New program expected to start this fall

Michael Le Roy, provost and executive vice president, said the idea of adding an honors program to the Whitworth class catalog has been floating around the campus since the 1960s. For years, the administration has been collaborating with staff members and brainstorming with students to find a way to make Whitworth a better and more appealing institution.

He said Whitworth has been a successful university for a long time despite not offering honors courses for its students. However, at the town hall meeting held March 8, Michael Le Roy said it’s time to make a change.

“We have seen many students apply and get accepted to Whitworth only to decline the offer due to the lack of an honors program,” Le Roy said.

Whitworth’s surrounding competitors such as Gonzaga University, Linfield College, Pacific Lutheran University and Seattle Pacific University are just a few cross-application schools that have honors programs available to their students. That, therefore, makes them more marketable to higher achieving scholars.

Le Roy said Whitworth is trying to be responsive to what prospective students are interested in; however, there is a concern about the implementation of the new program.

Le Roy said it’s the “Whitworth way” for the campus to have a sense of community where everyone feels included. He said the honors program is not intended to be an exclusive, elitist program, but rather a series of courses that will improve the overall work ethic of both faculty and staff.

Doug Sugano is the director of the proposed George Whitworth Honors program. He said he has been studying how to piece the program together for the past 15 years, and he said he is extremely excited to see it launch for the first time next fall.

“Whitworth University is proud that all our students are good and our professors teach well,” Sugano said.

He said all the program intends to do is add to the greatness Whitworth already holds. He said he believes those courses will truly reshape the entire university by calling for active, reflective and technological teaching styles that will engage students across the campus.

“We just want rich, interdisciplinary classes,” Sugano said. “That’s what we’re looking to provide.”

There are many factors that play into the program.

Eligibility for enrollment in these honors courses will be dependent on a 3.8 GPA and 1870 SAT score. Accepted students will be given priority for the honors courses presented, and any open seats will be available for general undergraduates.

While the program will only be offered for freshmen this fall, theoretically the university plans to add classes to the catalog that will be available to sophomores, juniors and seniors as the program progresses.

To graduate with George Whitworth Honors, students will need to have a 3.75 GPA and be in the top 20 percent of their departments.

In addition, they will have had to complete four honors experiences, earning equivalent of three credits in each. That is broken up into two parts.

First, those scholars will need to complete two upper- or lower-division honors courses. Second, students will choose two of the following: honors research, honors internship, honors study abroad, honors creative projects or an upper division seminar. At least two of the four experiences must be outside the student’s major.

Those who do not meet the criterion may still enroll in the honors courses for enrichment purposes but will not graduate with honors.

Sugano said the difference between a standard internship and an honors internship is the higher level of academic preparation and post-internship work.

“The honors internships will call for more work on the front end, like a research paper before the internship starts,” Sugano said. “Most will be off-campus in the community. Students will then turn something like a multi-media presentation after it’s completed.”

At the town hall meeting, Le Roy said the benefits of the program are initially to gain higher achieving students to Whitworth’s community. Yet also, the entire university will benefit as professors grow in their teaching styles and more classes are offered, not just for honors students.

“‘Honors means only having more credits’ is not the model we want,” Le Roy said. “It means having deeper and more vigorous work.”

An argument was made at the meeting that perhaps the program should be cancelled, and all those new teaching styles and dense courses should just be implemented into everyday classes at Whitworth.

Le Roy said the expectation and hope of the honors program is to raise the bar for all students at the university. Whitworth is trying to attract and retain high-achieving students who are looking for a set of rich, educational experiences that promote in-depth research and collaborative learning.

“Whitworth students can compete,” Le Roy said. “We want our students to be involved because that’s employable and distinguishes you from the rest.”

Junior Katie Olleman said she believes the program will be a good opportunity for Whitworth to grow.

Her concern, however, is that adding more courses to already understaffed departments might limit a professor’s availability and draw focus away from traditional courses.

“I worry this will be one more time-consuming thing on their plates,” she said. “And their ability to get done what’s on their to-do list will be delayed.”

Olleman is double majoring in mathematics and physics. She said the physics department is currently levying to hire more staff because the department really suffers when professors go on sabbatical. She said she worries that will only cause a greater pull on the staff at hand.

According to the program proposal, the university is offering 10 $1,000-planning grants to faculty interested in offering honors courses for the 2012-2013 academic year. The 2021 strategic plan expects to increase staff to further reduce the student-faculty ratios to accommodate the addition of the program.

Story by Jennifer Ingram Staff Writer

Contact Jennifer Ingram at jingram13@my.whitworth.edu.

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