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New college, new dean: Honors aims for visibility, diversity
January 16, 2018
NKU’s previous Honors Program has shifted; it is now the Honors College, headed by its inaugural dean, Dr. James Buss. The new college hopes to grow in size, create a more diverse, inclusive environment and potentially gain national recognition.
Buss hopes to bring his experience from Salisbury University in Maryland, where he currently serves as dean of their Honors College.
“I’m hoping I can bring my expertise in leading, now, two different honors programs and colleges before coming to NKU,” Buss said. “But, also a knowledge of working with honors programs’ directors and deans all across the United States with the National Collegiate Honors Council.”
Buss aims to change the way students are admitted to the college and shift the mentality of honors colleges from being “‘a place where smart people go’” to “‘a place where motivated people go.’”
“It creates a more inclusive environment within honors to attract students that perhaps otherwise would not apply to honors,” Buss continued, “or even consider honors as something they’d like to do at the university.
Bussー a first-generation college studentーnever was an honors student in college, but had two younger brothers who benefited from such programs. He credits the lack of awareness about the college as to why he was not involved.
Raising awareness and making the college more visible to NKU students, staff, faculty and the community is a goal of Buss.
“I think is incredibly important, so that students who are motivated–who want to take advantage of that–can make the most of their time at the university,” Buss said.
In shifting from a program to a full-fledged college, Belle Zembrodt, interim director, said the curriculum has been revised to give students a clearer outcome as to what they should be learning.
Zembrodt said students will acquire many skills and accomplish projects throughout their time in the Honors College, including an independent capstone project their last semester.
“It’s a way that they’ll be able to demonstrate their own passion, commitment, creativity and the skills they’ve learned,” Zembrodt said. “They develop skills like discipline, perseverance [and] critical thinking. This is a place where you’re more independent and you can show your own perseverance.”
Zembrodt hopes the new dean, Dr. Buss, will be able to raise visibility and awareness for the Honors College, adding that their location will move to Founders Hall.
“Instead of just being a program, in the catalogue with all the other programs, we will be a college. It will be easier for students to find out about us…you’ll get to see what we do. We’ve done some really great things, but they haven’t been publicized as well,” Zembrodt said.
Buss hopes that the college can play a significant role in the wider community.
“I’m a firm believer that universities can shape the community around them, but in order to do so, we need to encourage students to get involved in the communities in which the university exists,” Buss said.
NKU’s commitment to community engagement makes their Honors College unique, according to Buss. He also added that their community involvement was one of the reasons he decided to apply for the dean’s position.
Josh Hamilton, junior psychology major, joined the Honors College to have more opportunities in his academic career and more hands-on experiences.
“My first honors course was a lot more hands-on, a lot more personal than any other intro course I’ve taken at NKU,” Hamilton said.
He said the learning environment within Honors is more personal, allowing students and professors to develop connections that allow the students to engage and seek answers to their questions.
The small class sizes and fellow students’ willingness to voice their opinion was one of the main reasons he continued the Honors College throughout his time at NKU.
“I think what I love most about is [professors are] willing to give you different perspectives that you wouldn’t see in other courses,” Hamilton said. “The creativity and the way they handle the courses–I can’t even put it into words–it’s just different. It’s more open.”
Junior English literature major Zo Porter said her first day in the Honors College was a transformative experience for her.
“Ever since then, I’ve loved being in the Honors Program I’ve loved being involved in it,” Porter said. “It’s a place that I really found true happiness in.”
Porter said her ability to think critically and consider diverse opinions–even ones she disagrees with–has improved due to her time in honors.
“I also feel that I’ve built very strong connections to my professors and they’ve provided me with so much information and knowledge that I think I would have really struggled without,” Porter said.
Porter has developed a strong, personal connection to herself and her own opinions, allowing herself to trust her own voice.
“I’ve come to have a personal blooming, a personal birth. I’ve really grown as a person, and I really feel like my voice matters when I’m in that house [Honors House] or if I’m in a class with an Honors professor,” Porter said.
Buss wants prospective students to know that if they are willing to work hard, and if they are motivated, the Honors College is for them.
Students interested in joining should reach out to staff, faculty or Buss himself.
“I have an open-door policy. Students email me and call me all the time. Prospective high school students who call and say ‘Can I learn more about what you’re doing? I wanna make sure it’s a good fit.’ And, so, reaching out to folks, I think that that’s important,” Buss said.
This willingness to show passion and motivation for the Honors College are skills that Zembrodt looks for in the applications.
“So, they apply to NKU then they apply to the Honors College. And we look at five things…. but we try to get a big picture of the whole student,” Zembrodt said.
Like Buss, Zembrodt hopes that the college will become nationally recognized in the future.
“Just to have some projects that really make a difference in the world, that were thought of by some of our honors students,” Zembrodt said. “Have students receive some of the nationally recognized scholarships to graduate school. Some of those kinds of things would be really wonderful.”
Buss’ sign of success within the college is visibility and involvement.
“The marker of success will be whether or not the Honors College is visible to students, faculty and staff in the greater community and if those students or faculty are involved in honors or not,” Buss said. “So, that’s where I would like to see it over the next four to five years.”