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. Forty 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 to create 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, Men’s Hall is the designated residence hall for the Honors Program.
In 2001, Dr. Peter Longo became the Honors Director. Dr. Longo continued many of the practices and policies 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. Dr. Longo also supported innovative course offerings, where Honors students could explore interdisciplinary topics in settings that required critical thinking.
These traditions continued under the leadership of Dr. Gary Davis, who was Honors Director from January 2004 until his retirement in 2010. Dr. Davis placed an emphasis on study abroad, strengthening a partnership with the Roosevelt Academy, which is an honors college in the Netherlands (now called University College Roosevelt). Upon Dr. Davis’ retirement in 2010, Dr. Longo returned to serve while UNK explored options for moving the program forward.
In Fall 2012, the position was changed to a full time administrative position to increase staff and resources available to the program. Dr. John Falconer was appointed director in January 2013, with an emphasis on giving more to Honors Students and expecting more from them as they participate in the campus community.
The emphasis in the Honors Program is for students to use coursework as the foundation for their intellectual and personal development. Students are expected to participate in at least two “high impact” activities, such as independent scholarly work, community service, study abroad, and leadership development. Each of these activities can have a life changing impact on an individual, significantly enriching their education and opening doors to meaningful, successful lives.