When I came to Chattanooga in July of 2013, the Brock Scholars Program was thriving, as it has for almost 40 years, and the Honors College was little more than a former provost’s fantasy and a task force report. Once I showed up, we added a new dean to that list. It seemed pretty clear what the College needed to accomplish: the creation of more honors opportunities in order to accommodate the exponential increase in student population at UTC from the time of UHON and before. Pretty clear also was the big problem we would encounter when we tried to do that: extending while preserving all that has characterized honors at UTC—tight community, solid monetary support, devoted faculty, carefully cultivated tradition. How were we going to do all that exactly?
As it turned out, we were going to do it very carefully, and with lots of conversations. Lots and lots and lots of conversations. A few of those happened on Facebook recently and although those were not necessarily the ones I most enjoyed, they were certainly some of the ones I watched most closely. Another memorable one occurred in the Reading Room last fall when close to 100 current Brock Scholars—the program practically in its entirety—met with Greg O’Dea and me to pose questions about enrollments and learn about the limits of endowments. It was a highly energized and engaged group and all I could think as I was standing there, trying to explain to this close-knit, very invested group of change agents why I thought it would be okay to bring in an extra 20 or so Brock Scholars a year, was how lucky I was to be standing there, defending what we’d been thinking about while trying to incorporate their objections into our plans. I do love honors students.
Despite the tremendous difficulty that accompanies any significant change in culture and practice, we are indeed growing into the Honors College of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; we continue to promote and support all the good that has characterized University Honors/UHON/Brock while bringing the imaginative and progressive energy that has come to characterize Chattanooga into our new programs and initiatives. I think that’s finally what we’re doing here: bringing tradition and innovation together and making them play together nicely. I think we can do it because we are doing it and already I can see the benefits for the campus and our students. In another year, we’ll be able to name and number those benefits for Chattanooga, and in the future I hope they’ll go well beyond our own city’s borders. First and foremost, our students will benefit. As was the case when you were here in UHON or Brock, our students are why we do what we do – and they seem to be doing well.
Here’s a list of updates of what the Honors College at UTC will offer and do a little differently next year; there are many rationales for these changes but the most compelling of these is the same one that prompted that provost some years ago to say to a friend when returning from a conference that “UTC needs an honors college.” Namely, an Honors College at UTC will provide more honors opportunities for our campus; those opportunities will first and foremost benefit more students who come to UTC, students who include more great freshmen (the 30 Brock Scholars we have brought in in recent years constitute just a little over 1% of our 2000 freshmen), students who become great once they get here, and students who are great transfers. Moreover, with more classes and students to tend in honors at UTC, we will need more faculty members to interact with them. That’s great for faculty. And knowing that there are more honors experiences here than just 30 spots each year for freshmen will encourage more high caliber students to commit to coming to UTC. And those students are coming because—in case you haven’t been here in a while—Chattanooga rocks these days. So truly, as my mentor and dear friend Ada Long told me wisely almost a decade ago when I got into honors work, honors can please everyone.
Here’s what up with us this fall:
- 50 new Brock Scholars have joined our merry gang; we do not anticipate growing this number and although we had to reduce our level of 4-year scholarship from $4000 a year to $2000 a year in order to stay within the budget of our Brock Endowment (something we haven’t been able to do for a while) and accommodate 20 more students, we had the same level of acceptances from our offers as we have had in the past. If anything, we have seen a steady increase in recent years in the average test scores and overall academic achievement of our incoming freshmen
- 53 students this fall have begun our new Innovations in Honors Program (IIH), a program that pairs our Innovation Lab students and faculty with community partners to conduct community-based research and solve real-world problems. Brock Scholars can opt to add Innovations in Honors to their list of honors achievements and they will be joined in this 13-hour program by transfer students (many from other honors programs) and other continuing UTC students who otherwise would never have been able to have an honors experience
- For the second year now, 34 more freshmen are part of the High Achieving Mocs Living Learning Community or HAM LLC; last year’s “HAMily” will be this year’s peer mentors for our one-year “honorific” experience. Select freshmen take a team-taught 6-credit hour English/history course, a 1-credit-hour “welcome to college” course taught by me, and an optional spring general education course that will take them somewhere amazing to actualize what they’ve learned in the class (think Washington DC or Chicago or Miami or the Bahamas).
- Brock Scholars and IIH students live in the Honors College residential community in Lockmiller Apartments; HAMmers again live in Stagmaier.
- More students than ever (at least 70 rather than the 30 we took last year) will travel to various honors and undergraduate research conferences, presenting their work and meeting other students from all over the state, region, and nation who are compelled to work on the same kinds of things they are. They all have a grand time together and with us on these trips while building their professional identity (the Honors College pays for these conferences and they became big bonding experiences for all of us).
- In addition to yet another fabulous Brock May Travel Seminar (Iceland, Ireland, or just some country that starts with I), we plan to initiate a second international trip, this one with a service learning focus in a part of the world yet untraveled by Brock Scholars. Be on the lookout for more on “How the UTC Honors College Went to Cambodia and Taught English to Buddhist Monks.”
- Thanks to our new Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, we will be spearheading and driving a campus-wide conversation about undergraduate research; already this means that 17 faculty members have agreed to spend the next year exploring how their departments might implement such a scheme in their curricula. A mainstay of honors education, undergraduate research is considered one of the key “high impact practices” that can completely change not only a student’s education, but their career path and life. This is a build-out of the Student Assistantships of which so many of you were able to take advantage.
- A year of design conversations about the renovation of the Guerry Center into the home of (only!) the UTC Honors College; stay tuned for our drop-dead final drawings!
- TEDxChattanooga sponsored in part by the Honors College. Google us to get your ticket or apply to speak. TEDxChattanooga comes to the Hayes Auditorium on campus February 27, 2016; come and hear ideas we think are very worth spreading!
- The now second annual UTC Honors Homecoming Gala! More on this elsewhere in this newsletter.
We have a lot going on and are busily working to make it all happen as perfectly as possible. As Clif Cleaveland likes to say, the Honors College is like an airplane we’re building after it’s taken off. As you all know, Clif is rarely wrong. We ALWAYS like to see you, though, so if you’re swinging through Chattanooga, please stop by! We’ve shuffled offices for our last year in Guerry before we turn it over to the construction dudes, but you know where we are. Come say hi. And tell us what’s happening with YOU!