This past semester commemorates the 30 year anniversary of the Honors Program at Eastern Kentucky University. Established in 1988, the EKU Honors program is more than a symbol of the school’s academic success. With thousands of graduates, faculty involvement and student’s dedication, EKU’s honors program has been one of the most active in the region.
According to the current director, the program can be traced back to Dr. Bonnie Gray, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy. Gray, along with 20 other faculty members from a variety of programs, founded the Honors Program and formed it into what it is today.
While not having the largest organization, EKU Honors prides itself on being one of the most involved programs in the state, said David Coleman, director of the Honors Program since 2013.
The Honors Program has turned out more than a thousand National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) presenters — a number that exceeds any other honors program in the nation by almost 400.
The NCHC is the national organization presiding over honors programs at colleges across America. The national visibility helps the academic impression of EKU as a school and exposes professors from all around America, Coleman said.
Over the years, the program has experienced some truly memorable moments, Coleman said. The first he mentioned was a series of donations made from 1992 to 1993 by Jane Boyer, a former EKU Board of Regents member, who gave $500,000 through the year, which was then matched by the state. This gave the Honors Program an endowment of a million dollars and laid down the foundation of possibilities which honors students are still benefiting from. The money has gone toward helping students travel to the NCHC conference, study abroad and funding other trips and opportunities, Coleman said.
Peyton Brock, a junior from Middlesboro and an honor student, said the conferences helped foster her confidence. Brock has attended seven conferences in total — two at a national level, four at state and one regional.
The program was granted another $500,000 by Board Chairman Li Chinbow in 2016, raising the Honors Program’s endowment to $1.8 million. The money is dedicated to student learning opportunities, Coleman said.
Brock was one of the many students given the opportunity to take part in the Cross-Cultural Canada trip in May 2017, which was made possible by the funds. The trip gave honors students a chance to gain college credit while learning about another country and its culture.
Another big moment for the program was in 2012, when the program changed the curriculum mandatory to the program. This took away the “prescription classes” Coleman said, giving way to “honors flex,” which allows honors students to pick their classes. This was in response to honors students coming into college with an average of 21 credit hours.
This change, though subtle, opened up the Honors Program to faculty all across the university and gave students like Brock the opportunity to takes classes she was interested in, such as psychology, sociology and health. She stated that it made the program more diverse, giving students the opportunity to explore any major and experience any discipline.
“This new curriculum has just unleashed creativity among our faculty and allowed them to come up with just really interesting, creative, innovative interdisciplinary courses,” Coleman said.
Associate director Minh Nguyen, EKU’s coordinator for nationally competitive fellowships and a professor of philosophy and Asian studies, works with all students. This means the Honors Program serves the entire campus, Coleman said.
Coleman also talked about the importance of the Honors Program by mentioning that many of EKU students’ individual achievements have been made by students from the program. Students like Miles Owen, the first Truman scholar in a Kentucky comprehensive public college, and Tyler Swafford, the first ever George Mitchell scholar from any Kentucky public college.
The Honors Program encourages all students to apply for these scholarships, not just honors students, Coleman said.
“The most important thing we do in the Honors Program is focus on excellent students,” Coleman said. “There are a lot of great students on this campus. Some of them choose to do Honors, some don’t.”
Correction: This story has been updated from its original form to reflect the correct spellings of Dr. Bonnie Gray and Tyler Swafford.