When I came to Sam Houston State University in 2014 as a young, ambitious Bearkat, I remember feeling overwhelmed with a busy Orientation Weekend. One of the many decisions freshmen were faced with was a plethora of clubs and organizations they could join. Some groups came and went; I spent a couple of semesters playing ultimate Frisbee and dabbled in some other Intramural Sports programs and various academic opportunities. There was one organization I was stoked about (hopefully) becoming part of, though— the Elliott T. Bowers Honors College.
I had briefly come across the Honors College website a few days before I got to Orientation. I sent an email to their office asking if I could drop by sometime that weekend to talk about possibly applying to the Honors program. They responded quickly, seemed friendly and were helpful in setting up a meeting with Dr. Gene Young who was the Dean of the Honors College at the time.
I remember thinking the meeting felt very personal. I had a jam-packed Orientation Weekend that consisted of a campus tour and an interview for the Freshman Leadership Program, and finding time to fit anything else in was a juggling act. Dean Young actually stayed in the office later than usual to meet with me that weekend.
One prominent part of our conversation had to do with the benefits that students in the Honors College receive throughout their time at SHSU. Honors students have specific academic areas designated only for members of the Honors College, such as a private computer lab and the Honors lounge in Academic Building IV. We receive special advising from our dean and associate deans in addition to what students normally get at the SAM Center, and that allows us to have advanced registration every semester (usually about 3 days earlier than most of the rest of the student body). Students in good standing receive the Honors Scholarship, an award that actually increases in monetary value year-to-year for students that meet certain requirements like maintaining a 3.4 GPA. The program also offers seminars (specialized courses in a unique topic outside of the normal curriculum), smaller core classes with specifically assigned Honors instructors, and offers students a chance to complete a thesis to graduate with highest honors (something I am actually currently working on). The Honors College also holds a variety of events throughout the year, from free breakfast for Honors students on the first day of each semester to the Undergraduate Research Symposium every Spring.
According to their website, the Honors College Mission is as follows: “to offer a uniquely broad and intellectually stimulating academic, cultural, and social experience that emphasizes undergraduate research and encourages personal and professional growth.”
It is easy to tell from the list of advantages that the Honors College exceeds in carrying out these goals. As amazing as those advantages are, however, and as academically beneficial as the experience has been, the sense of community honestly surpasses the more formal aspects of the program.
This means a lot coming from someone like me.
I am not the type of student (or even person for that matter) that strives to develop a lot of relationships with people or go out of the way to connect with my peers. I have always had a few very close friendships rather than an array of acquaintances. Honors students, though, seem to have a certain bond with one another— sometimes intellectual, sometimes social. This is undoubtedly in part due to the Honors College’s excess of opportunities to get to know our peers through events like an ice cream social and the Honors Cultural Outing.
One of the most important tidbits to mention is the amount of respect I have for the program and its faculty and students as a whole. A few semesters ago, the Honors College received some unwarranted bad publicity when a factually inaccurate article was published by a freelance “writer” (for the lack of a better term) that portrayed the program in a poor light. As a member and passionate advocate of the Honors College, I was nothing short of outraged by the libelous nature of the article. Many other students were, as well, but what emerged was a sense of unity among Honors students, faculty, and deans that was eye-opening. So many students contacted Dean of the Honors College Dr. Kimberly Bell to see what they could do to spread the truth about the program. The class and professionalism of the Honors faculty and the ambitious attitude of many students presenting a unified front made me proud to be a member of this community.
The Elliott T. Bowers Honors College at SHSU has been one of the unsung heroes of my collegiate experience. The stress-relief that comes from those provided benefits, the financial assistance going through college, and the connections I have formed with students and faculty have impacted my four years in a way I could never imagine. Everything trickles down from the top in an organization, and Dean Bell has carried out every strong ideal and perpetual goal of this program that Dean Young so admirably embodied when he was at the helm. Associate Deans Maria Holmes, Patrick Lewis, and Tracy Bilsing have an open-door policy and are incredible administrators as well as professors.
A message for future Bearkats: When considering where to invest your time in college, take a look at the Honors Program. I did, and it was one of the best decisions I have made. I will never hear the words Sam Houston State University without also hearing Elliott T. Bowers Honors College chiming in unison in the background.