This article was originally published in ZU News.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of an honors program/college at Azusa Pacific University. The program began in 1992 and the Honors College began in 2014, meaning its first class will graduate this year.
The honors program was started in 1992 by Carole Lambert. Lambert was an English professor at the time.
“In January of 1992, the provost at that time, AJ Anglin, approached me and said that he wanted an honors program for the students and he wanted it up and running by September [of 1992],” Lambert said.
Lambert created and chaired a task force that designed an honors program. She researched honors programs at several other universities across the country. The five other professors on the task force designed general education classes specially for honors students.
Lambert presented their program in May of 1992 and it was approved unanimously.
“Everybody I talked to wanted an honors program for the students,” Lambert said. “They felt that our gifted students needed something beyond the usual courses. We were doing them a disservice if we didn’t have something special for them.”
Lambert said that since she had a minimal budget, she essentially begged department leaders to let her borrow professors to teach honors classes.
The program started that fall and admitted 20 students in the first class. By the time Lambert left in 1995 to teach at Boston University, the program had reached 25 students per class and they were having to turn some students away.
In 1995, the program was taken over by a member of the original task force, Mel Shoemaker, who led it until 2005. Under Shoemaker, the program grew to admitting about 40 students a year.
Then in the fall of 2005, Vicky Bowden, who currently serves as the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Programs, took over as director of the honors program.
Bowden taught in the School of Nursing half the time and worked in the honors program the other half of the time. She helped the program grow from admitting 44 freshmen in 2005 to admitting 79 freshmen in 2012.
Bowden noted the success she had during her time as director, but she also encountered challenges.
“The biggest challenge when I started in 2005 was that students were almost embarrassed to say they were part of the honors program,” Bowden said. “It was not because of the program. It was because they were embarrassed to draw attention to their academic excellence.”
Bowden said this changed when the honors program turned into the Honors College, there was a different perception.
“That transition from honors program to Honors College represents honoring excellence in academic endeavors,” Bowden said.
Bowden served her last year as director of the honors program in the 2012-13 school year. One of her last jobs for honors was to put together a new task force.
“I was one of the members of the task force,” said David Weeks, the Dean of Honors College. “Our charge was to see what the future of honors might look like. Through that process, the recommendation was made that the university move from an honors program to an honors college.”
The distinction between a program and a college is made by the National Collegiate Honors Council, which is made up from honors programs from over 800 schools across the country.
“There are different ramifications to that. The simplest is that an honors college is a much greater institutional investment,” Weeks said. “It was really Jon Wallace and Mark Stanton [the president and the provost] that made the decision to make the change. Jon and Mark asked me if I would be interested in leading the new program.”
At the time, Weeks served as the dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), a position he held for 17 years. He said that both he and the CLAS were ready for a change.
Weeks travelled to several other universities and talked to people from their honors colleges, including Baylor University, the University of Notre Dame, Indiana Wesleyan University, and Calvin College.
“I tried to find out what they did, why they did it that way, what worked well, and what didn’t work,” Weeks said. “It was my hope that we could develop a program that would be attractive to high achieving students. We created the great books program that focuses on themes of leadership, virtue, and faith.”
The first class of the Honors College came in the fall of 2014, with 91 new freshmen.
“It was about a 10% growth over the previous year of students in the honors program,” Weeks said. “We’ve continued to grow at about the same pace and want to get to the point where we’re admitting about 140 new freshmen each year.”
This year’s freshman class is the largest yet with 118 students representing 17 different states and five countries.
“It’s an incredibly diverse group of students,” said Frank Clement, the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Honors College. “Our goal is eventually to be 10% of the undergraduate population. Somewhere between 500-550 students in the honors college.”
Clement is part of the reason why this is the biggest class yet. He travelled to the east coast last year and recruited students to come to APU.
“We want students who are on the fence between Stanford or UCLA and APU’s Honors College. We’re trying to raise our academic profile,” Clement said.
Clement has worked at the Honors College for a year now. Besides him, there are now five full-time faculty in the Honors College. This is vast growth from when Carole Lambert was the only part-time faculty for the honors program.
“I could never have predicted it. I’ve been in higher education for over 50 years now. I’ve seen programs come and go,” Lambert said. “I marvel that it is not only still around after 25 years but that it is thriving and flourishing and has grown into an honors college.”