Dean's Message: Growing Visionaries
One's-Self I Sing
BY WALT WHITMAN
One’s-Self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.
Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse, I say the Form complete is worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing.
Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.
If you’ve met me in my office, you might have noticed that Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is tucked under my keyboard – to create a more ergonomic set up – and a foundation for thinking through poetry. Whitman was beginning an epic poem for a relatively new democratic county – by invoking the Muse but turning that tradition on its head as well – to celebrate the self as inspiration and celebrate democracy as a radical, diverse form comprised of many individual voices striving for freest action. Whitman and his contemporaties didn’t know if this country would hold together. It was full of tensions and contradictions, and poetry was a form for holding these contradictions in dialogue.
I’d like you to consider another date - not so far back as 1855 – March 4, 2015. We held the first Honors College general assembly on that date, following the charter and bylaws that formed a college in 2014 out of the long-standing Emory Lindquist Honors program. Those students who drafted the college charter established four pillars – urging our community to aim to be intellectual, professional, innovative, and transformative. It’s this final pillar that is prominent in today’s gathering.
Whitman would say - To utter the word Democratic, to work always toward a worthier form – internally, individually, and externally, collectively.
In the spring 2015 assembly, we reported that we had 396 honors students. 183 of those were first-year students. 24 students graduated that year with an honors distinction.
In fall 2022, we had 708 honors students, 131 first-year students. We’re on track for almost 100 graduates with an honors distinction this year: 21 in fall 2022 and between 70 and 80 spring and summer honors graduates.
Original Honors College Concept
In 2015, we were guided by the benefits we sought to provide by forming an Honors College on this campus. Those included:
- Emphasizing academic rigor along with exploration, creativity, and discovery
- Providing Honors students individualized advising and priority enrollment
- Engaging students in intellectual dialogue and real-world problems
- Facilitating undergraduate research across campus
- Preparing students for top graduate schools, competitive national scholarships, and leadership roles in professional careers
- Supporting interdisciplinary courses and curriculum development
- Serving as a curricular laboratory for faculty to experiment with course design and content
Today I ask you: Are we meeting these goals? And what should our new goals and strategies be as we approach 10 years as a college and chart a path for the next 10 years?
We have a College Playbook that aligns our work with university and presidential priorities, particularly with the university-wide initiative to promote student success and close the equity gap in our persistence and graduation rates.
Our priorities and strategies include aiming to:
- Spark the interest of diverse student populations by creating course content that
speaks to their cultural experiences and realities
- Faculty have developed new courses including Black Lives Matter, History of Genocide, multiple service-learning opportunities in courses and experiences such Leadership Academy and BILL’S Trip, new first-year seminars over the past four years, and a course that is offered this fall by a new faculty engaged in honors because a student requested it - War: Strategic Studies.
- If there’s a course or topic you want to see in our schedule, talk to faculty members. Let us know. We want to know what issues and ideas are most interesting to you, to be in dialogue with our ideas and interests.
- Increase connections to community partners, including increasing connections to the neighborhood around our campus
- Increase access to undergraduate research and innovation pipeline programs for all
students not only honors students
- We are working with the College of Health Professions to expand the number of departmental honors course sections available and to connect students with professionals in health care fields early in their college career
- A student in the Barton School of Business has proposed expanded opportunities in business courses and suggested creating a portfolio of options for business students to earn honors
- We have a curriculum proposal in the pipeline to increase options for meeting the honors research requirement
- Do you have an idea? Talk to one of the faculty or student council members. We’d be happy to hear from you.
- Increase funding for students with financial need. We’ve made some progress in the
last three years
- We are now able to award at least $1000 to every honors students with high financial need, and we hope to do more in future.
- Increase outreach to current students, and we’ve made some progress in this area with email and phone outreach, visits to campus organizations
- Design a first-year Honors experience that builds community
- We created a new required Honors Colloquium that meets twice each semester for first-year students beginning in fall 2023
In that list you heard: diversity, connections, access, funding, outreach, experience - all guiding values for our work in Honors.
Feedback for Looking Forward
Today we want to start to look forward to next year and beyond, and we’re asking you to give us some feedback that will help us meet your needs and ambitions.
On April 15, 2015, Dorothy and Bill Cohen made their naming gift to the Honors College official – and in their remarks that day, they said they wanted to continue to support the great ambitions of Wichita State University students. They wanted to support Honors to join knowledge and innovation to grow visionaries.
You are those visionaries they speak of. They want you to dream big dreams, and it is our job to help make those dreams a reality. We will succeed sometimes and fail sometimes, and we want you to help us get better. I’ve given you some big picture questions and strategies that we are working on.
Please let us know what matters to you!