Because of the particularly fine work of a student in a statistics class during the fall quarter of 1980, Professor Joe Albree (Mathematics) began to consider, and talk with fellow faculty members about, the need for meeting the special challenges of students who wanted to study materials more deeply and in ways that were not part of normal classes. He established an informal honors committee including Oliver Billingslea (English), Bradley Moody (Political Science), and Janet Warren (Education).
In April 1981 the Executive Committee of the Faculty Council at Auburn University at Montgomery recommended to the administration the creation of an honors program. The recommendation included the creation of a Faculty Council Committee chaired by Joe Albree. The new Scholars Program, with Albree named as the first Preceptor, began in the Fall of that year.
The Scholars Program offered a series of courses (colloquia and special topics classes, directed readings, and independent research) and events for honors students. In addition, students were permitted to convert regular courses into honors credit by contract with faculty members.
In November 1996, then Preceptor Mary Jane Curry recommended to the Faculty Senate changing the name of the Scholars Program to the University Honors Program (henceforth UHP) and the title of Preceptor to Director. The Senate unanimously recommended those changes to the Chancellor, and the name and title became effective in the Fall Quarter 1997.
At the end of Christine Lewis’s term as director, AUM’s Provost determined that the UHP would be better served by a more visible location and the appointment of a permanent director. In 2010, the Associate Provost recommended that Donald Nobles be appointed interim director while a search was conducted to fill the position. Ultimately, the search committee determined that Nobles himself, who had served with distinction for several decades as a professor of communication, was the best candidate for the job, and “interim” was removed from his title effective Fall 2011. He hired Jackie Hall as the UHP’s first Student Services Coordinator, and “Honors 2.0” was officially underway at AUM.
Under the leadership of Director Nobles, the UHP was greatly expanded. The honors curriculum was reconceived: a series of team-taught interdisciplinary seminars became its backbone, and a senior thesis requirement was adopted. The honors colloquium course was implemented, and evolved into a one-credit hour, pass/fail course that could be taught by faculty and staff from across the university. During this time, the AUM Honors Assembly, an officially sanctioned undergraduate student organization, was founded, and the Masquerade Ball and Quidditch tournament became annual events. A very generous gift from the Daniel Foundation provided support for student travel, and the UHP sent students on educational trips to England, France, the Galapagos Islands, and Italy. The UHP also became affiliated with the National Collegiate Honors Council and the Southern Regional Honors Council, and occasionally sent students to their annual conferences.
In 2015, the Provost’s Office approved a new staff position in order to support Nobles and Hall, and Hillary Boaz came to AUM as the UHP Advising and Recruiting Coordinator. Director Nobles also oversaw the development and implementation of the Deichelmann Memorial Scholarship, a $44,000 award over four years and the most prestigious scholarship at Auburn University at Montgomery. In order to apply for this scholarship, prospective students were required to apply for admission to the UHP, significantly enhancing efforts to recruit new honors students. The first class of Deichelmann scholars came to AUM in the fall of 2016.
In January 2016, Director Nobles had announced his intention to retire from the university. An on-campus search was conducted for his replacement, and Matthew Jordan, a member of the AUM philosophy faculty since 2010, was hired. Jordan had been closely involved with the UHP for several years, teaching multiple honors seminar courses, leading an honors study abroad trip and a trip to the 2015 meeting of the Southern Regional Honors Council, and serving on the Honors Committee of the Faculty Senate. He became UHP Director on August 1st, 2016.
As articulated by the Office of the Provost, Director Jordan’s principal charge was to increase the size of the UHP. With the help of Kelsey Hayes, who had succeeded Hillary Boaz as Recruiting and Advising Coordinator, Jordan implemented new strategies for recruiting continuing AUM students into the UHP. This was an immediate success; the program grew from 43 students in the fall of 2016 to 68 students in the spring of 2017.
Two important changes took place during Director Jordan’s first year. One was the creation, by the Honors Committee, of alternative “pathways to honors.” These new pathways solved two challenges facing the UHP: first, that some majors had mandatory curricular requirements in the junior and senior years that made completion of the UHP requirements virtually impossible; and second, that students who had been deeply invested in the honors community but did not, for one reason or another, complete a senior thesis, would not be formally recognized for their accomplishments. The new system made it possible for students to earn University Honors by completing the existing honors curriculum, but also made it possible for students to earn Warhawk Honors through meaningful honors coursework and participation in the life of the UHP.
The second change was to give greater structure to the sequence of honors seminars. The Honors Committee identified key texts, themes, or goals that would be associated with each course in order to ensure a coherent and shared academic experience for honors students at AUM.