TTU Honors Program celebrates 25 years

A quarter century ago, only three or four students at Tennessee Technological University were involved in the newly organized Honors Program, a program designed to provide students the chance to learn more than what they were expected.

Today, there are approximately 300 students active in the university's Honors Program that provides exceptional students with exceptional learning opportunities.

"One year we offered a class on Vietnam Ð and we looked at the country from its art, music, architecture, land, the people, and not just the war," said Connie Hood, professor of English and current Honors Director.

"We teach out students to see the world more globally," she said. "Learning is not about spoon-feeding Ð these students want to learn everything and we take them further because they want to go further."

One such student, Mark Orr of Kingsport, a chemistry major graduating Saturday, is the Honors Program's most "decorated" student to date. He's already secured a spot at graduate school this fall at the University of Washington in Seattle where he will study immunology with help from three national and prestigious awards:

1.) An Alpha Lambda Delta award for $3,000. ALD is a freshman honor society that sponsors about 20 national fellowships for former members to apply to graduate school.

2.) A Phi Kappa Phi award for approximately $7,000. PKP is a national leadership honor society which funds 80 fellowships at different dollar amounts. Each chapter may nominate one member for the fellowship, and TTU is recognized as one of the best small universities in terms of winning PKP fellowships, says Hood.

3.) And the very prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute Predoctoral Fellowship in Biological Sciences, which includes $18,000 for tuition and $16,000 as a stipend. HHMI funds biological and medical research at many different levels.

And these are just the honors Mark accepted Ð he turned down other fine awards and fellowships from Harvard, Stanford and Johns Hopkins.

Mark readily credits TTU's Honors Program for helping with his success as a student and, if he had to do it all over again, he would still attend Tennessee Tech because of its quality of education and the support he received from the Honors Program.

"I was asked recently, 'Why, with your ability, did you choose to come to Tennessee Tech when you could have gone anywhere?' I answered that I started in engineering and Tech was a good school for that," he says.

"But, a more important question for me is, 'Why, if I had to do it over again, would I choose Tech again?' The answer is the unique opportunity to work with the mentor program in the Honors Program. Perhaps I could have learned to be a better student at MIT or Harvard, but I doubt I would have learned to be a better person," Mark adds.

To qualify for the Honors Program, incoming students must have at least a 26 ACT score and a 3.1 GPA in addition to filling out an "Honors Profile" to ensure the students will gain from the specialized program.

"We don't expect students to know everything, but we do want them to want to learn," Hood says.

In addition to all relevant university, college, and departmental requirements of the student's chosen curriculum, to graduate in cursu honorum from TTU and the Honors Program, the student must complete the following requirements:

Admission as a full member of the Honors Program; successful completion of Honors 101 (1 semester hour); successful completion of at least two Honors colloquia (special topics usually outside the student's chosen curriculum), or one colloquium and one independent studies (Honors 402); successful completion of at least 15 additional semester hours in Honors courses in at least three different disciplines; achievement of a minimum cumulative quality point average of 3.5.

The student graduating in cursu honorum will be given special recognition at the commencement ceremony and have the notation "in cursu honorum" included at an appropriate place on his or her diploma and transcript. In addition, the Director of the Honors Program will, upon request, file a letter of recommendation which will become a part of the student's permanent record.

Honors classes and study groups range from mysticism to social and political movements to Irish history to race relations. And while the Honors Program may sound serious, these students also know how to kick back and have a good time Ð on weekends, many will get together to watch either "mindful movies" such as "2001: A Space Odyssey" to the action-packed "mindless" movie of "Armegeddon."

Honors Program students also play a significant role in recruitment of high school students and travel to various National Honors Program conferences to present papers on such topics as leadership and critical thinking. They also serve as mentors to younger, new Honors Program students, ensuring that the younger students find a place of belonging and adapt comfortably to college life.

After 25 years at Tennessee Tech, the Honors Programs has produced the brightest students to graduate from this university. Starting it all more than two decades ago was Will Schrader, who remains a history professor at Tech. Today, Hood serves as director with chemistry professor Ed Lisic serving as associate director and Rita Barnes as faculty mentor to the students.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Honors Program, alums and graduating seniors will get together this weekend for a picnic and dinner and are also in the process of raising $25,000 for an endowment for students Ð so far, approximately $17,000 has been raised.

Dr. Hood stresses that learning to be a better person, not just making good grades or delivering speeches, is a key emphasis in the education provided through the Honors Program.

"Our Honors Program is about learning all we can, about teaching our students to appreciate different cultures, different people, different ways of thinking. But we are also about caring, for each other and for the world Ð we consider ourselves a tight-knit family."

To learn more about the Honors Program at TTU, go to