A family on campus: the Honors College fosters student individuality within tight-knit community
There are a lot of words that could describe the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
“Invested” is the first that comes to Maddie Woodham’s mind but there’s also “quirky.” Sarah Wilson offers up “inclusive” and “satire,” and for Associate Dean Dan Gerth, it’s “humor and “mentors.” Monique Edwards chooses “empowering” and “connection.”
For the college’s dean, Edward Munn Sanchez, the choice is obvious.
“Fun,” he says. “It’s something that’s hard to explain because the goal isn’t to have fun. People are here doing their work, doing what they want to do. But it is really a place where people are enjoying themselves.”
“There is not a single day where there isn’t something that you laugh at, and there’s not a single day where you don’t have an enjoyable conversation. It’s amazing, when that happens every day, how enjoyable that is. It makes the Honors College a truly humane place.”
That thread of joy and good humor runs through the college’s often-overlapping academic, extracurricular and social spheres – even its halls thanks to a gaggle of students who covered all resident paintings’ eyes with googly ones. The result is a unique, tight-knit academic and social community within the larger university setting that enhances students’ experiences by supporting growth and individual thought.
About 600 of UMSL’s approximate 7,000 undergraduates are working toward an Honors College certificate in addition to a major in a different college. By serving students from a wide array of disciplines, the college – which is celebrating its 30th anniversary – upends the definition of typical liberal arts education.
“It’s really more for students who are intellectually curious, that want to do something beyond what they would usually do in their majors,” Munn Sanchez says. “That can be in the classroom, but it can also be outside of the classroom.”
Every freshman who enters the college takes the “Cultural Traditions” seminar, which surveys Western and non-Western cultures and introduces students to the higher education experience. The shared course has the side benefit of creating strong bonds among classmates.
Another shared experience comes in the form of the Pierre Laclede Honors College Student Association, to which every student automatically belongs. PLHCSA organizes official events at least monthly.
That includes the iconic Paint-A-Palooza, where students – and the dean – dress in white UMSL shirts and fling powdered paint at each other. Then there’s Haunted Honors, where student organizations decorate rooms in the college for an unusual but terrifying Halloween haunted house, and the trivia night “Are You Smarter than the Professors?” which pits students against teachers.
“The fun part about the Honors College community is it’s very fresh,” says Wilson, current PLCHSA president and a recipient of the all-inclusive Opportunity Scholarship. “Everyone always brings their own ideas. There’s always memes going around. It’s also PLHCSA’s job to keep that comedy going.”
But it’s not just for fun and community building. Though each event is free, all student association events raise money for a charity – this year’s is Evelyn’s House, the BJC hospice.
Community involvement is a hallmark of the Honors College experience. Edwards – an education studies major who hopes to become an advisor – was inspired by Rob Wilson’s “Where We Live” class, which brought her out of the classroom and into the community to create a project for a city leader.
“Not all are service oriented, but each class is engaging,” Edwards says. “They usually make sure to let us know it’s a group environment. It prompts something inside of me to share what I think. You feel like you have something to contribute, and that’s very empowering.”
Many of the college’s interdisciplinary classes couldn’t be found elsewhere such as “History of Conspiracy Theories” or “Swipe Right: Mathematics of Modern Dating and Love.” But what they have in common is a focus on producing excellent writing. Throughout school, students work on a portfolio containing both school work and practical documents such as résumés that they review with a faculty mentor before graduation.
The writing focus materializes in the college’s twin journals: Bellerive, an annual literary magazine, and Brain Stew, a biweekly zine that’s a home for uncensored student thought and encapsulates the college’s sense of satirical humor.
“It’s really easy to miss that in all the tomfoolery there’s a lot of really good writing, and there’s a lot of good writing done by people in different disciplines,” Munn Sanchez says. “Irreverence is at the heart of the college. It’s a critical stance that you’re trying to teach students to have – to look at their own assumptions and ask questions about them in a significant and real way.”
That speaks to Edwards’ view of the college – an enhancement of her time at UMSL that opened up opportunities such as joining the Student Mentor Advisory and Recruitment Team.
“I didn’t know how much people noticed me,” she says. “The Honors College really makes me feel like an individual.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Woodham.
“We want you to be here at the Honors College, and we’re going to make sure we do things along the way to show you that we care,” she says. “I think that’s the best part.”
Short URL: https://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=83273