A look back at a decade of honor

This photo, taken April 11, 2007, shows Alexander Residence Hall, which houses members of the Honors College. 2012 marks the program’s 10 year anniversary.
Courtesy of Baylor Photography

By Jessica Chia


Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the Honors College’s presence on campus.

The Honors College was established as part of the Baylor 2012 initiative in the fall of 2002, uniting the Honors Program, University Scholars, Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and Great Texts under the direction of a single dean.

“There was a bit of anxiety about how this was all going to work together,” said Dr. Thomas Hibbs, Dean of the Honors College.

Hibbs began overseeing the Honors College in 2003 and said the four programs learned to work together.

“It’s to the point now where I couldn’t be happier with the collaboration,” Hibbs said.

Within the Honors College, the honors program and BIC work with a student’s major, while University Scholars is an undergraduate major and Great Texts is offered as both a major and a minor.

“All four programs are really intimately integrated with one another at this point,” Hibbs said. “We have a high percentage of students in multiple programs within the Honors College.”

Hibbs said the Honors College increased efforts to recruit high school students, which resulted in a higher number and quality of applications and a steady increase of out-of-state students over the past decade.

Another area of improvement was the percentage of students completing the Honors Program.

“The retention rate has more than tripled in 10 years,” Hibbs said.

The Honors Program, created in 1959, is the oldest honor college program.

“I think the benefit came from having the attention of a college and not just sort of a floating wherever the director came from. It was nice to have an Honors College to have stability and to have a common ethos,” said Dr. Andrew Wisely, director of the Honors Program.

Since 2002, the honors program has added Great Texts courses to its requirements, created more alternatives to traditional classroom-based honors credit and added opportunities for pre-health students.

The Honors Program has encouraged research, added more permanent faculty and worked to improve its retention rates through efforts like the new peer-mentoring program Honor Guides.

“I think our best moments come when the student turns in their thesis manuscript visibly tired but visibly satisfied,” Wisely said.

The second-oldest entity in the Honors College is the University Scholars major.

Dr. Alden Smith, director of University Scholars and associate dean of the Honors College, said University Scholars gained stability from joining the Honors College.

The program resided in Carroll Library and Tidwell Bible Building before the existence of Morrison Hall’s honors college suite.

“In terms of adjusting, it was very smooth. Having an office was a great help, night and day better. It’s easier to keep track of our students and way more efficient,” Smith said.

The current structure of the program was established in 2001, while BIC began in 1995.

Dr. Anne-Marie Schultz, director of the BIC, said joining the Honors College gave BIC an academic home.

“When the Honors College was founded was when we moved into Morrison Hall, which is where we are today,” Schultz said. “We have offices for all 12 of the faculty in the BIC.”

Since 2002, BIC has streamlined its recruitment efforts, offered more sections of each class to allow flexibility and solidified the sequence of courses that its students must complete from freshman to senior year.

Officially established in 2002, the Great Texts major is the newest of the four programs, and has grown.

“We now have nine full-time tenured faculty and when I started, I was the third or fourth,” said Dr. Phillip Donnelly, director of Great Texts.

The Great Texts courses adjusted to accommodate the volume of students from the honors program, University Scholars and students unaffiliated with the honors college.

“We’ve had to expand the number of courses. Between the two semesters, spring and fall, we offer over 50 sections of the sophomore-level Great Texts courses,” Donnelly said.

Hibbs said the 10th anniversary has encouraged the college and its component programs to assess their progress and set goals for the future.

“We’ve grown, we’ve become more stable. It’s a time to look back, but it’s also a time to think about how we can improve, what we can do better,” Hibbs said. “We have a new vision, Pro Futuris. We’re trying to think in each of our programs and as a college what we can do differently to be a part of this new vision for the university.”

Hibbs said pre-professional training, community service and study opportunities are goals for the Honors College as it moves into its next decade.

“An undergraduate education that is rooted in the liberal arts, in the careful reading of texts, the creation of a community, a place where students can discern their vocation, a place to provide a high level of challenge for students,” Hibbs said.