By Alyssa Pawluk
On Monday, April 13, three finalists for the position of dean for the new Honors College were announced. The finalists — Stephen Gage, professor and director of bands and orchestra in the Dana School of Music; Adam Earnheardt, chair of the department of communication; and Thomas Wakefield, associate professor in the department of mathematics and statistics — presented their ideas to students and faculty on campus.
Gage, on top of being a full time professor in the Dana School of Music for 35 years, conducted the Youth Orchestra in Youngstown.
“The first question that I had was ‘why would you want an honors college?’ I’m someone who looks up things and such a program provides a place for bright, better graduate students who want to be intellectually engaged,” he said. “If I was sitting in the house today, one of the things that I would be thinking is why would you want a conductor to be the Honors College dean?”
Gage said that his vision, if elected dean of the Honors College, would be a place for student success.
“System plus spirit equals success. The system is what we put in place. My approach to this is that the system is everything that the university does to make sure that the students who choose to come to YSU and participate in the Honors College have a chance to be successful. I feel as a teacher that my most important thing that I do is to give my students a chance to be successful,” he said. “The spirit is what all the people involved in it do.”
Gage said that an Honors College has to be aware of and able to compete with other universities for honor students in its region.
“I have to work with outside sources. I think all of us are aware that higher education is in difficult financial times. At our institution, we hired Gary [Swegan] not so long ago to come and help us with enrollment management. We want to make sure that in a region where the population continues to decline … there’s less students to draw from. If we are talking about an Honors College, we are now going to be competing for the best and brightest to come to our school, and there are going to be less of them. And we are not the only school that will want them,” he said.
Gage said that he sees the position as a “student connected job.”
“If I was the dean of CLASS, or Health and Human Services, or Creative Arts and Communication, I’m not so sure that the way I approach the world would be particularly helpful because I think it’s primarily dealing with administrating in-house things. This job, I see as a student connected job,” he said. “I find that being a teacher and a conductor for three decades, that the good and the bad and the ugly of those three, is that they make me more prepared for this job than perhaps anything else that I can do.”
Gage assured students and faculty that he would put all of his effort into the success of the Honors College.
“Critical thinking, to me, usually refers to looking at music on a page and thinking about how I might want it to sound. Our students, all of them, certainly our Honors College students have to be critical thinkers — outside the box problem solvers. I think it’s a strength; you might think it’s a weakness. I assure you that if I were to get the position that you would get my heart and soul,” he said.
Wakefield, another finalist for the dean of the Honors College, addressed his ideas for the college on Tuesday in the Board of Trustees Meeting Room in Tod Hall.
He said that the strength of the Honors College is in its students.
“The Honors College is the destination for high achieving high school students from this region and beyond. If we’re going to dedicate our time, talent and resources to create an honors college, we are going to make it the best,” Wakefield said. “YSU is uniquely positioned among this region, especially compared to other universities in this region, in the sense that it offers all of its students, but especially the honors students who will most likely take advantage of it, the opportunity to work with faculty in a one-on-one setting.”
Wakefield said that if he is chosen as dean, he would try to incorporate an academic mission statement of student success into the Honors College.
“I would like our program to challenge our students to grow — not only academically, but personally — into ethical citizen scholars that find their calling while they are here and achieve their professional, civic and social goals in their choosing. That’s my goal for all students,” he said.
Wakefield added that he would form a Dean’s Advisory Council and Alumni Advisory Board in order to accomplish that student success.
“I really like to seek the input of other people in helping me make decisions. In terms of the structure of the colleges I see moving forward, I would really seek input from faculty, chairs, deans and I think it’s critical to have more faculty involvement in the Honors College. I would like to see a closer connection between the students and faculty, and more faculty recognition of honors students. I would form a Dean’s Advisory Council of faculty and chairs to help me make decisions and to help offer me advice,” he said. “I would also seek input from students. It’s critical that we have the input of students to help us to move forward in terms of some kind of honors council. I would like to know what the students want and give them what they want.”
Wakefield identified areas of growth for the Honors College.
“First and foremost, I would like the Honors College to have closer ties with the community. I would like a larger presence on the YSU campus. I want it to be an active and forceful presence. I would like all of us as faculty members to know the power of the Honors College and what it is doing and the impact that it has on its students. To that end, I would like stronger academic integration and more stringent honors course requirements,” he said. “I would like to see our students competing in more honors coursework instead of contract honors coursework and more integration and participation from faculty.”
He also said he would want to develop a more comprehensive senior thesis for honors students.
“[The thesis] differs among the different majors, and I would like to bring that into the Honors College because the Honors College could, in some sense, oversee the experience. One, to make sure it’s rigorous enough to qualify as an honors thesis. We’re not replacing it; the student would still work with faculty in their area of expertise, but that experience itself is strong enough to merit that honors senior thesis,” Wakefield said.
Wakefield outlined his strategic initiatives for the Honors College, emphasizing recruitment, interviewing perspective scholarship recipients, stressing honor’s advisement and establishing a closer relationship with deans from the other colleges.
“I would, as Dean, somehow make it possible that I advise all honor’s students. Primarily because that allows us to develop honor’s courses that we can reach the critical mass,” he said.
Wakefield highlighted some of the advantages of instituting an honors college, as opposed to an honors program.
“I hope that by making it a college, the dean might have some power over curriculum that the Honors Program director does not have. Maybe we can come up with some sort of unique general education program. I think having an honors college makes that possible, where an honors program does not,” he said.
He said that an ideal size for the Honors College, compared to other universities with more students, would be about 700 to 800 students.
“The university has about 12,000. Right now we have about 450 students in the Honors Program,” Wakefield said. “I would like to see 700 or 800 at least in the beginning. Maybe even more. The more stronger students we have, the better.”
Earnheardt shared some of his ideas on Monday in the Board of Trustees Meeting Room about his vision as dean of the Honors College. He said that students are the ones who connect the college to other departments on campus.
“If you think about it, there really is no reason as to why the Honors College isn’t somehow connected to every single department on campus. We are, in some cases, connected to every college by the virtue of having students from those colleges part of the new Honors College,” he said. “It’s part of the development; it’s part of the commission. Students are our ambassadors. Those students go out and help us recruit other students.”
Earnheardt said that research and scholarship are what he views as core values in an Honors College.
“My home base is in the College of Creative Arts and Communication. So we think about scholarship a little differently than somebody in Honors if you think about it,” he said. “I think that we need to understand how to transition from a program to a college. We need to understand that resources are a gigantic part of that, personnel are part of that, curriculum is part of that, and having packaged all of that together. It’s not as simple as developing a name for that.”
Earnheardt said that, if elected, his goals would include sustaining the enrollment growth in the Honors College and including more scholarship opportunities for students.
“Trying to get them to think about Youngstown State first. How we get there is a bit of a challenge and it’s going to force us to take the risk and how we package, brand, sell Youngstown State as a five county area,” he said.