In 1997, Skidmore College created the Honors Forum. The idea for an honors program at Skidmore College was not new; the College considered it in the 1920s, 1970s, and the 1980s. In the 1990s, Jon Ramsey, Dean of Studies, encouraged the Skidmore faculty and administration to create a welcoming space for students with high academic aspirations, some of whom transferred from the College in their first year because they lacked a community of like-minded peers. In 1995, Dean Ramsey presented an outline for an honors program to support Skidmore’s highest achieving students in their academic careers and co-curricular endeavors. The faculty and administration endorsed the plan enthusiastically. The Honors Forum inducted its first twenty-eight members in the spring of 1997 and offered its first courses in September 1998. The Skidmore Class of 2001 included the first graduating class of fourteen Honors Forum members. The annual Jon A. Ramsey lecture honors Dean Ramsey’s vision.
The Honors Forum has faculty and student leadership positions. A director works with the Honors Council, the faculty/administration/student governing body of the Honors Forum. The Student Executive Committee, referred to as Exec Co, has a president, vice presidents, and class representatives. Members of the Exec Co sit on Honors Council. The Council also has a part-time administrative assistant.Innumerable faculty and administrators have served on the Council and made a difference in the program. Many of their names appear in this history while the names of others who did much to create and sustain this program appear in materials housed in our website Archives; click here for more information. Linda Santagato, Carol Goody, and now Lisa Bradshaw have served ably as administrative assistants over the years. The Forum is currently under the leadership of its fourth director. Below, each of the Forum’s directors explains how the Honors Forum grew under his or her leadership, mentioning highlights of the program during his or her tenure.
Dean of the Faculty Phyllis Roth appointed me as the inaugural director of the newly-named Honors Forum to create an academic and co-curricular program. Dean Ramsey and I established an Honors Council of faculty, students, and key administrators, which advised us on the construction of an Honors program unlike any other. In addition, I met regularly with four representatives of the Honors Forum student body (which would later evolve into the Student Executive Committee) to plan co-curricular programs and consider additions to the curriculum. In addition, I met regularly with four representatives of the Honors Forum student body (which would later evolve into the Student Executive Committee) to plan co-curricular programs and consider additions to the curriculum. In essence, the Honors Forum we crafted consisted of a curriculum of both freestanding and add-on courses that raised the bar of faculty expectations and student engagement. Critical to the program’s success was the offering of those courses to all Skidmore students with the anticipation that a “rising tide lifts all boats” – that is, by providing courses with higher standards for all enrolled students, the Honors Forum would encourage academic engagement and achievement across the board.
In the program’s first full year, Dean Ramsey, Associate Dean of the Faculty Susan Bender, and I developed and implemented HF101, an introductory course for the approximately 30 incoming Honors Forum students in order to build an honors community. This interdisciplinary 1-credit course, team-taught by the three of us, was the only HF course open exclusively to HF students. The size of the HF was meant to be modest with 30 first-year students inducted each fall with openings for an additional 30 applicants in the second semester. Our aim was to have a membership of approximately 240 students or 10% of the student body when the program reached full strength after four years.
Associate Dean of Students Anita Steigerwald and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Tina Levith led the co-curricular program in its initial years. A highlight of the program were the residential clusters in the student dormitories (Adams House and Hathorn House) where HF students could engage with each other beyond the four walls of the classroom. Co- and extra-curricular events (lectures, discussions, field trips, etc.) enhanced the lives of the HF students and built a community of like-minded students – precisely the goal of the Honors Forum. First-year retention increased nearly from the inception of the program, a testament to the vision of the Skidmore faculty.
As a coda to the program, Associate Dean Levith and I devised the Academic Festival, an annual end-of-year celebration of academic achievement sponsored by the Honors Forum, where students from the entire student body could present their work – again, in the spirit of openness and accessibility that the Honors Forum fostered. The Festival’s first year saw a modest level of participation – some 35 students, mostly seniors, gave presentations of theses, independent study projects, and collaborative work – and more than a decade later participation has grown to nearly 350 students from first-years to seniors. The “rising tide” succeeded.
I was Honors Forum Director from June 1, 2007 to May 31, 2011. Some of the curricular changes that I oversaw during that period included the further evolution of HF101 to give a greater emphasis to introducing incoming Honors Forum students to Skidmore faculty. HF was not as successful in forming community as it had been under Michael Arnush’s tenure in part because the new FYE program and its Scribner Seminar courses (which led to the dissolution of Honors housing) took over that role. Also, by 2007, entering classes of the Honors Forum had become quite large (over sixty students entering in the fall). Beginning Fall 2009, the Honors Council changed the format of the course to weekly readings and discussions led by a different faculty member each week to improve it.Beginning in 2009, the Council made changes to the honors credit for study abroad program that my predecessor, Phil Boshoff, initiated. After extended negotiations with the OCSE and the Registrar’s Office, we streamlined the procedure for obtaining honors credit for study abroad and made all experiences a uniform 3 credits. We also extended the list of study abroad programs pre-approved for honors credit. Finally, I presided over the creation of new Honors courses from the departments of Mathematics, Physics, Studio Art, and Music, all areas that had been previously underrepresented in the Honors Forum curriculum, as well as a number of add-ons to courses in a range of departments.
