High hopes in honors department

Dana Stelting-Kempf, [email protected], is a senior English major.

Emily Engler, a sophomore physics major and honors program vice president, did a lot of research about honors programs at other universities before settling on Washburn for her education. 

Many universities offer compensation packages for honors program students and the programs vary from university to university. Engler, under the guidance of Michael McGuire, dean of the honors program, has been brainstorming with her peers and other faculty members in an effort to reformulate the current program into one with tiers. 

As the program stands, honors program students must complete 24 hours of honors course curriculum and a thesis project. The program is small, admitting very few applicants each fall. Normally these students are incoming freshman, something the department is looking to change by adding a tier to the current program that would be transfer student friendly.

Both students and faculty agree expanding the program would be ideal; however, Enlger cites a low budget as a major impediment to expanding the department and attracting students.

“A low budget and limited access to scholarships, along with limited availability of honors courses throughout the degree programs, contribute to retention issues,” said Engler. 

Washburn University offers a $500 book scholarship and other perks to reward the students in the program, but compared to other universities that offer full paid tuition and cost-of-living scholarships, it is the love of academia that draws these students to Washburn.

Throughout the year, the honors department hosts three events. In the fall they host an honors department tailgating event at the last home football game. This is a meet and greet to welcome new members. 

The second event is the annual fall Etiquette Banquet, which is a campus wide event. Tickets are sold for a multi-course dinner during which participants are treated to demonstrations on the proper way to handle silverware and glassware. Participants enjoy semi-formal wear for the occasion. The dinner serves to educate and entertain. 

The last event, the Spring Banquet, honors new members for the coming fall semester and scholarship recipients of both the Brunt and Outstanding Student. At this recognition dinner, the students have an opportunity to put into practice the pointers learned from the Etiquette Banquet, recognize accomplishments, say goodbye to the seniors and hello to the freshmen. 

The honors program also runs the Quest program. High school students from northeast Kansas compete in a quiz competition, which is aired on KTWU. The event leads off with Super Saturday, a day of testing for the young competitors.

Honors students volunteer their time to administer the tests, which will narrow down the teams that appear on TV. Through the process, honors students are hard at work making sure that the production is a success. 

As she endeavors to help firm out the walls of an expanded program, Engler also works to achieve personal growth. 

“I constantly strive to get better; it’s a mindset. You have to work for it,” said Engler. 

McGuire and other faculty dedicate to pushing the boundaries of conscious work toward expansion. McGuire hopes to get closer to this goal by looking at the challenges and responding to them. By creating a three-tiered system that continues the current tier, the department can also serve students with a two-year program and recognize the top students, including those that provide service to the community, hold the top GPAs and demonstrate the abilities that quintessential honors qualities.  

“I hope to provide more students with an opportunity to have an enriched educational experience,” said McGuire regarding the program changes.