‘Drive and passion’: University Honors Programs restructured to allow more student inclusivity

Garland Crawford, Macon Undergraduate Honors Program coordinator and associate professor of chemistry, has helped lead the creation of a new Honors Program that can allow students to join the Honors Programs after enrollment at Mercer.

They wanted to design a “new program that matches the current Mercer student,” Crawford said. 

Crawford said that one of the issues with the university’s previous program was when and how students were chosen, with the previous program only allowing students to be selected right out of high school. One of the issues with this, however, is that students are often left out if they decide to come to Mercer late or transfer. 

“If Mercer is supposed to be this life-changing experience and great time of development, we want to allow more students to enter the program as well,” he said.  

To solve that problem, Crawford said the Honors Program will be reinvented to fit incoming transfer students, and students who were not able to come to Mercer when Honors applications for freshmen year were open. 

“We want to allow those students that maybe didn’t know, maybe were okay students, good students in high school, but just didn’t find their passion. Those students then show up at Mercer, find their passion, particularly in places like non-profits or service-related areas. They found their thing, and they’re excelling at Mercer. Now we have a way to bring them into being an Honors Graduate,” Crawford said. 

Freshmen will still be allowed to apply for the Honors College, and the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships will still be involved with the program.

“Dr. Davis and Dr. Kunzelman at the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships have done a great job helping our Honors students, but they also help all students. We just bring them early into the freshman seminar,” Crawford said. 

The biggest logistical differences will be the timeframe of program beginnings, as well as changes to the program that may be made. 

“We want to really allow students to come here and get some room to develop and find their passion and figure out if they would like to apply for this distinction,” he said.

While the new additions to the program are important, Crawford said that the program is also looking into removing some things that were part of the older Honors Program. Other changes to the program are also being discussed such as a change in priority registration.

“We have all actually discussed removing the priority registration that is allowed for the Honors Program. That was a perk that a lot of people liked, but because of the particular courses, it ended up really creating a lot more problems in a lot of ways than actually benefiting the students,” Crawford said. 

The wide-ranging college structure of Mercer also allows a lot of different programs to be restructured, with Mercer having 12 independent colleges within the university

Crawford said that the university had to decide if they wanted one large program that was more one-size-fits-all, or to allow each college to develop their own programs. 

“They can begin to tailor experiences and also select their top students. We don’t want students from different colleges to have to compete for a spot when each college has its own different set of skills and different profile for the Honors students.” 

The Honors College for the Engineering students is set to remain as it stands, while the College of Health Professions and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have created their own new programs. The Stetson School of Business is also developing a program along with an Honors Program for the College of Education. The only college that does not have an Honors Program track is the music school.

Crawford said that research and undergraduate scholarship will play a large role in most of the Honors Programs, with different colleges choosing how to emphasize those ideas. 

“The College of Liberal Arts, for example, is a little bigger. We will have two classes for that program. One is a junior, and one is a senior class. The junior course is designed as an intense developmental seminar, providing a place and some space to begin to work and go after some of those high national and international opportunities,” Crawford said. 

The senior class is set to teach Honors Program participants as well, as it is described as a Research Colloquium. 

“As part of Honors, the students have to complete a research project either from their own design or stemmed from a class. It can be built on a lab a student is in, but it will be something distinct from departmental honors. The ultimate goal for that class is to have students work on and discuss their research,” Crawford said. 

The College of Health Professions and the CLA have already completed their new Honors Program, and the CLA program is set to begin this month. The Stetson School of Business, however, may take longer as a change in faculty occurred during the time the new Honors Program was developing. 

“The only program that lagged a little bit was Education,” Crawford said. “That was because of a new dean coming in. We wanted to be sure the new dean was going to be okay with the changes and coming onboard, but the Honors Program of Education is in the curriculum approval process now.” 

The Honors Program for Education will start accepting applications by the end of the spring semester. Students will know going into junior year what all of the programs will require.

Through the addition of the new Honors Program, Crawford said he believes that positive changes are coming for Mercer students. 

“The one thing I continue to remind students and faculty is that we want things that are beneficial to the students, beneficial to the school, and really help us to identify those top students who have continued to do well in high school maybe but have also done well at Mercer,” Crawford said.