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Honors program showing strong growth

Honors Program growth
Dr. Trey Wilson discusses government issues with students of the fall 2013 Honors American Government class.

In fall 2013, the Honors programs at the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega, Gainesville and Oconee campuses began operating as a single unit, and students at each campus are involved in a robust, growing program that integrates academic rigor, leadership development and community service.

"Fall 2013 marks the highest enrollment ever on all three campuses supporting Honors," said Dr. Eric Skipper, dean of honors and graduate studies and acting CEO of the Oconee Campus. "The program on the Dahlonega Campus has grown while raising standards. This is a testament to Dr. Steve Smith's tireless commitment to the program, and his administrative skills in coordinating a strong network to support Honors. In Gainesville and Oconee, Drs. Anastasia Turner and Matthew Horton have done a great job recruiting and raising the profile of Honors. Honors enrollment is currently at nearly 300 students."

The expanding program will award Presidential Scholarships to two Honors students in fall 2014, each worth $4,000 per year for four years. The William P. Roberts Presidential Scholarship will go to a history major in the Corps of Cadets, and the Choate Family Presidential Scholarship will go to any student of any major.

"As the program has grown, we have reached critical masses through which our presence has been more strongly felt," said Dr. Stephen Smith, honors director. "Our sheer 'person power' allows us to mobilize enough talent to coordinate a variety of activities. Examples include the UNG Spelling Bee, campus wide blood drives, and a large and active Relay for Life team. The consolidated Honors Program's larger size led to our having the largest overall contingent of any school for the last two annual meetings of the Georgia Collegiate Honors Council conference, and our taking home more awards than any other school." 

Smith added that the greater numbers have also permitted a wider variety of classes and extracurricular activities, providing members with a richer experience. The enhanced profile of the program has led to the establishment of scholarships tied to Honors Program membership, and has indirectly enhanced the quantity and quality of the applicant pool, he said.

Current entrance requirements stand at a combined math and verbal SAT score of 1150, and a 3.5 high school GPA. There are multiple good standing requirements that students must meet to remain in the program.

Previously, the honors program on the Gainesville and Oconee campuses consisted of Honors classes offering greater challenge. The program is now growing on both campuses as students receive greater exposure to Honors activities due to the implementation of common program requirements.

"Adopting common requirements has had a great impact on the Gainesville and Oconee campuses," Skipper said. "Students on those campuses are now getting a full-fledged Honors experience. They are also campus leaders in presenting undergraduate research."

The program on the Dahlonega Campus required minimum SAT scores and GPAs, as well as student participation in community service, extra-curricular activities and student-led meetings. Total enrollment for the program grew from 171 in fall 2012 to 188 in fall 2013.

Service projects at the Dahlonega Campus typically involved the Lumpkin Literacy Coalition, Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity, and the Lumpkin County Animal Shelter. Honors students at the Dahlonega Campus contributed 1,168 community service hours in fall 2013, Smith said.

"We began the service requirement this fall on the Gainesville Campus," said Dr. Anastasia Turner, acting assistant director of honors. "Our two main current projects are a grass-roots conservation and green space initiative called the Redbud Project, and the Georgia Mountain Food Bank. Students also assist with the Annual Research Conference on campus."

Turner was recently named assistant dean for student research and scholarship, a newly-created position that will further support Honors students, as well as non-Honors students, in their research endeavors and pursuit of nationally-competitive scholarships.

The Honors Program also facilitates events and other learning opportunities, such as conferences and undergraduate research initiatives. Skipper, Smith, and Dr. Matthew Horton, assistant director of honors for the Oconee Campus, took 20 students representing all three campuses to present their undergraduate research at the Georgia Collegiate Honors Council conference, held at Middle Georgia State College Feb. 7 and 8.

"The Honors Program has provided several wonderful opportunities for me as an undergrad," said Joshua McCausland, who won first place in the natural sciences division at the conference. "I've helped the community through Relay for Life and Habitat for Humanity in addition to scholarly pursuits like writing an undergraduate thesis, presenting at conferences like GCHC, and applying myself in Honors classes. Because this fantastic program has pushed me to succeed in so many areas, I believe I've grown as an individual."

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