Looking back at the history of the Whitehurst Family Honors Program, one might think that the program is in a constant state of change.  They would be right.  The honors program administrators constantly work to adapt to an ever-changing student body whose sights are set high for themselves, their academic success in college, and their futures.  Success for the students is paramount.  Success both in and out of the classroom, as well as student success beyond the graduation stage.  Honors program administrators constantly strive to tweak and adjust the program so that its students will continue to thrive in a rapidly changing world.  The result of this effort is that honors program students are the top learners on campus; they are leaders in their clubs, organizations, and athletics teams; and a growing number of them are bound for graduate and professional schools.  In its very nature, the Whitehurst Family Honors Program attempts to epitomize what it means to be #StillBarton.

In 2017, the honors program began to administer changes to both the identity of the program as well as how it was structured.  Principally, changes expanded upon the already robust academic focus of the program by increasing the opportunities for students to conduct undergraduate research.  Additional changes included adding the ability for students to take core and major classes for honors credit, introducing biannual research symposiums, the addition of a faculty lecture series, and expanding the co-curricular aspects of the program.  Since that time, the completion rates of the program have risen, and more honors program students are adding graduate school to their post-graduation plans.

With the addition of the Presidential Leadership Fellows to the Barton College campus, there were two high profile programs available to the College’s top incoming students.  In order to distinguish one program from the other, the honors program adopted an increased emphasis on undergraduate research.  Prior to this change, students completed one undergraduate research project, typically in their senior year.  The new format includes several different opportunities for students to conduct research. 

First added was the ability for students to apply to make a core or major class into an honors class.  This idea was not a new one and had been a part of the program in the past.  However, the reintroduction of making any class into an honors class allowed students to dig deeper into areas of their chosen interest, while completing an additional research project beyond the normal requirements of the class. 

To make a class into honors, students must first seek the permission of a faculty member with whom they would like to work, then make a formal application.  In previous semesters, students completed the extra work required of the honors designated class for no additional academic credit. However, beginning this fall, students will earn additional course credits for the added research component.  Also, in the past, faculty members worked with students on a volunteer basis.  This fall, faculty members working with honors students will receive a stipend for each student they have in an honors designated class.

In order to highlight the work completed in the honors designated classes, biannual research symposiums were added.  Conducted in the format of an academic conference, the honors symposiums allow students to share their learning from the semester.  Each semester, the honors symposiums are presented on the last Thursday of the term.  One or two graduating seniors present their research as keynote lectures.  After the lectures, all other students who conducted research during the semester present their work during table sessions—discussion-based presentations of their research findings in the forms of PowerPoint presentations, poster presentations, or the display of artifacts of their learning generated during the semester.  Each semester, since their inception, the honors symposiums have grown in popularity with attendance by students, faculty, staff, and administrators alike.

In spring 2019, the honors program introduced a new concept for an interdisciplinary course, presenting the class as a series of public lectures by a variety of faculty members and staff.  The format is like a series of Ted Talks.  Each semester, there is a different theme, and the guest speakers address the theme from the point of view of their discipline.  In the first season, faculty lectured on the theme of “The Book” from the perspectives of art, biology, the college archives, literature, social media, and theatre.  In the next season, fall 2019, faculty members lectured on “Water” from the standpoints of abortion, biology, the archives, ecology, literature, marketing, metaphor, photography, and theatre.  This past spring, speakers addressed “Freedom” through the topics of first amendment rights, multiple aspects of history, religion, and social responsibility.  Despite the quarantine restrictions imposed in March, the lecture series continued in an online format, capturing more views than the in-person events had attendees.  This fall will be the fourth permeation of the lecture series with the theme “Reactions.”  The theme was proposed by Barton College physics professor Dr. John Dogbe, but will also include professors of art, biology, business, gerontology, English, and theatre.

Though outside of normal academics, the honors program has also added a thriving co-curricular program.  Events are planned by a team of undergraduate students and occur each month of the school year.  In the fall, students are welcomed back to campus with a traditional ice cream social, then new students participate in a team-building retreat to forge new relationships with each other and current honors students.  One benefit of membership in the honors program is priority registration—the ability to register before any other Barton College students.  On registration day, students gather together to enjoy a pancake lunch prepared by the program director and student planning team. 

Beyond these social aspects of the program, honors students also engage in a great deal of community service.  Since 2017, all students are required to complete a minimum of 50 hours of service, some of which is completed at the freshman retreat, others on the Barton Day of Service, and others still at the time and place of their own choosing.  The spirit of service is a crucial aspect of the honors program and serves as one of its three pillars, social justice.  In the spring of their freshman year, honors program students take a class on social justice and community service aimed at expanding their world-view and learning the importance of living for all of humankind.

The other pillars of honors at Barton College are intellectual curiosity and critical inquiry.  The notion of critical inquiry is supported by the intense research focus of the program, both in the honors designated courses as well as the senior undergraduate research project.  To stoke the fires of curiosity, a new freshman course was introduced in fall 2019.  The class is intended to introduce students to what it means to be an honors student at Barton College, how to conduct undergraduate research, and, generally speaking, how to think critically, as an honors student.

These initiatives are but a few of the opportunities the honors program is currently pursuing for the benefit of its students.  However, as the world changes, the program, too, must shift and sway to capture what the students of today and tomorrow need to be successful.  The honors program of today is not the honors program of last semester, nor is it the same program as it will be one year from now.  The Whitehurst Family Honors Program is always changing to not just meet but to exceed the expectations (and needs) of its students.  Keeping the students at the heart of every decision is the true meaning of #StillBarton.

Gerard C. Lange
Director of the Whitehurst Family Honors Program
Professor of Art & Design