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Published June 13, 2024

UMN’s Honors Program under reconstruction

The University’s Honors Program is switching from a heavy advising approach to more faculty involvement.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

The University of Minnesota’s Honors Program (UHP) is moving away from a heavy advising approach to incorporating more faculty involvement, which has resulted in the loss of honors advisors and an increase in some students’ concerns.

Matt Bribitzer-Stull, director of UHP, referred to the lack of faculty involvement and investment in UHP as the program’s “largest shortcoming.” Many faculty members at the University do not know how students are admitted to the honors program, what UHP’s requirements are or how faculty and departments can best support Honors students, he said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

UHP is undergoing a reconstruction to improve the program by bringing in faculty fellows, who will participate in curriculum, co-curricular experiences and staff meetings.

Faculty fellows are faculty members who are invested in the Honors Program for a year at a time and will be involved with programming and visioning for UHP. They will teach classes involved in the Nexus Program, which consists of non-required experiences for students that address a wide variety of subjects, and provide informal advising to students in fall 2023.

“My hope is that it will vastly increase faculty knowledge of, investment in, and participation in the program to our students’ benefit,” Bribitzer-Stull said.

In addition, UHP is establishing a fund to support honors student research expenses and is devoting resources toward the execution of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan they completed over the summer.

Bribitzer-Stull said he hopes UHP’s changes will allow students to enjoy more faculty and financial support for their research.

“I’m hopeful we’ll also be better able to support student research financially, provide for increased staff professional development, and continue to build on the gains we’ve made in Honors alumni participation in programming we put on for our students,” Bribitzer-Stull said.

To support these changes, UHP had to move advising away from the program and back to the colleges, which leads to less advising time, larger caseloads for UHP advisors and changes in the relationships between students and advisors.

Kristin Farrell worked at the University of Minnesota’s Honors Program (UHP) for more than nine years until leaving at the beginning of Fall 2022.

The main reason Farrell left UHP was the program’s decision to take a different approach working with Honors students.

“For the nine and a half that I worked in honors, there was a philosophy that student relationships with their advisors were very important,” Farrell said.

The lack of focus on advisor-student relationships has created a different work environment, Farrell said.

“I left in part because the way that I had always worked in honors, with a smaller caseload of students, was going to dramatically change,” Farrell said. “Instead of having 250 students on my caseload, that was going to change to over 400 or 500”.

Despite these changes, Bribitzer-Stull said, “the high-quality honors advising that UHP has provided since its inception will remain unchanged.”

Robert McMaster, the dean for Undergraduate Studies, said UHP’s model of intense advising but less faculty involvement was “an anomaly” when compared to other institutions.

“In the best interest of our honors students, we think this is a much better structure that will provide students access to faculty, and our faculty better access to our honors students,” McMaster said.

Several details, such as starting the Faculty Fellows Program and funding, need to be addressed before UHP’s restructuring is completed by fall 2023, McMaster said.

Emma Tierney, a fourth-year student, said she joined the UHP her freshman year and stayed in the program partially because of the additional courses offered.

“The honor seminars are so much fun,” Tierney said. “You really get to know a lot about something that a professor is genuinely passionate about.”

However, Tierney said the main reason she stayed with the honors program was her advisor.

“I really, really liked her,” Tierney said. “I met her at orientation and realized, this is a good fit for me.”

Tierney said she learned the UHP was making changes to the program when her advisor left in October.

Tierney said she had a close relationship with her previous advisor and despite how nice her new advisor was, it wasn’t the same. She said her previous advisor remembered little things about her and would give advice specific to her situation.

“I understand, the honors department wanted to cut costs on advising and put that money towards creating deeper relationships with faculty members,” Tierney said. “But that was really disappointing for me.”

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