President Haas writes essay on the value of honors

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
President Thomas Haas

GVL/Kevin Sielaff President Thomas Haas

Drew Howard

In celebration of the publication’s 50th anniversary, Grand Valley State University President Thomas J. Haas published an essay in the Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council focusing on the importance of the university’s honors college.

Haas’ essay, “Relevance, Rigor, and Return on Investment: How Honors Enhances Education,” was one of 39 others penned by university presidents across nation to be published. In the state of Michigan, Haas’ essay was one of two selected.

Haas said he was originally given the idea to write the essay by Jeff Chamberlain, director of the Frederik Meijer Honors College.

“The opportunity was brought to me by Chamberlain, who asked if I would consider writing an article that would compete (for publication),” Haas said. “I’m very proud of the honors program and the students who are engaged in it, as well as the faculty and staff who support it.”

In the essay, Haas writes that students enrolled in the honors college have significantly higher GPAs than those with equal qualifications who don’t participate in the program.

The president links this high performance in part back to the honors general education program, saying it prepares students “extraordinarily” well. He went on to explain that the program provides students the necessary skills and abilities to succeed in today’s competitive marketplace.

In addition to enrolling in regular semester-long classes, honors students are given the opportunity to take general education courses that span an entire academic year.

One such honors course focuses on social product innovation, which Chamberlain participates in. In the class, students work alongside writing consultants and faculty to learn more about researching and writing.

“Honestly, if you ask some of the students in the class if they’re enjoying it, they’ll say ‘sure, there are some elements, but it’s an awful lot of work,’” Chamberlain said. “But later on they’ll tell you it’s one of the most valuable classes they took because it helped their writing, because it helped their presentations and because it helped their research.”

Haas’ essay also touches on the benefits of the honors program’s living/learning environment. At the Glenn Niemeyer Learning and Living Center, 450 honors students live in the same building that houses classrooms, faculty and administration offices, as well as various campus events.

Chamberlain said this living and learning community allows for students to surround themselves with other like-minded and driven individuals.

“there is a sense that some of an honors student’s key friends are really serious about academics, and that therefore reinforces the discipline,” Chamberlain said.

Haas said the honors program is beneficial not only to honors students but also the university as a whole.

“I think this is some of the Coast Guard in me when I say that a rising tide raises all boats,” Haas said. “In this case we have a very robust honors college, and I think it raises the bar for everyone.”

President Haas’s essay can be read in full on