Ball State University’s Honors College began as a program in 1959 and became a college 20 years later. During its nearly 60 years, its alumni have served their communities as physicians, diplomats, actors, researchers, journalists, teachers, and much more. Its 7,000 accomplished alumni include Hollywood actor Doug Jones, diplomat Jeffrey Feltman, physician Sara Sorrell, media producer Ngofeen Mputubwele, journalists Katie Bostdorff and Alberto Pimienta, and Fermilab physicist Will Jay.
Honors College Dean John Emert recently sat down with Ball State Magazine to share insights about the college’s proud past and bright future.
Which three of the Honors College’s accomplishments are you most proud of?
The Ball State Honors College is a national model that others aspire to follow. When President John Emens and Deans Richard Burkhardt and Victor Lawhead established our program, they took a risk and chose the innovative path. They designed a four-year curriculum specifically for honors students, rather than tweak an existing set of courses. Our Honors College is still one of only a few programs in the nation that has such a curriculum.
If you visit the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Honors House today, you will witness students, from freshmen to seniors, come together in discussion-based classes on a variety of topics. Their majors include all options, from the humanities and arts to science, architecture, and business. This variety reflects the world into which our students will graduate.
Ball Honors House itself has been incredibly beneficial to us. Having a highly visible home at the heart of campus is one piece to delivering an excellent liberal arts education, and it attracts students with strong academic potential to the University.
We moved into this beautiful house nine years ago. This estate gift from Ed and Virginia Ball is one example of how much of what we do as a college is because of the beneficence and vision of those who came before us. We are indebted to the Ball family, several philanthropic foundations, friends of the Honors College, and our alumni for their support and encouragement.
What three initiatives are you most looking forward to?
When I was acting dean three years ago, it was clear to me we needed to increase our investment in undergraduate research. We now support 40 students, twice as many as we did in 2015. Honors College students are working on a broad range of projects: from novel treatments for Lou Gehrig’s disease, testing new strategies for newborns suffering from opioid withdrawal, and making new discoveries in ancient artifacts. Our graduates are poised to shine and make a difference in today’s world.
Diversity and inclusion are also fundamental to the vision of the Honors College. As a college, we need to prepare for today’s students and those of tomorrow: a population more ethnically diverse, often with limited resources, coming with a broad range of experiences and perspectives.
We will continue to increase the diversity of ethnicity and experience within our Honors College community by reaching out to students from throughout Indiana, transfer students who already hold associate degrees, military veterans, and nontraditional students.
We will be more intentional in community engagement, both locally and beyond. Our students partner with several local agencies, and our recent Taste of the Honors College event invited the community to join us in conversations on topics of mutual interest. Our existing partnerships have much potential, and we are poised to share with our partners and grow as a college through these partnerships.
What are three facets of the Honors College people should know?
A: We provide the unique opportunity for interdisciplinary inquiry. Our Honors College classes bring together freshmen through seniors from the broadest range of majors. These groups are diverse in backgrounds, interests, and aspirations. Our course discussions are richer and more authentic because of this collaboration.
Our students are just like you. They have a wide variety of interests and perspectives, and are active in a number of student organizations. We have students in intercollegiate athletics, the campus Quidditch team, student government, and Greek life. They are engaged in all aspects of campus life.
We offer distinctive study abroad experiences connected to Honors College courses. In recent terms, our classes have traveled to Vietnam, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Italy, and France. Next year, classes will travel to England, indigenous areas of Mexico, and Puerto Rico. And we are developing plans for more destinations.
How does the Honors College encourage students to live the Beneficence Pledge?
A: Along with academic excellence, Ball State’s other enduring values — integrity, social responsibility, respect, and gratitude — have guided the University through its 100-year history and will lead us into the future. “Respect” is a word students often use to describe our living-learning community.
The Honors College community is a place where students can disagree without being disagreeable. Students are not expected to change their minds when they hear ideas different their own, but rather to listen. Hearing those alternate perspectives might also make them more resolute in their own voice.
Our students, faculty, and staff recognize the value in crafting one’s individual journey. We strive to nurture an environment where those individual choices are respected and encouraged.
How does the Honors College empower students?
We prepare students for more than their first job by cultivating lifelong learning skills that will allow them to succeed no matter where their careers lead. Through fellowship opportunities and experiential learning, our students are equipped for successful careers and meaningful lives.
Critical thinking is essential. I want my students to take a risk and challenge me. In one recent class discussion, I discreetly included a study that utilized statistics incorrectly. When a journalism student asked, “Could this be true?” I stepped aside and allowed the class to consider her concerns. Students need to be active participants in their learning by thinking deeply and critically. If I guide my students only along safe pathways, they will not have the skills to learn how to recover from those inevitable challenges.
My colleagues share this belief. Our faculty trust students to take ownership; this approach has great value for both students and faculty. If we do our job well, faculty also grow through the experience.
What would you like to highlight for the Centennial?
Because of the vision and beneficence of those who came before us, we today provide an excellent liberal arts education, with the access and resources of a state school. As we enter our second century, we will continue to follow through on that trust. The best is yet to come.