Honors Program Director discusses UMKC Forward, Honors Program transitions and plans for this school year

A BBQ set up for students of UMKC’s Honor Program.

Anna Ryan

UMKC’s Honors Program, formerly the Honors College, chose to ring in the school year on Saturday with picnic blankets and pulled pork sandwiches.

In attendance was Dr. Gayle Levy, director of the Honors Program, refilling the beverage containers and speaking with students. Dr. Levy teaches several French classes at UMKC and has been part of the honors faculty for over 15 years.

Established in 1979, UMKC’s Honors Program is open to ambitious and motivated undergraduates. In this program, students from any major have the opportunity to enroll in honors courses, participate in honors discussion groups and complete honors contracts. Through these different facets of the program, students can earn honors credits that allow them to graduate with University Honors or even as an Honors Scholar.

This year, the decades-old Honors Program is undergoing some major alterations. Roo News interviewed Dr. Levy to get her insights on ongoing Honors Program transitions and upcoming changes in store for students.

Q: What does the transition from Honors College to Honors Program look like?

A: It’s really a transition in name only. We are no longer an Honors College. We actually have more students — we have 175 new students coming in either through transfer, first-year students or UMKC students who decided to join the program midway through. So, it’s just as big. Otherwise, except for the name, it’s really the same.

Dean Jim [McKusick] is no longer dean. That was part of the transition — the change in name and no longer having a dean. I’ve been director since 2003, so before 2015 we were an Honors Program, and I was the director that whole time. And then we transitioned into an Honors College, and we were an Honors College for an amazing five, six years. And now we’ve transitioned back to an Honors Program and I’m director again. We have the same faculty and staff — Dr. Henrietta Rix Wood and Dr. Stephen Christ teach honors courses, and Margo Gamache is the director of student services.

Q: You mentioned that the Honors Program no longer has a dean. Could you explain the reasoning behind that decision?

A: This was an administrative decision that they decided to segue us back into an Honors Program. Part of UMKC Forward is reorganizing. Part of that reorganization was making the Honors College an Honors Program, and part of this reorganization is that there’s going to be fewer deans. I think [UMKC Forward] involves reviewing the budget and figuring out what could be reorganized to have a meaner, leaner, more efficient kind of administration.

Q: What’s the difference between a “college” and a “program”?

A: A college is a unit that has a dean, and it can be different sizes. They’re kind of a self-governing unit with a dean. There are Honors Programs that function like colleges, but they don’t have a dean — in this case, there’s a director instead. And that is more or less what’s going to happen. But now, instead of having a dean who is employed by the provost, we have a director whose supervisor is a vice provost.

Effectively, in the lives of the students, they’re not going to see any difference. It’s really just an administrative change. 

Q: What are some of the Honors Program’s new initiatives or goals for this school year?

A: We have a couple new things. One thing was this summer we had the Roo Honors Academy which was a weeklong, academic, non-credit bearing camp for high school students. So we had 20 students on campus taking classes with Dr. Wood and Dr. Christ and Dr. Aaron Reed of the School of Biological Science and Chemistry for a whole week, all day. And that was really exciting, they were really into it. So that is new and we’re going to start doing that annually.

In terms of this year, we have the honors faculty mentor program which has really expanded. Before, I think it was just me, Dr. Jess Magaña, Dean Jim, Dr. Christ and Dr. Wood. Now we have Professor Erin Blocher from the Business School, we have someone from engineering, business, the conservatory, CJC, biology and faculty members from all around who are volunteering to mentor new incoming honors students. So that program has really been expanded.

And stay tuned — we’re working on some curriculum changes. We’re not quite ready to unveil that, but we will soon. It will be centered on leadership, so we’re really going to start putting some energy into providing leadership training for honors students. 

The Honors Program is no longer accepting applications for the fall semester, but for any prospective honors students, the spring semester deadline is Jan. 7. Questions about the transitions or applying for the program can be directed to [email protected]

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