When Buffalo State Provost Melanie Perreault approached Amy McMillan, professor of biology, about serving as interim director of the honors program, McMillan viewed it as a new challenge.
“I was ready for an opportunity to add my energy and enthusiasm to building a program that is beneficial to the entire campus,” said McMillan who joined the Buffalo State faculty in 2003, served on the Senate from 2011 to 2017, and was promoted to full professor this fall.
She accepted the two-year interim director role in fall 2017 when the college added the Dean’s Honors Program to complement its Muriel A. Howard (MAH) Honors Program that began in 1984. Following a national search, a permanent director is expected to be identified in Spring 2019.
Considered an academically challenging opportunity for undergraduates, the MAH has traditionally required that students carry a high school grade point average of 90 or higher along with SAT scores of at least 1270 and/or an ACT composite score of at least 24.
The Dean’s Honors Program was introduced as a way to bring in high-achieving students who may not meet all the academic requirements of the MAH program. While these students don’t receive the scholarships inherent to the MAH program, they do enjoy other benefits, including individualized attention from professors and opportunities to engage in undergraduate research and live in Bishop Hall, the honors residence dorm.
Because of the addition, McMillan said, “We’ve almost doubled the size of the honors program; it’s been amazing. This fall semester we had a total of 377 students versus 200 in the fall of 2016.”
McMillan is leading a one-credit course, Intro to Honors, for all Dean’s Honors students. The group meets every Friday and engages in activities like campus scavenger hunts that get students acclimated and connected to the campus. They also attend community events together, such as the Albright-Knox’s First Friday events and author readings through the Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series.
This coming academic year, the college will fold the Dean’s Honors Program into the MAH program and include all honors students within a re-envisioned MAH Program. Although they plan to continue growing the program, only 42 students will receive the MAH scholarships, which are funded through events such as the college’s annual Golf and Tennis Classic and the Foundation Scholarship Gala.
“The goal is to bring all the honors students under the same umbrella and make it not just a scholarship program,” McMillan said. “I believe students will find it easier to understand what courses they can take. All students will continue to have the benefits that they had previously, regardless of the program. Just the top-performing and early-applying students will receive the scholarships.”
The long-term goal is to increase recruitment so that 10 percent of the entire undergraduate population is composed of honors students.
One of the biggest challenges, she said, is identifying students who can handle the academic workload along with the expected community engagement.
“Like all colleges, we want the top scholars. We’re working with (Admissions Director) David Loreto to figure out how to best recruit honors students,” she said. “We’re going to be hand-addressing envelopes with invitations to students who would qualify. We want these students to know they would have plenty of attention and unique opportunities to flourish at Buffalo State.”
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