April 21, 2019  

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USM Honors College Offers Challenge, Opportunity, and More to Students

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The University of Southern Mississippi's Honors College includes Today, the college includes approximately 500 scholastic standouts, with 125 new first-year students set to join the program for the Fall 2018 semester.(Photo by Kelly Dunn)

Mention the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Honors College to distinguished alum Lance Brown and two distinct features immediately spring to mind – ideas and growth.

“That’s part of the idea of the Honors College. That you exist in that type of environment,” said Brown, a 2000 graduate and Truman Scholar. “My fondest memories were discovering my strengths as a student and feeling that my research and thoughts mattered in a broader academic context.”

USM offered its first Honors classes in 1965. By 1976, the program had formally evolved into an Honors College, making it the sixth oldest public honors college in the nation and the oldest honors college in the State of Mississippi. Today, the college includes approximately 500 scholastic standouts, with 125 new first-year students set to join the program for the Fall 2018 semester.

Appropriate to its historic role at the University, the home of the Honors College is the Honor House, one of the original buildings on the Southern Miss campus. Built in 1912, the Honor House was given its current name when it was a dormitory for women who were put “on their honor” to respect curfew and other campus policies.

The word “honor” carries lofty significance for the students, faculty, and staff associated with USM’s Honors College. Dr. Ellen Weinauer, dean of the Honors College, emphasizes the importance of “honor” each fall when students are formally inducted into the college.

“At the induction, we provide each student with a pin – a small version of the Honors Medallion that they will receive upon completion of the Honors curriculum – as a reminder of the community they have joined and the future for which they are striving,” said Weinauer. “Students also read the Honors College Code, in which they pledge themselves to principles of academic integrity and civic engagement.”

Brown became the University’s first Truman Scholar in 1999. A native of Selma, Ala., he earned his undergraduate degree from USM in English/Political Science and his master’s degree in public administration at the University of Alabama at Montgomery. Currently, he serves as Vice President of Digital and Creative at Matrix LLC, a consulting firm based in Montgomery, Ala. Previously, he worked as executive director of the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy.

Brown stresses that much of the critical writing and thinking he does today is a byproduct of his time spent in the USM Honors College.

“I had some passionate teachers in high school, but I really learned to write at a higher level in the Honors College,” he said. “I learned that good writing comes from good thinking. I also learned how to take part in group discussions, sticking up for my own ideas without devaluing or discounting other ways of thinking. That has served me well over the years in professional life. Ways of thinking need to be challenged and refined.”

Students who join the Honors College as freshmen typically have a minimum ACT score of 27 and a 3.5 GPA or higher. Students who apply as incoming juniors typically have a GPA of at least 3.4 on 40 hours of earned college credit. But Weinauer points out that scores alone are not used to determine Honors College admission.

“We engage in a holistic review of all applications, and do not base our decisions on test scores and GPA alone,” she said. “We encourage students who feel that they embody the aspirational ideals of the Honors College to apply.”

Junior polymer science/certified chemistry double major Erin Crater says that the Honors College offers a warm and welcoming space for her to study, think and connect with others.

"When I began college, I knew I wanted to be a part of a community that would welcome me and challenge me," she said. "As a rising junior, I have found that and more. Some of my best friendships, relationships with faculty, and ideas have been fostered in the Honors College."

Weinauer notes that the perks realized by students who gain membership in the Honors College are almost too numerous to list. Among the benefits:

  • A specialized and innovative curriculum that will enhance students’ work in their own majors and in their careers post-graduation
  • The opportunity to engage in undergraduate research
  • Mentoring relationships with faculty members and with staff
  • 24-7 access to the student lounge, computers, and a printer in the Honor House
  • Scholarship and grant opportunities
  • Early registration for classes
  • Honors housing for first-year students
  • Student leadership opportunities

Hattiesburg native and biological sciences major Sumar Beauti acknowledges that the Honors College proved a bit intimidating initially, but the tredpidation quickly turned to a sense of community and acceptance.

"The me, the Honors College is a safe space for me to get creative and think bigger," said Beauti. "Being a member of the Honors College is important to me because I am a student that thinks outside the box and loves discussion and interaction with other students to get different points of view. The Honors College offers exactly that which has improved my skills both inside and outside the classroom."

Over the past few years the college has developed new initiatives and programs to enhance the living/learning experience for students. The college is currently in the second year of a new curriculum that focuses on developing tools of scholarly and academic inquiry and on interdisciplinary training. The college also is in the second year of an enhanced student leadership initiative (the Honors College Leadership Council), which offers opportunities for civic and campus engagement to more than 50 Honors Scholars.

One of the more noteworthy initiatives is the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force that will advise Weinauer on ways of diversifying the Honors College student body and ensuring a fully inclusive community based on principles of mutual respect and understanding for everyone.

More than 40 years after its formation, the USM Honors College represents so much more than brick, mortar, desks, computers and curriculum. Those fortunate enough to earn admission to the college are held to the highest of standards. Students are taught to understand the ethics and values of the Honors College – that it embraces not only the pursuit of the highest levels of academic achievement, but also the importance of embracing risk, of going beyond one’s ‘comfort zone’ in pursuit of new opportunities for growth and development.

“We emphasize to students the respect for difference and the desire to learn from people who are different from ourselves – whether in terms of race, religion, sexual identity/orientation, socio-economic position, physical (dis)ability, family background, political views and the like,” said Weinauer. “Our goal is to help students in the Honors College see the importance of making a full commitment to using one’s capabilities for the common good.”

As Crater so succinctly stated: "I encourage anyone who values intellectual discourse and a friendly atmosphere to think about how the Honors College could transform their college experience."

To learn more about the USM Honors College, call 601.266.4533 or visit: https://www.usm.edu/honors

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