The University of Nebraska at Kearney Honors Program began as an idea in 1978. Drs. Thomas Flickema, Harland Hoffman, Richard Jussel, and Michael Schuyler pursued and received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to establish a program for academically outstanding students. The President of then Kearney State College, Dr. Brendan McDonald, appointed an Honors Council to shape this new academic program designed to intellectually challenge students. Drs. David Clark, Betty Becker-Theye, Michael Schuyler, Donovan Welch, Vernon Plambeck, and Wayne Samuelson thus forged the foundation for a new academic program: the Horizons Program.
In 1980 Dr. Loretta Johnson was appointed the first Director of the Horizons Program. 40 students joined the Program, originally a 2-year program, 15 hours of Honors general studies seminars, one per semester over four or five semesters.
In 1984 Dr. Richard Jussel was appointed Honors Director. Early in his 17-year tenure as Director the Horizons Program was expanded from 15 to 24 hours making it a four-year program. Included in the 24 hours were 9 credit hours of upper division “honors options,” major courses chosen by each individual Honors student. These provide unique opportunities for in-depth study within the major and close contact and guidance from faculty mentors. Also in 1984 the Honors Student Advisory Board was formed to provide a voice for the Honors student population, as well as provide social and community service opportunities.
By 1990, the Horizons Program was renamed the Honors Program and had grown to approximately 250 students. Dr. Jussel served as the Honors Advisor to them all, while continuing to build the Program through cooperative recruitment with the Office of Admissions. Because of the burgeoning scope of the Director’s duties, an Assistant Director position was created. In 1994 Dr. Jussel’s then graduate assistant Jane Christensen was appointed to this position. She currently is now Associate Director, and works in tandem with the current Director.
Dr. Jussel also worked tirelessly to make the Program rich in diverse opportunities outside academics. Establishment of the Stout Honors Hall in 1995 created a new opportunity to develop community among UNK Honors students—a community forged naturally among Honors students by virtue of their common intellectual and academic goals. In 1997, it was necessary for Residence Life to expand the Honors housing to include the second and third floors of Randall Hall. Currently, Stout is the only Honors residence hall, but future plans are to house all Honors students who want the Honors Hall experience in the same residence hall.
In 2001, Dr. Peter Longo became the Honors Director. Dr. Longo continued much of the practices and policies that were established by Dr. Jussel and Ms. Christensen, and added new traditions to the Program. Incoming freshmen received Tuesdays with Morrie, a poignant collegiate memoir by Mitch Albom, as a gift from the Honors Program to inspire them to seek out mentors and learn from them as Mr. Albom learned from Morrie. A Freshmen Convocation is still held each September and the book is discussed.
These traditions have continued under the leadership of Dr. Gary Davis, who was appointed Honors Director in January 2004. With each passing era, new traditions will be established to continue the pursuit of excellence that the University of Nebraska at Kearney Honors Program has come to signify and symbolize as part of the premier undergraduate collegiate education for the Midwest region here at UNK.
The history of the Honors Program at UNK is now twenty-five years old. As the Program has grown administratively and academically, it has also developed in the type of student who accepts the challenge it offers. Originally, the criteria to be accepted into the Program included a minimum 24 ACT. As a result, of the first 40 students recruited, few would have carried a 28, 29, or 30 ACT score. In fact, the original class average ACT was just above the minimum 24. Today, with the size of the Program more than ten times the original, the average ACT score has risen to nearly a 28 ACT. The students receiving the Omaha World-Herald/Kearney Hub Scholarship reflect the same growth pattern. Originally, the winner would have an ACT score of 28 or 29. Today, those receiving this prestigious award carry a score of 32 or better. These students major in nearly every academic major offered by UNK, and often set the academic norm. They provide the nucleus for scholarly endeavors and are actively involved in UNK’s undergraduate research at NCUR, and in the Undergraduate Research Journal, UNK’s undergraduate research publication. Clearly, as the quality of the Honors students has increased, it has enhanced the academic growth of UNK.