by Rebecca Rakoczy
Dr. Terry Bozeman gets the money calls all the time.
“I get schools calling me, wanting to interview Honors students for scholarships,” he says. As Georgia Perimeter College’s Honors Program coordinator for Decatur Campus, Bozeman alerts the students and lets them take it from there. Recently, three Decatur Honors students received full-ride scholarships to Alabama State University.
GPC history professor Dr. Susan McGrath ticks off names of former Honors students who have gone on to successful careers. They include Vladimir Maric, who returned to his native Serbia to work in its ambassador program; Joshua Funderburke, executive director of the Center for Leadership and Service at the University of Florida; and Alma Mujkanovic, strategic planner with the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“GPC’s Honors Program helped me to grow academically, professionally and personally,” says Mujkanovic. “The challenging lectures awakened my intellect and sparked my desire for learning. Dr. McGrath’s lecturing, mentoring and boundless support helped me to gain self-confidence and critical thinking skills that have proved invaluable in both my professional and personal lives.”
Students taking Honors courses have smaller class sizes and more interaction with their professors and fellow students. They enjoy priority registration, recognition on transcripts, graduation distinctions and eligibility for merit-based Honors Program scholarships. They also have opportunities to take field trips, present at conferences and become involved in special projects.
Bozeman says that students who qualify for Honors are often shy about signing up—a situation he’d like to change. “I can only share these scholarship opportunities with students who have been in Honors,” he says. “I know there are plenty out there who should be in the program but choose not to be.”
The benefits and experiences are extensive. In Mark Flowers’ Honors economics course at GPC Newton, for example, students imagine, write about and present their ideas about successful economic strategies for impoverished countries.
Decatur Campus English professors Bozeman and Dr. Nicolette Rose take their Honors students to plays and movies that relate to the literature they are studying. Newton Campus Honors coordinator Dr. Salli Vargis, and her husband, political science professor George Vargis, annually coordinate student trips to the Model African Union Conference in Washington, D.C.
Adhitheya Rajesekaran, a math major at Newton, was one of four GPC Honors students who attended this year’s Model African Union Conference. He represented Kenya and mingled with top Kenyan embassy officials while writing resolutions for the union. “The program really helped me broaden my view of Africa,” he says.
Kyrie Chewning was one of two GPC Honors students who presented their research papers during the recent Georgia Collegiate Honors Council conference. Her paper on whether a vegan diet affects mental health was received positively by the audience, she says.
Chewning sought out the Honors Program by contacting collegewide coordinator Dr. Jeff Portnoy directly. “I thought it would be more challenging and look better on my application for transferring to a four-year school,” she says.
But Chewning may be the exception.
Few Honors students “self-identify,” so faculty often actively recruit their students, combing enrollment rolls for those with the required 3.5 GPA, tapping students who show exceptional ability in subjects or scouting Phi Theta Kappa meetings. Sallie Vargis often calls the parents of potential Honors students to lobby for the program.
“Many students have this misperception that it’s more work,” says Dr. Rosemary Cox, an English professor who has been teaching Honors courses for more than three decades. “And I have to be honest—I don’t want to misrepresent Honors. I appeal to students who are more academically curious, who understand that they have to be in class, they have to do the homework. But they get smaller classes that are livelier and more engaging, and there’s more camaraderie—you’re often in class with kindred spirits.”
“Honors courses are intended to challenge serious students,” says Portnoy, while noting that Honors course outlines and syllabi are carefully constructed to parallel the workload of comparable non-Honors courses. “A major difference is in the type of assignments that are given and the flexibility built into many of those assignments so that students can pursue topics of interest to them.”
While Honors students typically must have at least a 3.5 GPA in their core area of study, exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis, says Portnoy. “We often will take chances with students who display an intellectual spark,” he says. “The Honors Program is not just in the business of helping Honors students; one of our important objectives is turning students into Honors students.”
For information, visit the GPC Honors Program website.