In fall term, 2017, the first cohort of students in the Oregon State University – Cascades branch of the Honors College could be found immersed in hands-on honors courses and busily working in their new dedicated study space. Students in Bend can now earn Oregon State’s most prestigious undergraduate degree and engage in unique research opportunities and interdisciplinary studies, just like top undergraduates in Corvallis.
Honors College Dean Toni Doolen says administrators and faculty have been working to bring students an honors experience since Cascades became a four-year institution in 2015.
“This is about access,” Doolen says. “The Honors College was created to serve the most highly-capable students in the state and region. It wasn’t ‘do’ we do this but ‘how’ do we do this. This is who we are: our mission is to serve all students, including the kids in Central Oregon who have worked hard and deserve these kinds of opportunities.”
Pat Ball, senior instructor in biology, chaired the taskforce charged with bringing the various aspects of the honors experience into reality at OSU-Cascades. The Honors College, Ball says, entices more students, particularly those taking advanced classes at the several high schools in the region, to stay in Bend for their studies.
“They can continue down that path here rather than going to the Valley or out of state. Students like living here. This gives them the opportunity to attend the Honors College, which expects greater performance, and to live at home or stay in the area,” Ball says. “We are building a foundation for more students to follow in this path and to attract more high-performing and high-achieving students,” Ball says.
Faculty members, along with Doolen, Honors College Associate Dean Tara Williams, Vice President for Oregon State University – Cascades Becky Johnson and OSU-Cascades Dean of Academic Programs Julie Gess-Newsome have worked together to institute key aspects of the honors curriculum while tailoring it to the OSU-Cascades environment.
“We’re the same Honors College, just like we’re all one OSU,” says Associate Dean Williams. “This gives students the chance to earn an honors degree and pursue the same opportunities Corvallis students have. It offers a new community and ways to enrich the educational experience,” Williams says.
According to Williams, OSU-Cascades students are particularly excited about the opportunity to write a thesis as a part of the honors degree program. And faculty, too, says Ball, look forward to guiding and being inspired by highly motivated students. “Some faculty members were in honors programs as undergraduates and appreciated their experience,” Ball says, which inspires in them a desire to bring similar experiences to their students.
LeeAnn Baker, Honors College director of student success and engagement, notes that the honors program offers unique research and mentorship opportunities for undergraduates at OSU-Cascades, particularly because there are fewer graduate students in Bend. “This raises the level of learning for everyone on campus,” Baker says. “Our students are curious and interested, and they will bring passions that will excite not only fellow students, but also administrators and professors on campus.”
Baker has worked to establish curricular programming and benefits for students in Bend, such as a designated study space and trips and social events that enhance honors students’ overall experience.
“I’ve been impressed with the partnership between Information Services, the University Housing and Dining Services in Corvallis and Facilities Services in Bend in facilitating the study space for students, which includes a lounge and computing and printing space and was the number one benefit students wanted,” Baker says.
Students this fall have already participated in a book club and discussion, an induction and welcome dinner and a fall hiking trip. During the school year and in the future, students at the Bend and Corvallis campuses will also have opportunities to connect with one another.
“We’re forging ahead with all the challenges and working through them on a daily basis,” Ball says. “We’ve been able to find our way through, students are happy and we’re looking forward to a successful first year.”