Why Madison Presidential Listening Tour: Honors Advisory Council

President Alger at the Honors Advisory Council

"Why Madison?" Listening Tour
President's Journal

Oct. 26—
Honors Advisory Council

Enthusiastic ambassadors seek to enhance understanding of JMU's academic excellence
Reconnecting with academic programs strengthens Homecoming

Spending time with the Honors Advisory Council was a real treat for me today for several reasons. First, this is my first Homecoming as president of James Madison University and my first opportunity to see the Madison alumni spirit and energy converge on this campus to celebrate JMU all at one time and in one place. It is truly remarkable to see alumni taking part in the festivities of football and reunions with friends, and then to see dedicated alumni groups like our Honors Advisory Council also coming home to reconnect with their academic programs and roll up their sleeves to help envision and build an even stronger future.

The alumni and parents and friends who serve on the HAC truly are great ambassadors for JMU. They reflected today on how much the intellectual culture of the Madison educational experience has meant to them. They are excited about helping to get the word out so that prospective students immediately equate JMU with academic excellence and also to strengthen the resources for our program. I really appreciate their energy and enthusiasm and their support for the university. We had a lot of conversation about enhancing the academic reputation of the university, about making it known that this is a great place to learn. We provide a unique educational environment, where you have strengths of small liberal arts colleges with a lot of personal student-faculty interaction, and where students have the opportunity to help develop their own curriculum and individualize what they're learning at JMU. Coupled with the resources that you typically would find only at a much larger research-intensive university, there are unprecedented opportunities for JMU undergraduates to become engaged in research and hands-on learning. We have this great combination, this great story to tell. We need to continue to get the word out to the state, the nation and the world. This group wants to use the Honors Program as a way to highlight what we do that's special when it comes to education.

Young Honors Advisory Council is off to a strong start
I was impressed that the HAC is a new group, only three years old, and yet they have already accomplished some very big things. They have raised money to get the Hillcrest Scholarships off the ground and have set their sights on student recruitment, retention and further alumni engagement and fundraising. There is a lot more this group can accomplish. I really appreciate that this group has come in, rolled up its sleeves, and said, "Lets look at the challenges and the opportunities that we face and what we can do together to help the university move forward." They're doing that. They haven't waited around. They've looked at where they can make a difference and they've done it. To me, that's just like our students, who jump right in and serve in our community to make our world a better place. The Honors Advisory Council is an example of how James Madison University breaks stereotypes. At many universities a group like this would traditionally be thought to be engaged solely with ideas, but conversations are going on that show this group has its sights on helping the Honors Program to engage with the world.

HAC can help build a thoroughly Madison Honors Program
The HAC is also helping us to think about what we can do to develop and strengthen an Honors Program that really reinforces and reflects the strength and character of JMU, not just to mimic what another university does. As they set about supporting the Honors Program so that it can grow and strengthen, it will be important to not set itself apart from JMU. Instead the Honors Program must help us set a tone and send an academic message that says "Come with us" to the rest of the university. The Honors Advisory Council can help us do that. As alumni and parents, they understand that the Honors Program is JMU's educational culture magnified more intensely. We will want to make sure that it is perceived as being extraordinary and important, while also ensuring that it is inclusive and welcoming to students from all backgrounds.

Honors must open the doors to students of all backgrounds
We are all one Madison family. To me it's very important that when we think about James Madison University as an outstanding public university, we provide access and opportunity to promising students of all backgrounds. When we talk about diversity, we're not just talking about race, ethnicity and gender—we're also talking about socioeconomic circumstances, students who are the first generation of their families to have the opportunity to go to college, students of different ages, students with disabilities, veterans and families of veterans, and students who come from different geographical or family backgrounds, or from different cultures and experiences. When it comes to an Honors Program and academic achievement -- the crown jewel of our academic life together—I think it's especially important that we make sure that it is available and accessible to students from all walks of life. To me, that is what JMU is all about. l look forward to working with this group to find ways to increase that kind of access and opportunity in the Honors Program and at the university more generally.

An honors college is a great example of dreaming big
I really appreciate that this group is not just thinking about this year or next year. They are looking at the goals of the Honors Program five and 10 years out and getting behind some exciting ideas about what the honors program can become here at JMU. The idea of an honors college is a great example of dreaming big, which I have been encouraging all along our "Why Madison?" Listening Tour. Having attended Swarthmore, which I chose because of its honors program, I know what a draw that can be for students who want to succeed at the very highest levels, who want to be challenged intellectually and personally and who want to interact with other people who have that same kind of dream and ambition. How do we set the stage so in the future we can really build something that we're excited about and is uniquely our own when it comes to an honors program? An honors college is a great idea for doing just that. It would need resources, and it means you've got to think strategically about faculty resources and space resources, and supporting students. This group is in on the ground floor of our future and will be able to help us ask the right questions and think strategically into the future. That's how it starts. We need to dream big together as we are doing now, next set the priorities and vision through JMU's strategic planning process, and then think about how we get there, assemble the support and resources and begin.

Published: Friday, October 26, 2012

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Back to Top

Related Articles