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From Lib Ed to Gandhi

From Lib Ed to Gandhi: The Honors Program's Diverse Expansion

By Helen Langan

Westminster College freshman Jessica Shurtleff graduated from Alta High School last spring with a 4.0 grade point average and an ACT score of 29 (equivalent to an SAT score of 1300). Over the summer she participated in a highly competitive film workshop at the Sundance Film Institute entitled "Real Stories." During the workshop she collaborated on creating nine documentary films--one of them her own. She then went to work for the Spy Hop film company to work on a documentary for the PBS "Beyond Borders" series. This fall Shurtleff began her freshman year at Westminster and joined a distinguished group of young scholars who are members of the Westminster College Honors Program.

The Westminster College Honors Program is a highly competitive program offering a unique experience for academically and intellectually prepared students who want more out of their undergraduate studies. The program consists of 100 students and usually admits about 35 students each year as entering freshmen. The most recent entering class has 36 students with an average high school GPA of 3.91, including six valedictorians, and an average ACT score of 29. Applications were up 72 percent over the previous year.

The core of the program is a seven-course seminar sequence, which replaces the college-wide liberal education requirements. The classes students take in this series are team-taught, interdisciplinary seminars that encourage active learning, offer personalized attention, and develop critical thinking skills.

The recent success that the Honors Program has experienced in recruiting such accomplished students is due in part to the tremendously positive changes initiated under the leadership of Richard Badenhausen, Associate Professor and Director of the Honors Program. Badenhausen, who moved to Utah in 2001 to direct the program, said: "At the time I was considering coming to Westminster, another well-known school in the Midwest had invited me to direct its honors program. I chose Westminster because the students were bright, the faculty was talented, and the administration was clearly dedicated to the Honors Program. I have been pleasantly surprised that those initial impressions are even more true today."

Here are some of the most noteworthy changes that Badenhausen has brought to the Honors Program in the short time that he has been at Westminster:

  • The institution of a program mission statement that directs the program's activities
  • A revision and update of the Honors science curriculum
  • The formation of a Student Honors Council, which gives students a leadership voice in the program
  • The institution of regular meetings between Honors students and campus visitors, who have included, among others, a terrorism expert, a Hollywood filmmaker, a historian of Holocaust studies, and last year's Adamson lecturer, Rajmohan Gandhi
  • An expansion of the support and mentoring for undergraduate student research, which has resulted in presentations by more than fifteen Honors students in the past two years at regional and national academic meetings, and includes three new, annual, independent summer research awards for Honors students who have summer research projects
  • The creation of a student-run newsletter
  • The institution of annual student writing awards in four different categories
  • The organization of a Student Honors Council fund, which is supported by contributions from parents of Honors students

Through both course work and the many programmatic changes, the Honors Program offers its students enriched opportunities such as leadership training, mentoring and funding for research, meetings with visiting speakers, writing awards, and a scholarship resource library, among others. The program also offers a range of upper-level seminars that cover topics beyond the seven-course seminar sequence.

In the future Badenhausen would like to attract an even stronger and more diverse group of students to the Honors program and to secure an "Honors space" to house the program's many activities.

When asked about her experience so far in the Honors Program, Shurtleff remarked, "I love the Honors Program. Richard (Badenhausen) and Nick (More) are really good teachers." In comparison to other educational experiences she has had, Shurtleff said, "It's a lot more work, definitely a change from writing in high school. I think I'm really getting the hang of it now."

Shurtleff is majoring in communication and, one day, hopes to work in television news and documentary film making. She believes that the Honors Program at Westminster will help her succeed. "The reason I decided to go into the Honors Program was because it has so much to offer. The other people in my classes are so smart, and we have so many different discussions, and the input that the other students put in is just amazing. I couldn't picture myself doing anything else right now."

Helen Langan is an assistant to President Bassis.