Jane Stephens Honor Program names McGill new interim director
Those familiar with the Jane Stephens Honors Program know it to be a community of academic encouragement, motivation and social interaction.
For new interim director of the program Jim McGill, it is all that and more. In addition to his new position of interim director, McGill has served as a professor of chemistry for 17 years, director of the forensic chemistry program, faculty senator for the Department of Chemistry and chair for Faculty Senate. He graduated from Southeast in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and received his doctorate from Kansas State University.
“I’m really enjoying it, this program is important for me, I’m learning a lot and challenging myself in a way,” McGill said. “There’s an administrative aspect, recruiting and orientation for students and my favorite part: getting to know the students, that relational aspect, helping them find ways to be successful and meet the requirements for the honors program.”
Southeast’s honors program was established in the 1970s. Jane Stephens, the program’s namesake was the director for more than 20 years.
A sense of history is prevalent when walking into the Jane Stephens Honors House on Henderson Street. The building is old enough that it has a separate staircase which McGill said was once designated for servants. The atmosphere is quiet, and the handful of honors students there can often be found working diligently. Bedrooms in the old house have been converted to study rooms, complete with desks, bookshelves and dry erase boards. But McGill said the house is more than just a place to come study.
“There’s a social component to the honors program and the house is the centerpiece of that,” McGill said. “We have screens for video games and Netflix, there are puzzles to stimulate the mind and lounge areas where students can come to talk and relax. There’s generally a lot of staff members around too to encourage a feeling of community.”
McGill was named interim director after former director Kevin Dickson inherited a new interim director position of the Department of Marketing and Management and decided to step down. McGill said Dickson will likely return after this year, but no matter what happens, he is happy to have the opportunity to serve.
The honors program hosted a faculty and student meet and greet event Sept. 26 on the honors learning community floor of Laferla Hall. McGill said events will continue throughout the year and new activities will be implemented in the spring semester.
“The Student Honors Council plans activities, they’re a motivated and autonomous group,” McGill said “One of the best parts of this position is watching what cool things members of the honors community will do, everyone here is very motivated.”
Another important aspect of the honors program, McGill said, is the built-in tutorial system available within the community.
“If a student is struggling with a subject, there’s someone here that is an expert in that subject, they build academic support networks,” he said. “Our goal is to raise the level of scholarship and academic achievement on campus.”
Junior Seth Watkins, public relations major, served as publicity chair for the honors program last year. He said the program keeps him on the right track academically and propels him to do his best.
“It serves as a reminder that there are other students who want to do the best they can do academically,” Watkins said. “For a lot of college students their only reward was getting here; in the honors program there’s people that want to go the extra mile and want to bring others along with them.”
McGill said one of the most beneficial aspects of the program is the senior research project each honors student conducts in collaboration with an honors faculty member. He said projects in the past have included scuba diving to identify fish species and bringing forensic elements of chemistry to local high school students.
“The senior project is the capstone and final requirement of the program,” McGill said. “It helps students see a broader picture of the world in relation to their discipline.”
The interim director said the honors program students may have an edge with prospective employers.
“They may ask about that line on their resume and the student can tell them about the meaningful relationships they’ve had with members of the university’s faculty. It’s unique and carries some weight on a transcript,” he said.
McGill said the program surrounds students with people who think in a similar way and have had similar experiences. They can negotiate contracts one-on-one with honors faculty that allows them to better engage with class material with their specific focus area and ambitions in mind.
“But the social interactions are just as important as the classroom in a lot of ways,” he said.
In the near future, McGill said the program will be seeking national accreditation.