at a recent networking event. Formerly called the honors program, SRU's Honors College was redesignated after a successful completion of a growth plan.
Sept. 13, 2018
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - The Slippery Rock University honors program has been "redesignated" as an Honors College, following the successful completion of a three-year strategic plan for SRU's growing interdisciplinary community. The change to an Honors College follows criteria laid out by the National Collegiate Honors Council.
"The change is not a marketing strategy; it's recognition of achievement at a higher level," said George Brown, SRU professor of political science and director of the Honors College. "We were very well established as an honors program and we've had the support of the University that made it possible for us to take off."
Brown is not taking credit for the growth, instead pointing to a strong program inherited from former director Brad Wilson, the current associate provost for transformational experiences, and support from other University administrators including Philip Way, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs. However, the measurable growth in honors since Brown took over in 2015 is undeniable.
There are more than 420 students in the program this year, up from 250 three years ago thanks to record-breaking freshman cohorts of 135 in 2017 and 158 this year. The Honors College admission standards have increased gradually over three years. Admission into the Honors College requires a high school grade-point average of 3.8 or an SAT score of 1,220 . This year's class has averages of 3.87 and 1,227, respectively.
"Our goal is to offer academic and personal growth, but also an academic challenge that's appropriate for students," Brown said. "For the high achievers who performed really well in high school, we want to continue to engage and challenge them at a level that is appropriate to their interests."
Students accepted into the Honors College have opportunities to develop and expand their education within and beyond the classroom. They take up to seven classes that are exclusively for honors students and capped at 25 seats to encourage more discussion and interaction compared to larger, intro-level courses that are more lecture based. Credits for the classes, which typically have the same syllabus and reading material as non-honors classes, can be applied to students' liberal studies requirement.
"Our approach is not to make students work harder; it's to challenge them to think more deeply and make connections at a higher level," Brown said. "The assumption behind honors programs is that students will be more successful if they are challenged appropriately and feel motivated by their peers."
In addition to classes, honors students attend cultural events and conferences, participate in social and community service activities and travel together, both regionally and abroad. Each spring, Honors College students plan a four-day bus trip to cities like New York, Boston and Toronto and there's an honors class that travels internationally for two or more weeks in May. The Topics in Japanese Culture course traveled to Japan last year.
Honors College students have incentives like priority scheduling, an option to live in Watson Hall as part of the Honors Living Learning Community and they can substitute honors courses with faculty-student research, leadership positions or other contracted projects.
Nichole Miller, a junior biology major from Volant, is an honors student who has already traveled abroad twice, once as part of a Philosophy of Art honors class that toured Europe in May 2017 and when she was selected to represent SRU among honors students from other schools in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education for a study-abroad program, May 14 to June 4, in Vienna, Austria and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"(Being an Honors College student) provides me with a lot of opportunities to travel and experience different things," said Miller, who is co-chair of the Honors College events committee. "It changes your outlook on life seeing how other people live."
The events committee organizes outings such as a picnic with live music during SRU's Week of Welcome move-in program and they will visit Kennywood Park's in Pittsburgh for "Fright Night" later this fall. These fun, social activities may seem like a way to balance the "extra" work that is perceived to burden Honors College students, but Miller doesn't see it that way.
"Many of my friends say, 'I should've applied for the Honors College; you get to do so many cool things,'" Miller said. "There are so many benefits and the classes aren't that much harder; there's just more discussion and they are smaller. Also, I like how involved I can get and Dr. Brown is so open and willing to help students any way he possibly can."
Brown sees plenty of opportunity for future growth of the Honors College since there are SRU students who qualify for entry, but have not applied. One such opportunity, according to Brown, is through scholarship. This year, more than 40 freshmen benefited from Honors College scholarships, while many others received other types of University merit-based scholarships.
"We're trying to grow in a way that manages the growth of students with expanded curriculum," said Brown, who added that there are 22 honors classes offered this semester. "We think that the Honors College adds a lot to the University, especially because high-level students tend to have higher retention rates. We bring great students to SRU, and the University administration has been very supportive of us. It's a win-win situation."
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