November 01, 2006

University Honors Program promotes excellence

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Since 1960, the University Honors Program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has proudly produced the institution's best and brightest.

Honors student Fahran Robb, a senior majoring in agricultural information and political science, was one of only 60 students nationwide named to the 2006 All-USA College Academic Team by USA Today.

In 2004, honors student Raphi K. Rechitsky, a sociology and philosophy major, was one of 80 nationwide to win a prestigious Morris K. Udall Foundation scholarship.

Robb and Rechitsky benefited from the curriculum of small classes specially designed for honors students by SIUC faculty. Each honors course is limited to 15 students of high academic achievement.

Entering freshmen with ACT composite scores of 29 or above and undergraduates with a minimum 3.25 grade point average and 12 semester hours completed, may apply for admission into the program. Currently, there are approximately 980 honors students at SIUC.

University Honors Program Interim Director James S. Allen and Associate Director Lori Merrill-Fink want to build on that success and make the program even better.

"We shouldn't hide the remarkable opportunities an exciting program offers our best students. They deserve the recognition!" Allen said.

Allen and Merrill-Fink are employing a two-pronged approach. First, they will take a hard look at the program and draft a preliminary report with recommendations on how to improve it.

Later this fall, consultants will visit the campus and meet with Allen and Merrill-Fink. After reviewing the preliminary report, the consultants will be help shape an overall strategic plan with an eye toward a larger and more effective program.

Allen will recommend more rigorous recruitment, a residence hall dedicated to the program, scholarships, better mentoring and a continuing commitment to increased diversity. "We must develop a community of engaged learning for these students, among themselves and with their faculty mentors. Towards that laudable end, we need to offer more to our honors students — in recruitment, scholarships, residential living, advisement and research opportunities."

Allen believes the University Honors Program needs a stronger sense of "identity and community that students and faculty recognize as distinctive and valuable."

Merrill-Fink wants to raise the profile of the program and expand "the breadth of course offerings and faculty participation," she said. "Increasing student involvement in the honors program is another top priority." The ultimate goal is to get more students into the program and provide even more to current honors students.

Allen and Merrill-Fink are dedicated to this ambitious cause despite their busy schedules. Allen is a history professor and also director of the University Core Curriculum. He holds a doctorate in modern European history from Tufts University.

Merrill-Fink, associate professor of theater, is also a director, choreographer and style coach. She is a two-degree graduate of the University of Arizona in Tucson, earning a bachelor of fine arts in 1984 and a master of fine arts in 1988.

Promoting excellence in undergraduate academics is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Lori Merrill-Fink

Lori Merrill-Fink
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