WOU Honors Program continues to adapt and grow
The strengthening of Western Oregon University’s rigorous academic requirements is evidenced across campus from admissions to campus to acceptance into specific academic programs; this is especially seen in the Honors Program. In the last four years, the program has nearly doubled to 110 students at present. Students involved in the program are from all majors and minors throughout the university.
Rachel Hermanson, a senior biology major with psychology minor, has seen the growth in the program first-hand. From Kalispell, Mont., Hermanson wanted to move to Oregon or Washington because of the climate and had planned to attend a private school. “I wanted to be thoroughly challenged in college, while simultaneously making myself more competitive for graduate school.” She toured many schools and chose WOU because it “felt like a private school with a public school price tag—a perfect fit!” WOU’s Honors Program was an important part of that decision as well.
For students in the program, they are getting a thorough liberal arts education as the Honors Program has classes in twelve academic units within six divisions on campus. According to Dr. Gavin Keulks, English professor and director of the Honors Program, department participation has increased by 30 percent in the same four years. The added flexibility of double sections, revised curriculum and an added electives category helps keep the program rigorous but adaptive. Keulks has also noted that the program has seen its retention rates improve. “The growth is reflected in the number of graduates, which has roughly tripled since 2004,” he said. Fourteen students graduated from the program in 2010.
Hermanson agrees that the program is adaptive and she has observed growth in the program. She’s noticed an increase in the scholarship amounts, and that overall cohesion of the program has improved. “I think the Honors Program is an incredible program that enables students to form friendships and gain knowledge in a way not found in non-honors classes,” she said. One feature of the Honors Program is an enhanced curriculum, which provides excursions on topics relevant to classes. For example, an honors theatre class takes an annual trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and an honors music class saw BB King perform live in Eugene.
The Honors Program also encourages students to be involved in other areas of campus. Keulks said Honors Program students have been resident assistants, members of the Plus Team, tutors in the Writing Center, student workers on campus, athletes and have participated in study abroad. Beginning in fall 2012, there will be a wing for Honors Program students in Ackerman Hall, WOU’s newest residence hall. This will aid students in the program in getting to know each other and building a solid community, which is invaluable in a college setting.
Hermanson said the program has helped her generate valuable networking connections on campus. “The Honors Program has helped me feel more comfortable with learning and confident in my ability to achieve. [The Honors Program] provides an amazing learning environment that encourages students to take charge of their education and push beyond their comfort zone.”