When you’re in Honors, everything just means more — wider perspectives, deeper connections, stronger relationships.
Caroline Kinderthain never planned on participating in an honors program in college.
Although she had always been a high achiever in high school, she was wary of adding too much to her plate while she earned her degree. But then she met the warm faculty and staff who coordinate Indiana State’s Honors Program — and she changed her mind.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I really feel welcomed by them,’” Kinderthain said, recalling a campus visit she made while still in high school. “For me, it was really the community that drew me to Honors.”
Kinderthain, a junior studying English education, has enjoyed her Honors experience so much she recommends it to prospective Sycamores and their parents while leading them on campus tours.
Starting this semester, Kinderthain must remember to call the program by a new name on her tours: the Honors College.
The university’s Board of Trustees recently voted to elevate the Honors Program to an Honors College, a decision that recognizes the program’s growth and enrichment in recent years.
“A key reason why we transitioned the program to a college is to acknowledge, celebrate and continue the growth of the Honors population,” said Mike Licari, vice president of academic affairs and provost. “The Honors College will be able to devote additional resources to ensuring that those students have the very best academic experience that we can provide.”
The title change is more than just a formality. Sycamores who complete the program will now graduate from their academic college and from the Honors College. The college will also be able to hire two new staff members to help bolster extracurricular programming, engagement and student research.
Additionally, the transition will help the university continue to recruit academically talented students from Indiana and elsewhere.
“It is an important piece for our brand, our reputation and our recruiting strategy,” Licari said. “It sends a message to prospective students and parents that this is something that is really important, really meaningful and special.”
Opportunity to grow
To be admitted into the Honors College, students must first meet a set of rigorous academic requirements. Once they’re accepted into the program, they’re required to maintain a high grade point average, complete a number of Honors courses and write an Honors thesis.
Honors courses tend to require more reading and more complex writing and research assignments than other Indiana State courses. Professors and students also have deep discussions about the material, exploring the topic through an array of diverse and often nuanced lenses.
“(One of the benefits) is definitely the extra perspectives, the more global perspectives, that come from taking those additional Honors courses,” said Paige Welsh, a sophomore studying dietetics, Spanish and public health. “And getting to work with the Honors faculty. They really care so much about the students and they recognize that, as Honors students, we’re going to put in the work so they’re very invested in helping us succeed.”
Although the program is challenging, it also comes with many perks. Students have the opportunity to live together in Honors communities such as Pickerl Hall and forge meaningful friendships with their fellow Honors classmates.
They participate in unique events outside of the classroom, including networking opportunities, social gatherings, excursions, speaker series, conferences and trips abroad. Because Honors classes are small, Sycamores have a chance to get to know the Honors faculty and work closely with them on research projects.
One Honors faculty member, Marilyn Bisch, leads guided walks through campus and downtown Terre Haute to help new students acclimate to their surroundings and explore the influences of classical architecture in the area.
Bisch, a senior instructor of languages, literatures and linguistics, was herself an Honors student at Indiana State many years ago, so she understands just how valuable the program is.
“In a way, it does change your life, because you do meet so many people that you might not have met simply because they were studying outside of your area,” Bisch said. “There are just so many opportunities that a student might not encounter otherwise.”
Transforming the program into a college is a way of formally recognizing efforts to expand and strengthen the Honors experience in recent years.
In the early days of the program, Honors students primarily majored in the arts and humanities. Today, students representing 79 majors are enrolled in the Honors College, which creates a diverse and dynamic learning environment.
“One of the goals of the Honors program has been to enhance the academic experience of students that are majoring in any degree program,” said Greg Bierly, dean of the Honors College. “Whatever path you’re pursuing, the Honors curriculum should speak to you equally. It should provide you with experiences and skills that translate across those disciplines and make you better prepared, more confident and better versed in the key ideas and works of human civilization.”
In addition to attracting a more diverse set of participants, the program has grown in size over the years. In 2007, 39 students graduated from the program. By 2017, that number had grown to 148 students.
Bierly said he hopes to continue to increase participation at a moderate pace now that the program is a college.
“The designation of ‘college’ bears with it a sense of more organization and purpose and scale,” Bierly said. “It’s going to signal to potential students that, ‘This is the kind of university for me at the top of my academic game and somewhere I can flourish.’”
The program’s ability to attract motivated new Sycamores to campus is important for the university as a whole. In addition to bringing unique perspectives to their non-Honors courses, Honors students often serve as leaders in student organizations, fraternities and sororities and student government.
They also help bolster Indiana State’s retention and graduation rates — two key metrics the university is working to improve.
“For the university in general, it’s great to have these excited and successful students coming to Indiana State,” said Laura Froelicher, director of data analysis, communication and outreach for the Honors College. “We have Honors students in every college on campus, and their enthusiasm and curiosity benefits their academic departments.”
The Honors College also benefits faculty, who say developing an Honors curriculum allows them to experiment and delve deeper into their research topics.
Honors students recently had the opportunity to take a course that explored “la femme fatale,” a charming and often dangerous female character who appears frequently in literature, film and narratives around current events.
“Almost all the courses I teach have been linked to my research,” said Keri Yousif, a professor of French who developed and taught the class. “They’ve allowed me to work out some questions I had about texts or experiment with ideas I’ve been thinking about. I get really good feedback (from the students) on their opinions of the text. It forces me to see it in a new way, which is crucial.”
Faculty also say they genuinely enjoy working with Honors students, who are infinitely curious and passionate about their coursework.
With the elevation to college status, Indiana State’s Honors community is likely to catch the eye of other enthusiastic students who are looking for a supportive and challenging learning environment.
“They tend to be the most disciplined of our students, and because they have created a culture of hard work and academic rigor, they’re attracting a new generation of students to come to Indiana State who may not have come here before,” said Arthur Feinsod, professor of theater. “Students are finding they can focus on a major but then, in the Honors College, open the scope of their intellectual prowess by venturing beyond comfortable disciplinary borders.”