Now We Are Six

Another commencement ceremony, and another academic year comes to an end—this one the sixth for the Honors Program.  Waiter, a round of “whews” for everyone!

I suppose those of us who work in the Honors Program office shouldn’t get too much sympathy for being a little bit beat, because we didn’t have to turn in semester projects or take final exams.  But in a way we did.  Our students are our projects, and how they do in the end tells us how we’re doing.  And if that’s the case, we’ve passed our finals with the proverbial flying colors, so we’re doing just fine, thanks—and thanks above all to our students.

Get this:  In the six years the honors Program has been in business, we’ve had three cohorts of graduates, a total of 192 as of this May.  Of those 192 graduates, 159 (82%) have completed their Georgia Tech careers with academic honors in their respective majors—111 graduating with Highest Honors, 24 with Honors, and another 24 with Honors—which is not at all the norm for the university as a whole.  How did this happen? 

We don’t select students on the basis of academic achievement, at least according to the standard measures, such as SAT/ACT scores, high school GPA, and the number of AP or IB courses taken.  We look for other traits, which are much harder to define, like demonstrating intellectual and cultural engagement, making a serious and successful commitment to some sort of extracurricular activity, or just being an especially interesting-seeming person.  I never say to new Honors Program students, “You’re the best and the brightest at Georgia Tech.”  All anyone ever gets from me is “You’re very good, you’re very bright, now take ownership of your education and make the most of what this university has to offer.”

And so far, students have done just that, and in so many ways.  More to the point, somewhere along the line, even though we never do much or even say much about grades and GPAs in the Honors Program, these interesting-seeming people selected for something other than academic achievement seem to achieve quite well academically.  I can’t figure it out.

But maybe I can try.  Maybe there’s something about living together in a first-year residence with other interesting and engaged people that starts students out on the right path.  Maybe there’s something about being in the classroom culture of Honors Program classes that spills over into our students’ conduct in other classes.  Maybe there’s just something about being told to take ownership of one’s education that sets the tone for approaching Georgia Tech in a positive and successful fashion.  I don’t really know the answer yet, but I’ll be thinking about it—and inviting everyone else to chime in with ideas and suggestions.

In the meantime, we’ve just selected the entering class for next fall, and it’ll be the biggest one yet, around 140 new, very good, very bright, and always interesting-seeming students.  Whew, indeed.

From the Director, Dr. Gregory Nobles

HyPe, May 2012