Justin Howard of Rockmart became a member of the honors program at the University of North Georgia recently.
The Honors Program on UNG’s Dahlonega Campus began in 1995. The program began on the Gainesville Campus in 1998, with Honors courses in English dating back to 1985.
“It’s really amazing that the program has been producing notable UNG alumni for 25 years,” Dr. Royce Dansby-Sparks, director of the Honors Program in Dahlonega since 2019, said.
While Honors Program students make up less than 2% of the nearly 20,000 student population, a high percentage of them earn accolades at UNG and beyond.
“Some of our notable alumni have become politicians, directors of clinical research, Army medical doctors, nurses, teachers, directors of community service organizations, and even UNG faculty,” Dansby-Sparks, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, said.
Connecting academically motivated students with each other to develop a competitive and supportive community is one segment of the Honors Program. It also is designed to enhance students’ learning experience through research projects, volunteer activities, study abroad opportunities, and national scholarship applications.
Freshmen entering this year’s program will experience two new facets. The first is the redesigned introduction honors course. The second is a formal mentorship program.
“College is a new level of academics,” Dr. Danielle Hartsfield, assistant director of the Dahlonega program, said. “Many arrive at UNG with advanced placement credits or from an international baccalaureate program. But they are in a new place with different expectations.”
To help the transition, Hartsfield remodeled the course to incorporate two key elements: research and service.
“In the past, students selected a research topic of their choosing,” the associate professor of elementary and special education said. “This year, we decided to include a service component, and students will connect their service to their research.”
For example, students may work at the food pantry and research hunger or food insecurity among college students.
“In the Honors Program, we teach them research skills to prepare them for graduate school,” Hartsfield said. “We want to teach them about service as well, which helps build a sense of community.”
Similarly, Dr. Anita Turlington, director of the Honors Program on the Gainesville Campus, has retooled her introduction Honors course around community-based research. Students design projects that connect their majors with community issues or challenges. Their research will involve partnerships with community organizations.
“We are building the course around the model of Janisse Ray’s book ‘Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,’” Turlington said, adding Ray is a UNG alumna.
The Dahlonega program also is implementing a mentorship program supported by a Presidential Innovation Incentive Award. The mentorship program will place each Honors student in a small group led by a faculty or staff member.
“We want to give them someone they feel connected to in UNG community about academics, career and life,” Dansby-Sparks said. “It’s like a life coach.”
Through the program’s Facebook page the community extends to alumni, who have returned to campus annually to speak with students, offer advice and raise funds for the program.
“We have an annual career event hosted by our alumni council that was held virtually in 2021,” Dansby-Sparks said. “People from across the nation joined in to counsel our students. They want to help Honors students succeed in the way that the program did for them years ago.”