Q&A with Honors College Director


ThompsonThe new University Honors College (UHC) opened its doors in the Fall Semester. Its purpose is to attract top scholars to the university and place them in an environment that stimulates personal growth. The Honors College offers interdisciplinary educational opportunities that enhance the general curriculum as well as social and cultural opportunities. In addition, honors students will take several Honors course together.

Students selected to join the program have distinguished themselves in high school or at the university level with proven record of academic achievement, leadership and community involvement. UHC participants will maintain high academic standards and complete a senior project before graduation.

Located on the second floor of Old Main, the Honors College is directed by Dr. Carolyn R. Thompson. An Honors Council, comprised of professors and administrators, has also been appointed to assist and guide the program.

Q. Tell us about the first class of students admitted to the Honors College?

We have 25 students in the inaugural University Honors College freshmen class, the class of 2005. They are a very capable and energetic group. Average SAT scores are approximately 1210 and entering GPA's are above 3.9. But beyond grades, they are an equally interesting and diverse group. Two of our students are instructors in Tae Kwon Do with 13 years of experience between them. We have enough members who play musical instruments to form a medium size group. One young woman began her volunteer activity at the Robeson County Humane Society within a week of her arrival on campus. The UHC web site will be totally renovated and far more interactional, thanks to one of our scholars. We have two varsity soccer players. One of the women is married, and she brings her husband to social events. While none of these students has yet to declare a major, their interest is widespread, including computer science, biology, chemistry, social work, teacher education, history and English. Working with them and the many other capable students here at UNC Pembroke reassures me about the future of our nation. They are intelligent and caring, concerned about the environment and the well being of our citizens.

Q. Are they all freshmen, or did the UHC accept qualified upperclassmen?

This group is all freshmen. We do have a limited number of students who are sophomores and some juniors who have applied for admission to the Honors College.

Q. When the Honors College matures, how many students will be in the program?

The National Collegiate Honors Council, of which we are members, recommends that honors programs not exceed five percent of the student body. With a projected enrollment of 4,000 undergraduates, that will be approximately 200 students. Honors programs tend to be about 60 percent women. We have 54 percent women. All but one comes from North Carolina, from Charlotte to Jacksonville. The largest number of students are from Cumberland County. We have two students from Charlotte. Our out-of-state student is from Middletown, Del.

ThompsonQ. Are all Honors College students given full scholarships?

No, there is no scholarship money that is automatically awarded to students admitted to the University Honors College. We wanted to separate academic performance from scholarship assistance. Bruce Blackmon, director of Financial Aid, has been helping our students obtain the scholarships, grants and loans so that many of the UHC students have some kind of financial support. Additionally, I would like to identify some funds that we could use to recruit talented students to the program, and I am working with Lynda Parlett in the Office of Development to identify funding sources for honors students.

Q. What is the recruiting process like? Do they apply or are they recruited by your office and the Office of Admissions?

The answer is both. I will visit numerous high schools around the region and talk with guidance counselors and advanced placement seniors about the enhanced opportunities provided by the UHC. Guidance counselors can be instrumental in a student's college selection. Additionally, when applications come into UNC Pembroke, the Office of Admissions identifies those students with appropriate GPA and SAT scores and sends their names and addresses to me. I will send each of those students a letter with a UHC brochure, inviting them to apply for admission to our program.

Q. Has the start-up gone smoothly?

I would say remarkably so, thanks to the interest and support of the Office of Admissions and the Office of Financial Aid. The Housing Office and the Office of Students Activities made arrangements to house these students together and helped engage each of them in the UNC Pembroke experience. Our Honors faculty this fall, Dr. Elizabeth Normandy and Dr. Monika Brown, are both superb professors and offer a challenging academic experience. With the help of Computing Services, we were able to get the UHC lounge and computer lab up and running. I am delighted with the start up thus far.

Q. What Honors courses are offered this fall, and what makes them "Honors" courses?

Our goal in the UHC is to create a "learning community" for the freshman experience. Currently UHC students take freshmen seminar, English and Current World Problems together. Next year, we will add Biology, another required course, to the list. While we can't expect these students to stay together as they enter disparate majors and choose very different elective, we hope to enable a group cohesion in the first year, that will encourage them to work together, to compete academically, and to set an academic pace as they progress through four years at UNC Pembroke. Next semester students will study together in a second English course and they will take one of two Honors Seminars, Great Cultural Epochs with Dr. Robert Brown and Frontiers in Human Behavior with Dr. Kathleen Rileigh. The "HON" courses are interdisciplinary seminars that offer the students an opportunity to examine interesting areas of study with some of our outstanding faculty. These courses are only available to Honors scholars. They carry higher reading requirements and enhanced expectations from the faculty. In addition to those I have mentioned, Honors courses include Contemporary Issues in Science and Technology, Modeling and Analysis of Natural Systems, and a required research experience during the junior and senior year. The research experience sets our Honors program apart from many of the others in the state and region. Each of our students will work with a faculty member in the major to undertake and complete research in a particular area. The results of that effort will be presented to the UHC at the conclusion of the student's senior year. UHC students, who complete the requirements of the program, will receive an "honors college" diploma and special recognition at commencement.

ThompsonQ. There is a strong contingent from faculty and administration on the Honors Council. What is their role?

The University Honors College is an academic, cultural, service and learning experience. While the original conception was Chancellor Meador's, we could not have undertaken this effort without the commitment and support of all of the organizational units on our campus. From admissions, to housing, to GPAC staff, to faculty, to athletics, everyone has cooperated in the development of the UHC. Consequently, we have wide ranging representation on the University Honors Council, the oversight and support group that has created this effort. I am pleased to say that the faculty who have taught UHC courses this fall, are very pleased with their progress and have both said the students are challenging and productive. I have even had faculty ask me how they can offer a course in the UHC; that was a delight to hear.

Q. What social and cultural enrichment activities have taken place and what activities are planned?

UHC students attended the GPAC performance of "Ragtime," which was preceded by a taped discussion of the "Making of Ragtime" with Whoppi Goldberg, in which she reviewed the history of the era and the significance of the individual characters as representatives of the era. They attended the Erin Brockovich lecture and the Ralph Nader evening as well as other guest speakers during the year. In November, the noted pianist Valerie Zamora will meet with the UHC students and music students prior to her Wednesday morning conference. Next semester, we plan a visit to the North Carolina Museum of Art as well as other regional cultural opportunities. I had hoped to be able to go to Washington, D.C., during the spring semester, but we may have to postpone that trip until next year. North Carolina has an annual meeting for the presentation of student research that I hope we will attend in future years. I anticipate that several Honors students will attend the regional collegiate Honors Council meetings in Atlanta in the spring and will plan to participate in the national conference in the fall, 2002. This program continues to evolve and I expect that we will add new endeavors as we grow and mature.

Q. The Honors program will no doubt evolve. What changes do you anticipate?

The Honors College, like all the academic units in the institution, has a plan for future growth and development. In addition to continued strong recruitment, I think our major initiatives would be to identify funding for scholarships for UHC students, to review and revise the core curriculum of Honors seminars to be sure we are challenging our students effectively, and to work on creating a new resources to support undergraduate research, perhaps a center for undergraduate research that would support faculty and the students they mentor with funds for undertaking research, support for grants and contracts and money to attend regional and national conferences to present their work.

For more information, contact Dr. Carolyn R. Thompson at 910.521.6841.