The University of Delaware Honors Program began in 1976 as a yearlong program for outstanding high school seniors to finish their coursework while simultaneously beginning their college careers. At the completion of the program, most students would enroll at a university, but not necessarily at UD. To encourage students to continue their studies at UD, in 1979, the Honors Program evolved into a four-year program at the main campus in Newark, DE.
The Evolution of Honors Academics
Becoming a four-year program led to the development of the Honors Degree. In the beginning, students were only required to take a tutorial, a seminar, and write a thesis to earn the degree.
In the 1990s, an Honors Foreign Language Certificate program was developed with the department of Foreign Languages & Literature. For students who did not have room in their schedules to pursue a full language minor, they could still earn a transcript designation identifying their pursuit of and interest in a particular language.
The Honors Program continued to grow both in number of students enrolled and in number of course offerings. In 2000, a non-thesis track was created for students who wanted to pursue Honors coursework and experiences in areas that did not have as many research opportunities available. The non-thesis option became known as the Honors Degree, and students choosing to pursue research and write a thesis, they could earn an Honors Degree with Distinction. The number of students graduating with Honors Degrees increased rapidly.
At this time, the Honors Program also developed the General Honors Award (GHA) for students to earn midway through their college career. This new award replaced the first year certificate and encouraged students to continue taking Honors coursework to complete their degree programs.
A Growing Program
The Honors Program has grown tremendously in size over the years. The first Honors class was only 250 students. In the 1990s the class size rose steadily and remained fairly stable at 450 students for nearly a decade. In the 2000s more and more students were accepting admission to the Honors Program, with recent classes coming in near 600 students!
Each year, the top 100 applicants (roughly) are invited to participate in the Distinguished Scholar competition. These students come to campus for a weekend in March to learn about UD and interview with faculty and staff to determine what scholarship they will be awarded. These significant scholarships are made possible by various grants and foundations, like the Unidel Foundation, which has sponsored the Eugene du Pont Memorial Scholarship since the beginning of the Honors Program. These scholars formed a community known as the “DiSchos,” and host faculty dinners, social excursions, and compile a magazine to showcase their research, writings and experiences each year called “Quip.”
From Dickinson, to Russell, to Redding
When the Honors Program began it was unusual to pair an academic program with a residential component. This became a hallmark of the University of Delaware’s Honors Program – a living learning community for scholars.
West Campus was a thriving freshman housing environment in the 1980s, so the Honors Program students were located in Dickinson Hall. Honors peer mentors known as “Dickinson Fellows” lived among the freshmen to provide academic guidance and social programming. After a few years, a shadow program was developed to allow freshmen to be “Junior Fellows” and learn all about the mentoring position. Since these fellows were all freshmen, they were soon renamed “Freshmen Fellows,” and are still an active part of the residential community today.
In the mid-90s, the Honors freshmen community moved from West Campus to the Russell complex on East Campus. The complex was located closer to academic buildings and with large lounges, had a better layout for community programming. The Dickinson Fellows were renamed to match the new location and became Russell Fellows.
When the university introduced the “First-Year Experience,” all freshmen were enrolled in a one-credit course and assigned a peer mentor to help them adjust to college life. Since all Honors freshmen had Russell Fellows as their peer mentors, and were taking freshman Honors courses together, our students automatically fulfilled this requirement as part of their living-learning community.
During this same time period, staff increased their attention to engaging upperclassmen Honors students, and offered an optional upper-division Honors housing community, complete with volunteer program assistants known as “Senior Fellows.” The upper-division communities were housed on the Central Green, the heart of UD’s campus. One of the signature programs started by the Senior Fellows were Honors Coffeehouses, which helped spur the creation of a cappella groups. This tradition is continued today, but moved to the freshman Honors community.
In 2013, Honors freshman moved into a brand-new residence hall on East Campus known as Louis L. Redding Hall. Named for a lawyer and civil rights activist who was denied admission to the University of Delaware, it boasts large and small lounges, a community kitchen, several study rooms, as well as large living spaces for its students. The Russell Fellows were permanently renamed the “Munson Fellows,” after Professor Burnaby Munson, who founded the Honors Program back in 1979.
The Honors Program Staff
The Honors Program office is located at 186 South College Ave., between the Center for Black Culture and the Undergraduate Research office. In the mid-1900s, the building served as a fraternity house and then as the home to the University of Delaware English department. As the program developed, the Honors staff adapted to fit the needs of the students at the time. For a few years Honors was coupled with undergraduate research and academic enrichment, and the office included an Honors Center, where students could meet outside of office hours for group projects, to use the computer lab, or to hang out. Today, there are five full-time professional staff members, a faculty director, a 3/4 time assistant director, and two administrative assistants who work together to create an academic and co-curricular experience for Honors students each year.
Expanding Honors Offerings
Students who wish to pursue prestigious scholarships and fellowships (for example, Marshall, Mitchell, Truman, or Fulbright) have always relied upon Honors staff for advisement. Each year, qualified students spend months preparing applications for these awards and through the Honors Program gain institutional support. The senior associate director and the assistant director then work with each candidate to prepare them for interviews and support them through the entire process.
In addition to scholarly pursuits, Honors students like to have fun! This led to the creation of a full-time co-curricular coordinator who oversees almost all student groups and leadership opportunities within the Honors Program. Students interested in community engagement can join the registered student organization HENS (Honors Engaging in Neighborhood Service) to explore service projects in the local community. In 2014, students interested in engaging in conversations around racial diversity formed Honors Mosaic, a group that works to enhance the experience for students of color in the Honors Program through recruitment, programming and mentoring. Outside of the residential positions (Senior Fellows, Munson Fellows, and Freshman Fellows), students can get involved in the Honors Planning Board, a group of students who plan on- and off-campus events such as field trips, current events discussions, and professional development workshops.
Spring Break and Winter Session are exciting times at the University of Delaware, and the Honors Program created opportunities for students to travel abroad during these times. Partnering with the UDaB (University of Delaware Alternative Break) program in 2012, the Honors Program developed a cultural immersion experience to the Dominican Republic for the week of spring break. Approximately 10 students go each year to work with Yspañiola, a literacy education program in one of the poorest areas of the D.R. The Honors-only study abroad trip to Italy happens every other winter, and is led by an Honors faculty member who works with the selected students to develop the curriculum for their five weeks abroad. Students who take advantage of this winter session trip even earn Honors credits. The newest opportunity for Honors students is the blog, 186 South College. All articles are written by students and describe what it’s like to be an Honors student at UD.