Westminster College’s newly-founded Honors College welcomed the largest incoming first-year class in its 30-year history — but members of Honors said that doesn’t mean it will lose its quality and sense of community.
When the nationally-recognized Honors program, which was founded in 1987, transitioned into a college this semester, it also grew 63 percent. The new 2017-2018 incoming first-year class has 67 students compared to last year’s cohort of 41.
“This year we had the largest incoming class yet, but the College is adapting well to that,” said Jadie Adams, a senior math major. “It still feels like a tight community.”
Stephanie Santarosa, the assistant director of Honors and fellowship advising, said members of the new College hope to expand programing and opportunities for students across campus.
“We hope it will be good for the entire college,” she said.
Santarosa noted that most of the changes from the transition have been with governance and said Honors has remained a tight-knit community despite the increase in its size.
“I’ve always prided myself in knowing every student in the Honors College,” said Richard Badenhausen, dean of the college. “So if you’re going to over four years double the size of the Honors College, we’re going to have to do different things so that I’m still connecting with students and our faculty are connecting with students.”
Though Badenhausen said maintaining the internal sense of community in the Honors College is important to students and faculty, he also noted that the transition won’t separate those students from the rest of campus.
“A lot of Honors Colleges are separated out from the community,” Badenhausen said. “We don’t do any of that because we feel like we’re part of the community. We want Honors students to be part of the community and leaders… We attract a type of student who wants to be out in the community — not cooped up in a special dorm somewhere.”
The Honors College has been making steady changes over the past few years, adding more class options for students and providing them with more flexibility about which courses to choose.
The College also created a lateral-entry program in Fall 2015, which allows transfer students to join Honors from other colleges and Westminster students to enroll internally after their first semester.
Now, the College plans to grow scholarships for students from under-represented backgrounds, expand Honors May term opportunities and add new faculty, Badenhausen said.
Adams said she wants the College to branch out in other ways as it grows.
“I would like to see the Honors College continue to expand into more STEM subjects, considering how heavy a focus it has been on reading and writing,” she said.
But amidst all the changes, Holden Rasmussen, a senior philosophy major and the assistant president of the Honors Council, said he hopes the transition won’t change the original program’s sense of community and focus on discussion-based learning.
“I hope the academic rigor and the community stay the same,” he said.
Though the switch to a Honors College may have little impact for students aside from their diplomas, Katie Johnson, a first-year elementary education major, said she supports the change.
“I feel like it will be just another brag point when I graduate,” she said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly labeled senior Holden Rasmussen’s major. He is a philosophy major.