Under my directorship, the Honors Forum merged with the Periclean Society. In 2008, the Periclean Honor Society was de-chartered as an SGA organization. The previous year, the Office of Academic Advising had ceased to provide support to the society, so the Honors Forum provided Periclean with a new home. The Council also approved an increase in the minimum GPA required for membership in the Honors Forum from 3.4 to 3.5. During the spring of 2011, we made changes in the membership of the Periclean Scholar Award Committee as well as in the Honors Council itself.
When I assumed the directorship, one of the ways that I thought the Honors Forum might grow and evolve would be to sponsor and co-sponsor academic events with students and faculty from institutions other than Skidmore. For example, during the spring of 2011, the Honors Forum helped co-sponsor the Hudson River Undergraduate Mathematics Conference, which involved over 300 students and faculty from dozens of schools in the northeast. Also in 2008, the Honors Forum, together with the FYE program, sponsored an interdisciplinary conference on “Science and Society,” which involved Skidmore and Union. I would love to see further developments along these lines in the future, including perhaps events that are less formal than conferences.
In spring of 2010, the Honors Forum conducted our first self-study and in the fall we underwent an external review. Some of the impending changes that my successor, Catherine Golden, is implementing came out of those studies and the Council’s discussions of the report from the review team.
I assumed Honors Forum leadership on June 1, 2011. I have had the privilege to serve on the Honors Council under the leadership of Phil Boshoff and David Vella, and I am grateful to the able leadership of Michael Arnush, Phil Boshoff, and David Vella who served as directors before me. I am excited to become the first woman director of the Honors Forum, and my plans for the Forum are already underway.
We now have a presence on Facebook; HF members can friend H.F. Skidmore and learn about upcoming academic programming and co-curricular events by means of Facebook. The redesigned website is up to date and, we hope, inviting to prospective and current students and user friendly. New additions to the website include rotating pictures of HF events (featuring students and faculty), a calendar of events, and redesigned pages with easy links to Citizenship Projects, Curriculum, and Housing, etc. I have worked with faculty to encourage them to make their courses Honors classes, and we have new additions in place beginning Fall 2011, some of which meet the Cultural Diversity requirement or provide opportunities for leadership, an important goal of the Forum.
Under my leadership, we have changed how we induct students in response to the self study (in which I participated) and the external review completed during the 2010-2011 academic year. The reviewers indicated that the Honors Forum was in need of rehabilitation in terms of size and diversity. To bring down the membership numbers must broaden the population, Honors Forum will now admit members based exclusively on their record of performance here at the College, doing college-level work. As things previously stood, staff of the Admissions Office, which supports our new way of inducting students, reviewed the files of incoming students and made invitations. With our new way of inducting, all students will be offered membership based on their performance here at Skidmore. The move to induct first-year members of the Honors Forum (beginning with the class of 2016) only after their arrival at the College has the added benefit of eliminating the two-tiered induction process; there is now one induction per year. Students can apply to the Forum after their first and third semesters at Skidmore, and HF students have until the end of their senior year to complete their course requirements (the Citizenship Project still must be completed by the end of the junior year). We believe this change will allow us to be more responsive to specific concerns (size, diversity, etc.) of the Forum itself.
Further, Honors Forum has changed its name to the Periclean Honors Forum and merged with Periclean completely. In 2008, SGA de-chartered the Periclean Honor Society as an affiliated organization. Periclean found itself in a crisis, and HF was asked to take over some of its functions. The Honors Forum now administers the Periclean Scholar Awards, recognizing outstanding senior projects from the entire senior class (not just Honors Forum students). The decision to rename HF the Periclean Honors Forum will keep visible the name and rich history of the first honor society at Skidmore College.
Another new initiative is housing. Both the Honors Forum self study and the report from the external review team lamented the loss of community building and bonding opportunities that the once popular Honors floors in Adams House and Hathorn House once provided for Honors students. Beginning in fall 2012, Honors Forum housing will now be available in Wiecking Hall for sophomores, juniors, and seniors looking for a quieter and more work-focused environment. Students accepted into Honors housing will complete their Citizenship Project during the fall or spring semesters; those who have already completed their Citizenship Projects will act as mentors to those currently completing their projects. Our lounge will also provide a place for community building. Our redesigned Honors Forum lounge in 321 Ladd Hall now offers Forum members new couches, a library, tables and lamps, and a whiteboard studying or for group meetings.
The Honors Council and I are confident that these changes will improve our capacity to deliver a strong Honors Forum program at Skidmore into the future.
CREATIVE THOUGHT MATTERS
Skidmore College · 815 North Broadway · Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
© 2006 Skidmore College