UNO Honors Program Seeks to Expand
University of New Orleans President Peter J. Fos and Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Brett Kemker voiced plans this spring to see an Honors College established at UNO. Following a recent surge in membership to the University's 30-year-old honors program, the program director believes those plans could soon come to fruition.
"We are at the threshold," said Abu Kabir Mostofa Sarwar, director of the University honors program and a professor of geophysics at UNO.
The UNO honors program aims to attract great students to the university, serve them, enrich their undergraduate studies, reward them and graduate them with future opportunities they might not have had without the Honors program, said Sarwar. High-ability students admitted to the program enjoy special courses, academic counseling, student-led activities, faculty lectures, informational seminars, social events, community service projects and Quiz Bowl competition.
Yet, Fos, Kemker and Sarwar believe that the program could be more.
A Rise in Honors Students
An Honors College brings the University and honors students a certain elan, said Kemker. An Honors College provides an extra-rigorous curriculum that well prepares high-ability students for graduate school and recognizes students who increase their achievements as they go through college.
Sarwar saw a 50 percent increase in applications to the current University Honors Program during spring testing, he said. He attributed the spike in large part to aggressive recruitment of high-ability students by the Office of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.
Recent enrollment numbers showed an upswing last month from 323 honors students in spring to 383 students in fall. By the end of the enrollment process, the program could have as many as 400 students, Sarwar said.
"That upward movement, that moving forward, we see a continued progression."
A Differential Advantage
Sarwar, who took the helm of the University honors program in January, sees an honors college as "a differential advantage" for students. "The MCAT exam is changing," said Sarwar. "They are not just looking at your GPA and scores. They look at your leadership efforts and research component both."
Sarwar believes an Honors College will help to raise the prestige of the University, improve recruitment and retention efforts, improve graduation rates and increase visibility of the University nationwide and overseas. He is aiming to create a collegial program wherein students find friends and a strong support system, feel special and get involved in student leadership and involvement activities.
To advance the possibility of an Honors College at UNO, Sarwar has garnered $20,000 in new scholarship funds and is reaching out to stakeholders throughout the greater New Orleans metropolitan area for further support. He hopes to establish immediately an honors program alumni association and honors advisory faculty council, as well as apply for membership to the National Collegiate Honors Council.
President Fos envisions a full-scale honors college that would require undergraduate students to complete a thesis and could involve paired courses.
The mandatory thesis project could be any original research or creative work that adds to the knowledge of the world –- a research paper answering a pivotal question, a screenplay, a book of poems, a biology project or musical score, Sarwar said.
More Than Just Academics
Every year, the honors program participates in a "Clean the Lake" effort. This spring, Sarwar increased student involvement by six-fold. He has tapped student leaders within the honors program to expand the project and hopes it will gain more participants and visibility next year. Sarwar has also made strides to make the honors program more social, arranging museum visits and other field trips that complement academic studies, as well as expose students to New Orleans' culture.
The honors program will soon have its own block of housing within the University's planned affinity housing program, which will tie residence areas to student interests, he said. Three new residences slated for affinity housing on campus are now in development, Fos said.
A future honors college could also benefit from speakers' series, the president said.