Saturday, January 16, 2021

A Closer Look at UMKC’s Honors College

Junior and biology major Elizabeth Hemenway works quietly on her laptop in a comfy chair on the fourth floor of Cherry Hall. Her gaze is fixed to the screen while her hair drapes over a dark blue t-shirt with gold lettering that reads “Honors College.”

“The Honors College definitely helped me toward my post-graduate goal,” Hemenway said. “I thought I wanted to go to medical school, but after taking Honors Genetics with Dr. Scott Hawley, I changed my mind and am now focused on research in biology. The Honors College literally changed my course of study.”

In 2015, the honors program founded in 1979 became the UMKC Honors College with Dr. James McKusick (“Dean Jim”) as its founding dean. Dr. Gayle Levy became director of the honors program in 2003 and continued through its transition to the Honors College. Levy is excited about the program’s accomplishments and anticipates an amazing future for the new Honors College.

“The students are incredible,” Levy said. “Alums. Current students. They are absolutely amazing, and they keep getting better and better.”

So what does it take to be an honors student at UMKC? And what can you expect to get out of it besides one of those sweet dark blue t-shirts with the bright gold lettering?

For incoming freshman, the Honors College website states a minimum cumulative high school GPA of 3.5 in the core curriculum is a good “target.” Transfer students should have a college-level GPA of 3.7 or higher or have participated in the honors program at their previous school. Students currently enrolled at UMKC with a GPA of 3.5 or above are eligible for admission.

While priority is given to students who meet or exceed these target criteria, the admissions committee takes into consideration the totality of each student’s application with emphasis on academics and civic engagement. According to Levy, the Honors College is looking for students who want to be leaders in the classroom – and in all aspects of campus and community life – and grades are only a part of that equation.

Once admitted, in order to graduate with university honors, an honors student must complete 27 honors credits. To graduate with the university’s highest distinction, Honors Scholar, an additional six-credit senior honors thesis is also required, but this does not mean a lot of additional work.

There are many ways to earn honors credits, and most do not involve taking additional classes. For example, the Honors College offers honors-only seminars, anchor, and discourse classes that allow students to fulfill the university requirement for anchor and discourse and earn honors credit. Students can also complete an “honors contract” in almost any other class, and earn honors credit equal to the three or more credit hours earned for that class. Honors discussion groups are also available for honors students enrolled in chemistry, biology, accounting, French, Spanish and German courses and are a great way to both earn the credits and meet other honors students.

Honors credits can also be earned through study abroad programs, beyond the classroom experiences, graduate courses, and departmental honors courses that count toward the credit requirement for graduation.

For those students who are interested in the Honors College but are concerned about paying more, Levy says it does not cost extra but does add extra value to the UMKC experience.

“We want all of the high-achieving students at UMKC to be a part of the Honors College,” Levy said. “For a student who is gifted, talented, high-achieving, or whatever other term people want to use, there is a certain way of teaching that corresponds to their way of learning, so the classes are not harder – they are simply more tailored to the way high-achieving students learn best.”

Besides the cool-looking dark blue t-shirts and other “SWAG” that honors students receive, perhaps the most valuable rewards are the intangibles.

“I have met a lot of people in other majors that I might not have met otherwise,” junior Hemenway said. “The Honors College has definitely enriched my undergraduate experience. Also, I took classes like ‘Honors Anchor – The Value of Beauty’ that I might not have otherwise taken, but that I really enjoyed.”

Levy wants students to know that the Honors College is not just some exclusive club for future MENSA candidates to gather and mingle with others like them. There is something for everyone in the Honors College, and the focus of the college is on allowing individuals to explore.

“Almost any student can find their niche in the Honors College,” Levy said. “This is a place for students to create what they want to create, and to pursue whatever it is that interests them. We give students a way to earn credit for research and other work they are already doing. The focus of the Honors College is to make it more individualized, while offering the support of the honors community.”

Levy believes that the community provided by the Honors College for incoming 18-year-old students is especially invaluable. There are currently 60 honors students residing in Oak Street Residence Hall in the honors-only Living/Learning Community, and the college is working to expand into Oak Place Apartments in order to offer this same community for upper-level honors students no longer living in the dorm.

There are currently 130 new honors students starting in the fall, and Dr. Levy expects that number to rise significantly before the start of the semester.

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