Since the Pavlis Honors College at Michigan Technological University came on the scene two years ago, it has done more than offer a new take on the concept of an honors college—it is redefining the way we think about honors education.
Traditionally, honors programs at colleges and universities require a high grade point average (GPA) for admission and continued involvement. With Pavlis now in its third year, Dean Lorelle Meadows along with her faculty and staff believe more than ever that a student’s potential for success is much more than a reflection of their GPA.
In fact, GPA doesn’t even factor into admission to the Pavlis Honor College, only a student’s commitment and motivation to achieve their individual goals. The Pavlis Honors College is one of the first honors programs to look beyond a student’s grades when considering admission, a concept Meadows says is gaining attention nationwide.
Meadows and Assistant Dean of Academic Programs Mary Raber presented their honors model at the 51st Annual National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in Seattle recently. The positive reception they received indicates other universities are interested in following and potentially emulating what Michigan Tech has started.
"Reframing honors by removing GPA as a consideration for admission and enrollment is a matter of equity and access and also of honoring the whole student and everything they do to enhance their learning,” Meadows says.
“When you think about honors programs across the country offering opportunity only to students who arrive at college prepared to thrive in a traditional classroom environment and on standardized tests, you miss out as a university on the talent at your doorstep. Honors programs across the country are grappling with challenges associated with diversifying their student body. Challenging the use of a very limiting measure such as GPA as a filter can be a way to make a difference and value what every student brings to our campus."
While GPA is not a factor in acceptance to the honors college at Michigan Tech, academics is certainly a key factor, and the college’s students are consistently showing achievement both in and out of the classroom.
"Our students are intrinsically motivated to learn deeply. They demonstrate this through their commitment to a program that asks them to go over and above their major and take their education out into the world,” notes Raber.
To fulfill the requirements needed to graduate from the honors college, students are expected to complete five primary components in their honors program; an academic enhancement, an immersion experience, an honors project, a leadership or mentorship activity and a seminar series. These components were derived from the very things that the best college students do. The honors college simply works with students to identify and focus these experiences, supporting them as they define their own long-term vision. All components are coupled with reflection to facilitate deeper and more transformative learning.
While Michigan Tech has redefined what an honors college is, students like Brad Turner and Kemin Fena are redefining what it means to be an honors student.
"Our students are intrinsically motivated to learn deeply."
Turner, a fourth-year software engineering major, is on the college’s Student Advisory Board and is very involved with Michigan Tech’s new Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship (ICE). With the support of ICE, Michigan Tech’s new makerspace, The Alley, recently opened its doors to the campus community. As student director for the project, Turner incorporated a design thinking process to reconfigure the old bowling alley into a multi-functional makerspace for students and faculty to move ideas from concept to prototype and potentially to market.
Turner works part-time as a product designer for Handshake, a Michigan Tech startup now headquartered in Silicon Valley. He currently leads many student-focused projects that will help redesign the job search experience for all Handshake users. When asked how Pavlis has contributed to his success, Brad replied "The honors college has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. It has connected me with an amazing network of peers and mentors and supported me in turning my dreams into reality. I can't imagine where I would be today if I hadn't joined the college, but I can tell you it wouldn't be nearly as exciting as what I'm doing today!"
Kemin Fena, a fourth-year student majoring in biomedical engineering, is passionate about community service. In 2014, she spent her summer in Lima, Peru, volunteering at El Hospital del Nino with a non-profit organization called Aprendo Contigo. Fena says that her experiences in the Pavlis Honors College have helped her grow and develop into the confident person she is today.
"The network of people that I have met through the Pavlis Honors College has helped me develop a strong professional skill set and nourished my passion for service work, cultural diversity and medicine. I am confident that my experiences in the PHC will contribute to my future successes and help me achieve my dream of working to provide medical care to underserved populations around the world,” she says.
Fena is an active member of the Houghton-Portage community through her service work at UP Health Center-Portage, Portage Pointe Nursing and Custodial Care Center, Right Start UP and Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. Despite these volunteer commitments, she made time to travel to Allentown, Pennsylvania, earlier this year to conduct an oral history interview with Honors College namesake and Michigan Tech alumnus, Frank Pavlis. Fena’s video tells the story of a young man born to a modest Michigan farming family who grew to be one of Michigan Tech’s most successful graduates. You can view the full oral history of Frank Pavlis here.
Born in 1916, Pavlis continues his role as the college’s chief benefactor. With his generous donation of five million dollars, he envisioned a graduate who takes advantage of experiential learning opportunities to lead from adversity and greet life's challenges with a positive outlook. This gift is bringing Pavlis’ vision to life by providing students with unique opportunities that enable them to develop and grow into successful scholars and leaders.
Tom Porter, a member of the Pavlis Honors College External Advisory Board and alumnus of Michigan Tech, is excited for the direction of the new college. Porter says, "While GPA has been the universally accepted measure of student success, it is insufficient to predict a successful career and indeed a successful life. It is the attributes of motivation, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, leadership, and social and organizational awareness that separate the average career from the stellar and impactful. The Pavlis Honors College was conceived and designed to encourage, develop, teach, recognize and honor these critical skills and attributes. If I were a recruiter visiting Tech today, I would look first for Pavlis Honors College students."
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.