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Honors Program at UNG prompts solid bond for students

2018-09-04-Honors Hall
University of North Georgia students meet and study in the shared room on the fifth floor of North Georgia Suites residence hall. One wing of the fifth floor is designated as the Honors Hall, which houses some students enrolled in the Honors Program.

When Seth Truax recalls his freshman year on the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega Campus, his memories are filled with his experiences in the Honors Program and on the floor of the residence hall several students shared.

"(My freshman year) was the only year of my college experience that I would say I spent as much time, if not more time, in the hall's shared spaces than I did my own room," the junior majoring in computer science said. "I felt like no matter what I was doing, whether it be academics or something else, there would be others there who understood and were doing the same, reassuring me that I had found a home at UNG."

Creating a challenging and supportive environment for highly motivated students is one purpose of the Honors Program, said Dr. Tanya Bennett, dean of the Honors Program and professor of English at UNG.

"A substantial number of high-performing students are coming out of North Georgia high schools," she said. "We want to do a good job of developing those who choose UNG."

To accomplish this, admitted students have access to honors classes, which are smaller and require more rigorous development of critical thinking and independent study skills. For example, Dr. Stephen Smith, director of the Honors Program and professor of psychological science at UNG, incorporates more discussion in his class.

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Honors students also take many of their core classes together, creating a unique bond. For many, this bond is strengthened by living in the Honors Hall on the fifth floor of the North Georgia Suites residence hall.

"It allows (students) to become familiar with other Honors Program members despite many of them having different plans of study," Truax said.

Smith said the classroom and living space environment creates a healthy dose of competition among students, which impacts their projects and grades.

"We see that students in the Honors Program have higher GPAs," Smith said. "We've also noticed that the GPAs of Honors students who live on the Honors Hall are often even higher."

While the Honors Program has existed for almost 25 years at UNG, the Honors Hall opened just five years ago, said Treva Smith, director of residence life. She explained the hall opened exclusively to freshmen at first. Seeing its success, upperclassmen were allowed access in fall 2016.

"It's helpful by creating additional mentorship opportunities," Treva Smith said. "The upperclassmen are able to ease the frustration and anxiety for the freshmen as well as offer advice."

Shannon Foley, a senior from Cumming, Georgia, said she became friends with her Resident Assistant (RA) when she lived on the Honors Hall as a freshman. He had an effect on her and others.

"Matt Preston inspired a bunch of us to become RAs," she said. "So we all applied and here we are working together as RAs."

This year, Foley is one of two Honors Program students who are the RAs for the Honors Hall. Foley is looking forward to the experience and is planning social activities such as a game or movie night.

"It’s a good opportunity to get off campus and enjoy the North Georgia area and get to know each other," Foley said.

Honor students also participate in civic activities such as volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

These kinds of experience leave a mark. Abby McMillan, a 2016 graduate, said living on the hall and being part of the program was one of her defining memories of college.

"It was a key factor in influencing who I met and hung out with for the next three years," she said. "Everyone I met I keep up with in one way or another, and they've definitely influenced a big part of how I lived my life at college."

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