I have been giving annual talks about the state of the University Honors College (UHC) around this time of year, which allowed me to present my views of the prospects for significant developments. However, because I will be stepping down from this office within six months, this year I have decided not to discuss prospects but instead to give a retrospective view of what I consider to be the major developments during my 5.5-year term in office. And, rather than give a talk, I have prepared a written statement of those reflections.
First, I’ll set the stage. The well-known mission of the UHC is to meet the academic and extracurricular needs of the University’s most motivated, able, and inquisitive undergraduate students. It also is well-known that the UHC has an inclusionary open access policy, and that its diverse opportunities for academic enrichment are available to all students who want them and can handle them. Because the University’s ranking has increased considerably during the 30 years since the UHC’s founding, along with the quality and number of its undergraduate students, the UHC now serves a much larger group of excellent students than it once did
The foundational programs of the UHC include honors courses, honors residence halls, a range of specialized advising, a remarkable research program, and an extraordinary Bachelor of Philosophy degree. Many additional programs developed in recent years, and other changes, provide further opportunities. The following is a brief description of some of the most prominent developments, presented in roughly chronological order.
Pre-health profession advising. The University attracts many students because of its very strong community of biomedical scientists and its distinguished medical center. Two UHC advisors now meet with students who have career interests in the health-related professions; previously, students had been advised informally. It is noteworthy that Pitt students now succeed in gaining admission to medical or dental school at twice the national average, and the University has been recognized as providing one of the best college experiences for students with such interests.
Brackenridge Research Fellowship Program. This unique summer program was expanded to include the Fall and Spring semesters. Fellows pursue research with individual faculty mentors and meet weekly as a group to describe what they are doing, what they have found, and why it is worth doing. The Fellows collectively have diverse disciplinary interests and thus they must learn to communicate their ongoing work to an audience of peers largely outside their discipline.
G. Alec Stewart Student Achievement Award. This award, established in 2012 and named to honor the founding Dean of the UHC, is given each year to three or four juniors who best represent the basic values of the UHC -- academic attainment, intellectual curiosity, and social consciousness. Candidates for this award are expected to have participated in one or more UHC activities.
Community Engagement Office. This office was created to encourage students to use their academic skills to support causes and programs that improve their community locally, nationally, and/or globally. A UHC advisor helps students make the necessary contacts with community leaders, with citizens in need, and with interested faculty mentors on campus. Community-based research fellowships support student projects.
Honors housing. A community of excellent students who support each other, inspire each other, and learn from each other is essential to an enriched educational experience. The colleagueship found in honors residence halls is one of the key ties that bind the community of honors students on campus. During the past 5 years, accommodations in honors housing were expanded from ~500 to ~700 students.
UHC Student Ambassadors. This program involves 50-70 undergraduate students from multiple schools on campus. These junior and senior students promote honors opportunities through informal conversations and announcements in freshman seminars, at special student events, and within the residence halls. In addition, they interact with prospective students and their families during recruiting events.
Honors College - Health Sciences (HCHS) Research Fellowship Program. This summer research program was developed because too many qualified applicants in the natural sciences could not be accommodated in the Summer Brackenridge Program without skewing the disciplinary mix. In the HCHS program, Fellows who plan to pursue a career in a health-related field conduct research mentored by faculty members in the Health Sciences Schools; they also attend a weekly seminar in which they report their work to each other.
National Scholarships office. One group of UHC advisors helps to prepare students to compete for national scholarships. This group was expanded, and there has been a progressive increase in the number of applicants and award winners from the University of Pittsburgh. In a more recent development, a subgroup of exceptional honors students has been provided with new opportunities for academic growth in preparation for the competitions.
UHC scholarships. The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid provides scholarships only to entering freshmen with distinctive credentials. In 2014, the UHC began a scholarship competition for 3rd, 4th, and 5th year students who were transfer students or “late bloomers” whose performance at Pitt exceeded the expectations when they first matriculated. Candidates for this award are expected to have participated in one or more UHC activities.
UHC Faculty Fellows. This program was initiated to recognize the effective participation of some faculty members in UHC activities, most often by teaching honors courses, mentoring undergraduate students in research and scholarship, and serving on UHC committees. Faculty Fellows additionally discuss UHC programs with students, staff, and faculty colleagues. Fifty faculty members representing 32 departments in seven schools have been selected.
Board of Visitors. While the UHC was reaching out to undergraduate students and faculty, it also reached out to those Pitt alumni who considered themselves to be alumni of the UHC. The goal was to gain their perspective on recent developments in the UHC and to encourage these former students to interact with contemporary students.
Beckman Scholars Program. The UHC now coordinates a successful collaborative research program to prepare undergraduate students for graduate-level study and careers in the life sciences. The Beckman Scholars conduct research during two successive summers and the intervening academic school year, guided by one of 15 distinguished faculty members from the Departments of Bioengineering, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and Neuroscience. This program is supported by a 3-year grant from the Beckman Foundation.
David C. Frederick Public Service Internship. This award, established in 2015 and named to honor a prominent alumnus, was established to support undergraduate students while they pursued unpaid public service internships during the summer. The internships may be with a nonprofit organization or government agency in the United States.
Honors College Scholar. This designation, and the accompanying transcript annotation, was created to recognize students whose accomplishments in college best reflect the values of the UHC. Requirements include completion of six honors courses or honors-level equivalents (such as graduate or study abroad courses), an overall GPA of at least 3.50, multiple disciplinary interests, and service activities in their community.
I am very pleased that these developments and the values they reflect have become accepted features of the UHC, along with several other recent changes (e.g., the Climate Change lectures, the liaison with Institutional Advancement, the expansion and consolidation of UHC office space). I thank Mark Nordenberg, Patty Beeson, and Pat Gallagher for providing the opportunity to serve the University as Dean of the UHC. I also thank Peter Koehler, Gordon Mitchell, the UHC staff, and the many faculty and students whose collective efforts enable the UHC to function so well. I look forward to passing the responsibilities of leadership to my successor, and to the continued evolution of the UHC in the years ahead.