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Western Illinois University Honors Scholars who traveled to Washington, D.C., in Spring 2013 for their "Robert's Court" honors seminar course.

The scholars, one of which is Caleb Markey—(fourth from left, in suit and striped tie), a senior from Macomb, IL, double majoring in finance and accountancy—said of the experience: "Everything we studied in the class became so much more relevant and impactful to me after seeing the chambers of the Supreme Court building and talking with Justice [Clarence] Thomas. It was a tremendous opportunity...."


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Centennial Honors College staff and faculty will celebrate the milestone of achieving 30 years of a University Honors Program and the successes of the program's students, alumni, faculty and staff Monday, Sept. 23. The College will host a student reception, a Distinguished Alumni Panel (featuring Western alumni who were Honors scholars) and an early-evening social.

Centennial Honors College to Celebrate 30th Anniversary Sept. 23

September 12, 2013


MACOMB, IL – Monday, Sept. 23, Western Illinois University faculty, staff, students and community members—as they have every year for the last 20—will mark Western's Founders' Day. Established in 1994 to honor the beginnings of the institution, Founders' Day commemorates the history of Western, as well as the past and present accomplishments of its students, alumni, faculty and staff. Also this year on Sept. 23, members of the University community will celebrate the milestone of achieving 30 years of a University Honors Program and the successes of the program's students, alumni, faculty and staff.

In Fall 1983, WIU Acting Provost and Academic Vice President Virgil K. Howe created the University Honors Program to take the place of the college-level honors initiatives. To spotlight the 30-year evolution of the University Honors Program—which, in 1999, was given official college status by the WIU Board of Trustees and was renamed the "Illinois Centennial Honors College"—Honors College staff and faculty will host a student reception, a Distinguished Alumni Panel (featuring Western alumni who were Honors scholars) and an early-evening social Sept. 23. All three events are open free to the WIU community.

According to Jennifer McNabb, associate director of the Centennial Honors College and associate professor in Western's history department, the celebratory student reception is set for 3:30 p.m., followed by the 4 p.m. alumni panel (featuring Michael Baxa, Mark Boley, Brian Koch, Jarrod Sheets and Holly Stovall), both to be held in the Leslie F. Malpass Library Garden Lounge.

An evening social will commence at 5 p.m. in the Sherman Hall Auditorium (third floor) and will feature light refreshments; a performance by the President's International String Quartet; a "History of Honors" video (to start at approx. 5:40 p.m.); and a panel (to begin at approx. 6 p.m.) of former Honors Program or College directors, which will be hosted by current Centennial Honors College Director Rick Hardy and feature reflections from scheduled guests Gordon Kirk, Sterling Kernek, Eric Stiffler, Jutta Helm, John Klasner, Tom Helm, Marty Dupuis and Bill Knox.

According to Hardy, the 30th anniversary celebration marks a significant achievement at Western Illinois University, exemplifying three decades of recruiting, educating and promoting talented, hard-working students.

"The social events and the panel discussion will enable us to recognize and celebrate the contributions of scores of administrators, faculty, staff and students who have made this enterprise possible. The Centennial Honors College embodies the best education Western Illinois University has to offer; it is a treasure that belongs to all of us," Hardy added.

The Making of a Milestone

Its first year (before it was given College status in 1999), the Honors Program enrolled 377 individuals; offered these high-achieving students special residence hall floors on which they could live and study together; and was led by WIU History Professor Gordon Kirk. From 1984-87, Sterling Kernek, also a WIU professor of history, took over as the director of the program, which by 1987 had enrolled 536 students. During this time period, long-standing Western employee Patty Battles (who now serves as the special event coordinator for the Centennial Honors College) transferred to the Honors Program as a secretary.

Battles said taking time out to celebrate the 30 years of Honors at Western will highlight how the College supports the University's core values of academic excellence, educational opportunity, personal growth and social responsibility and is meaningful to acknowledge for many reasons.

"I think the Honors College is an important recruiting tool for Western. Not only are academically talented students—whether they are in high school or community college—looking for a place where they can get a degree, but they are also searching for an institution where they will be provided with additional learning opportunities. That is what the Honors College does," she explained. "Celebrating what the 'Honors' experience has done and will continue to do (which is to provide an enriched academic experience with opportunities for expanded learning, research, leadership and personal growth) for Western students will make this year's Founders' Day celebration extra special. It's a time to reflect upon the accomplishments of some of our graduates and show our appreciation to the administrative leadership and Honors faculty who laid the groundwork and helped to build the program to what it is today," Battles noted.

From 1983-through today, there have been nine directors (including current Centennial Honors College Director Rick Hardy) who have served as the head of the Program or College, including: Gordon Kirk, Sterling Kernek, Eric Stiffler; Jutta Helm; John Klasner; Thomas Helm; Martin Dupuis; and William Knox. During their different leadership eras, the WIU Honors Program/College continued to advance, and as of Fall 2013, the College's enrollment has surpassed 650. Over the last two years, Honors scholars represented Western as the University's first-ever finalists for the prestigious Rhodes and Truman Scholarships.

Dupuis, a former faculty member of Western's political science department who served as the Honor College's interim director in 2003-04 and as acting director in 2006, said he thinks the most important role of the director is to lead the "talented and dedicated staff" in the work they are doing to advance the College, as well as the University and Western students.

"Coordinating with the other academic units on campus is also important, and program development is especially exciting work, whether that be helping to create internships, symposia, service-learning programs, undergraduate research opportunities or working with faculty on offering new Honors courses. Advising and mentoring students is very rewarding, and working with students on applications for prestigious awards and graduate programs brings distinction to them, as well as to WIU. Recruiting freshmen and networking with alumni is vital, and increasingly important is demonstrating the value of Honors to community partners and donors," Dupuis noted. "Honors work touches on every facet of university life—from recruitment, student mentorship, faculty relations, program development and fundraising—and that's why I found it to be so exciting and rewarding."

Caleb Markey (Macomb, IL), a senior who is double majoring in finance and accountancy, noted as a student in Western's Centennial Honors College, the dedication and enthusiasm he's experienced among the staff demonstrates their commitment to the mission of the College, as well as to the success of WIU students like him.

"The Centennial Honors College is critical to the development of our best scholars, and it is staffed with some of the most professional and talented people I have ever met," Markey said. "As a member of the Honors College, I have had many wonderful opportunities, like in my honors seminar course, 'Robert's Court.' I was able to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Everything we studied in the class became so much more relevant and impactful to me after seeing the chambers of the Supreme Court building and talking with Justice Thomas. It was a tremendous opportunity, and I am so thankful to Dr. Hardy for making this trip possible. Without a doubt, students and alumni of the Centennial Honors College owe much of our success to Western and its honors program."

For more information about the Centennial Honors College 30th Anniversary Celebration, contact McNabb at (309) 298-1345 or via email at JL-McNabb@wiu.edu.

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg, University Relations
Phone: (309) 298-1993 * Fax: (309) 298-1606