Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief
Ten years ago, the Jacksonville State University Honors Program consisted of eight students and a dream.
Since then, those eight students have turned into 394 members from all majors across campus, and the dream of creating an academic community that opens new opportunities for students has been realized.
JSU had offered honors classes in some form in the eighties and nineties, but the program as it exists today began in 2009, when eight incoming freshmen were selected as “Elite Honors Scholars” to kick-start the fledgling program.
Longtime JSU English Professor Dr. Steve Whitton served as the first Honors Program Director after the program kicked off under the leadership of former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences J.E. Wade.
Dr. Whitton spent five years helping to establish the program before returning to his classroom full-time in 2014. With the Honors Program looking to expand even further, Dr. Lori Owens was brought on board as Director.
“Dean Wade called me into his office one afternoon and told me he had the perfect job for me: Director of the Honors Program,” Owens said. “I was excited about this opportunity and immediately accepted the offer. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to build on the foundation that Dr. Whitton and the Honors Board Members had established.”
The Honors Program continued to select eight incoming freshmen each year to serve as the core of the program, but began to offer not just honors classes, but emphasize membership into the program to the student body.
“We also began an effort to make the program more Program-wide instead of the emphasis being solely on those students on the top scholarship offered by JSU,” Owens said. “This has resulted in greater interest and involvement by students who are bright, dedicated students who might not necessarily be on the top scholarship that JSU offers.”
This brought in more students, and with that, more opportunities for the program to expand.
Janet Whitmore, who has served as Coordinator of the Program since August of 2010, has seen the program grow immensely during her time.
“Over the almost nine years that I have been here, the Honors Program has expanded in many ways, including the number and type of classes offered, the travel opportunities offered, and the community involvement,” Whitmore said.
In the Honors Program, it’s not all just about the academics. The program has strived to create a community where students can nurture lifelong relationships and give back to the community.
Current Senior Katie Peyton, who has served as Honors Program Co-President during her time at JSU, is grateful for the people she’s met through the program.
“The Honors Program is not only the reason I came to JSU, as it gave me a great scholarship, but it’s also the reason I met some of my best friends in the world,” Peyton said.
Dr. Owens says it’s a goal of the program to help students build relationships.
“It is easy to get lost on a college campus unless a student becomes a member of a smaller learning community,” Owens said. “Honors is an opportunity for like-minded students from various backgrounds and majors to learn together, form life-long friendships, engage in service for the campus and community, and become a productive, global citizen.”
The service aspect of the program has also grown in recent years. Through Honors, students have the opportunity to collaborate on service projects or volunteer in the Jacksonville community. Students organize trips on Fridays to volunteer at the local Boys & Girls Club, and Jacksonville First United Methodist Church has partnered with the Honors Program to allow students to help with the church’s ‘Serving Table’, where they serve free meals to the community.
“It has shaped me into a better leader and has given me many opportunities to push myself a little further,” Peyton said of her opportunities within the Honors Program.
The Honors Program has grown a lot in its first 10 years, but it isn’t done yet. Dr. Owens and Whitmore plan to offer even more opportunities for students in the coming years.
“I look forward in the future to be able to offer more upper-level Honors classes and expand our reach to more of the university population,” Whitmore says.
Currently, the official Honors classes are limited to lower-level and introductory classes due to student numbers, but plans are already in place to offer interdisciplinary Honors courses starting in Spring 2020.
To learn more about the JSU Honors Program and its offerings, visit JSU.edu/honors-program