The UMKC Honors Program closed this July. Taking its place is the Honors College, a new academic unit. The new unit retains features of the old Honors Program and complements them with new opportunities for Honors students.
The Honors Program was founded in 1979 by Bruce Bubacz, a professor who currently serves as the chair of the Philosophy Department.
“[Bubacz] set it up in the right way—with a commitment to academic excellence,” Dr. Jim McKusick, the Honors College Dean said.
In 2003, Dr. Gayle Levy became the director of the Honors Program. Under her direction, the Honors College implemented new curricula and faculty fellowships.
“[Levy] maintained high standards of quality,” McKusick said. “She really built [the Honors Program] into a center of excellence at UMKC.” Levy continues to serve as the director of the New Honors College.
Next in the history of the Honors college was the UMKC Strategic plan, which called for a commitment to student success.
“The Strategic Plan says that student success is at the center of everything we do at UMKC,” McKusick said.
One of the proposed student success initiatives was a new Honors College task force. Faculty, administrators, students and alumni from varied backgrounds and disciplines came to together to create in task force in 2010, following the publishing of the Strategic Plan. The task force published its final report in 2013, calling for the creation of a new independent academic unit: what would soon be known as the Honors College.
“The Honors College is a freestanding academic unit,” McKusick said. “Like all the other colleges and schools, it is in charge of its own destiny. It has its own dean, faculty, curriculum, and a way of identifying all the students in the Honors College.”
With its own residential wing in Oak Street Hall and intensive seminar courses, the Honors College aims to create a community committed to learning. The Honors College also publishes Lucerna, UMKC’s undergraduate research journal.
“I like to tell the Honors students that the Honors College is a place where it’s cool to be smart,” McKusick said.
Maria Gentry, an Honors Ambassador and the co-president of the Honors Student Advisory Council was just as enthusiastic about the new Honors College.
“I just want to push the Honors College towards the goals [McKusick] has,” said Gentry. “He’s only one person.”
Those goals include getting more recognition from both within and outside of UMKC. Two hundred students are currently enrolled in the Honors College, which aims to increase that number to 600. Levy and McKusick also want to see more students who normally wouldn’t consider UMKC apply to the Honors College.
“UMKC is part of a hidden jewel,” Levy said. “People grow up four blocks from here but don’t consider it an option.” Levy pointed to the cultural narrative of students leaving their hometowns for a college town—something Kansas City is not.
Although Kansas City may not offer much in the way of college town life, it does offer many volunteering and nonprofit opportunities, thanks to a partnership with the Ewing Marion Kaufman Charter School.
The Honors College is open to incoming freshmen, transfer students and continuing undergraduate students form all schools, majors and departments. To enroll, a student must have a minimum GPA of 3.5. To find out more about the Honors College, visit http://honors.umkc.edu/.