The second annual Honors Student Development Conference was hosted by Millersville University Honors College on Monday at the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg.
The directors from honors programs and colleges usually meet annually in Harrisburg, but recently decided it was rewarding for honors students across the state to meet, according to Professor Johanna Forte, the director of the KU Honors Program.
Honors students in 10 of 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools attended. The schools included California, Cheyney, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
The 10 schools highlighted many issues, such as retention rates, budget and honors requirements. The KU Honors Program recently found out that its budget would be cut. According to Forte, the current budget of approximately $12,000 will be cut to $10,000.
The meeting began with greetings from Dr. Dennis Downey, the director of the Millersville Honors College and Dr. James Moran, Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs. Moran was there to represent the Chancellor’s Office, which supported the event.
Forte believes it was important for students to be there, so the Chancellor could “see how wonderful Honors students are” and to get more financial support for these programs. She encouraged the attending students to write down suggestions so they can be considered by the program.
Sophomore Ashley Crawford spoke on a panel of honors students for the Career Building and Alumni Mentorship session, while sophomore Matt Bello talked about the KU Honors Program at the Academic and Service Learning Session. Freshman Rebekah Miller attended the sessions and provided suggestions for improvement of the Honors Program.
Students had a choice of six sessions, including those Crawford and Bello spoke at. The panels informed students about their honors programs or colleges and discussed ways to improve them.
Retention rates were discussed at the Community Building and Student Retention session. Some programs, such as East Stroudsburg University’s Honors Program, have a retention rate of about 17 percent. Their program has roughly 40 new students a year, but only about 9 to 10 of those graduate within the honors program.
Cheyney honors students Travonya Kenly and Ashley Benjamin attributed their high retention rate of 82 percent to a plethora of alumni contributions. Depending on financial need and merit, they are able to get free tuition, room and board, meal plans, textbooks, Dell laptops and more.
The KU honors students came up with suggestions for their program after hearing the students from other schools speak.
Crawford thinks that the KU Honors Program should work with alumni more, since other universities such as West Chester, Millersville and Cheyney do.
Forte believes the KU Honors Program is in the “middle” of the PASSHE honors programs and colleges. However, she wants to push for improvements by talking to alumni organizations.
“I still want our students to get more scholarship opportunities,” Forte said.
The attending KU honors students liked that their program was more independently-based than others. For example, Michael Jendzurski of West Chester said their Honors College requires nine core courses that are specifically designed for their college. KU offers honors sections, such as Health and Wellness, Anthropology, Speech, Economics, Education and more, which usually fit into general education requirements.
However, Miller liked that the West Chester students provided community service with organizations that they worked with for class assignments. KU Honors, however, requires 21 credits of honors classes and 30 hours of community service.
“I like how the community service is integrated in the classes,” Miller said.
Crawford also suggested an open house for the program, which would encourage current students to see if Honors is a fit for them. Currently, the program has around 200 students.
Forte remains optimistic for a KU Honors College someday, despite budget cuts in recent years. She says Honors has a “great group of students” who are willing to work to improve their program.
Crawford and Forte said that the administration, including President Cevallos, were open to discussing the possibility of an Honors College. Each year, Cevallos observes Honors students’ Capstone projects, which are thesis papers and presentations that are required for completion of the program.
The Chancellor’s Office will continue to support this conference. Next year, it will be held at the Dixon University Center again and will be hosted by West Chester Honors College.
By Emily Leayman