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After two years of discussion, Hillsdale College’s Honors Program finalized plans to change its name, alter its recruitment process, and get a new director.
To emphasize the interdisciplinary aspects of the program, the name is changing to Collegiate Scholars. Additionally, the school closed the program to freshmen. The plan is 30 new members with at least a 3.4 GPA will apply for the program following the end of the academic year and enter as sophomores. Associate Professor of Classical Studies Eric Hutchinson is working with Professor of History Richard Gamble, current head of the program, to assume the role of director after the spring semester.
“Honors can suggest — can suggest — that somehow Hillsdale College has to be improved to make it good enough for a certain applicant,” Gamble said. “That’s not the case.”
Collegiate Scholars will no longer have core class sections specific to the program. Requirements will not specify Collegiate Scholars take more advanced science and math classes than the core curriculum necessitate as well. Students in the program will still write a thesis, take seminars, and have the opportunity to graduate with honors.
Gamble said by accepting students after freshman year, comparing applicants becomes easier because students’ grades come from Hillsdale courses instead of a variety of high school backgrounds.
Not having freshmen was a point of contention for current students in the program.
“We were upset,” Honors Program co-President junior Luke Zahari said. “It was a formative experience. It was the thing that defined our freshman year and our introduction to a community of learning at Hillsdale.”
Gamble said he hopes the seminars and program events will contribute to the development of community among the program’s members. He said he believes the students will make the most of the changes.
Recruitment for the program will occur during the spring semester. Interested freshmen of any GPA may enroll in a new one-credit seminar entitled The Liberal Arts Tradition to get a feel of Collegiate Scholars. The program is offering four sections, each taught by a professor from a different discipline and will give a deeper look at readings from Western Heritage.
Co-President junior Andrea Sommer said she loves the program for the mentorship she received from older students. Not having freshmen in the program, she said, makes it difficult to pass on the favor.
The seminar, based on the one-credit course formerly taken by Honors Program students during their first semester, will offer mentorship opportunities to upperclassmen. Six to eight students will have the opportunity to volunteer as tutors to help stimulate conversation in the seminars.
Former co-President senior Christina Lambert said this is a transitional year since there were no new students in the program.
“Each year it will become the new normal, and it will bring a lot of positive things that no one expected it would contribute,” Lambert said.
As for the name of the program, Gamble said it was one of the hardest decisions to make, but it better encompasses what the organization is.
“I think the new name and what it will communicate to future students and present students is that it’s a program made up more than just academic excellence,” she said. “That’s a core part of it, but it contains the area of interdisciplinary learning and building membership and community.”
That cross-subject investigation is something to which Hutchinson looks forward as he becomes more involved in the program. He said he is eager to foster relationships with the students in the program and expose them to conversations with college faculty.
“There are a lot of really great professors on this campus,” Hutchinson said. “What I would love to do is try to find a way to involve a lot of the faculty in teaching seminars, speaking at various events the program hosts to give students a sense of the breadth and depth of the resources that are available here.”
Through the transitions, Sommer said program members are trying to remain optimistic.
“We go to a conservative school, we’re going to be resistant to change,” she said. “I don’t think the administration would make the changes unless they thought it was the best thing for the college. At this point, I’m trusting the administration, and hopefully, it’s still able to grow and be the beautiful thing it has been in the past.”